As the Clinton era draws to a close the pundits have already started to dissect the administration's foreign policy over the past eight years. The subject seems to generate a certain amount of confusion but the verdict seems to be that the results have been "mixed."
The confusion is, no doubt, partly based on the fact that Bill Clinton comes from the broad Left which was always supposed to favour policies of détente and non-aggression Bill himself famously demonstrated against the war in Vietnam. It comes a something of a shock to confront the actual record of his administrations which has been one of unbounded aggression, interference in and bullying towards the outside world.
When Clinton was reelected in 1996 a friend of mine predicted that a "whirlwind" would henceforth descend on the planet and that, indeed, seems to have been the case. Even where the tools used to promote US interests have been labeled with bromides like "economic reform" or "democratization" the results have been the same: a world, literally seething in chaos.
Among the president's critics as well as conspiracy theorists there is a firmly held belief that the US began to break free from the constraints of the Cold War and pursue world hegemony as soon as the Soviet Union disappeared in 1991. "Our first objective" according to a Pentagon planning document excerpts of which appeared in the New York Times in 1992 "is to prevent the reemergence of a new rival first, the US must show the leadership necessary to establish and protect a new order." But, against this theory there is much evidence that the Bush administration did not want to see the collapse either of the Soviet Union or Yugoslavia (remember the "chicken Kiev" speech) and the early Clintonites, despite campaign rhetoric, were also timid to begin with they did nothing to aid the Bosnians in their brutal war for independence.
Far from it they sat back for three years and let the situation deteriorate under a fuzzy UN mandate. They refused to accede to demands for the UN arms embargo against the Bosnian government to be lifted humanitarian wars were not yet on the agenda. And, they only supported limited NATO air strikes when TV pictures of massacres near the small town of Srebrenica were appearing perilously close to another American election.
It is difficult now to recall that Slobodan Milosevic was then the favourite with the negotiators, mediators and politicians who ploughed to and fro between Belgrade and the Western capitals in the early nineties. In the first edition of his memoirs, To End a War (removed from the post-Kosovo second edition) Richard Holbrooke singles him out as the most convivial member of the Izetbegovic/ Tudjman/Milosevic trio who negotiated the Dayton peace accords in 1995.
Politicians, both European and American hurried to Belgrade after Dayton to gain the president's ear on behalf of this or that privatization. But he proved less compliant than they had hoped. A coldness started to develop between Belgrade and the Hurds, Holbrookes and Dinis who had once been its apologists. However, by this stage the policy makers had probably come to the conclusion that there had to be an overall plan to control the unpredictable and wayward Balkans which involved degrading Serbia along with the other countries in the region. In this they were helped by their allies in the European Union who had embarked upon their own Balkanization project of destroying their members' nation states.
The first stage of the scheme involved changing the regimes in Albania, Bulgaria and Serbia itself. In November 1996 the Bulgarian Socialist government of Zhan Videnov suddenly found itself in the middle of a financial crisis and a run on the banks. Earlier that year, Videnov had been praised for his 'reformist' credentials by newspapers like the Financial Times but he, too, had been making problems about selling off all the family silver. After violent protests erupted in Sofia, Videnov and the Socialist government resigned to be replaced in elections held in 1997 by a so-called centre-right government whose members parroted all the necessary nostrums of 'market reform' and 'Euro/Atlantic structures'.
Albania, too, started to fall apart in 1996, while in Belgrade the opposition-led Zajedno coalition held daily demonstrations to bring down the Milosevic regime. However, whereas Bulgaria and Albania capitulated relatively speedily to outside influence, the regime in Serbia survived. Other means had to be resorted to. Enter the KLA accompanied by relentless propaganda from media outlets like CNN detailing the persecution of the Albanians in Kosovo a strategy that was to end with NATO's attack on Serbia last year.
Even though pundits had been predicting upheaval in Kosovo since 1990, Serbs and Albanians had long ago reached a kind of modus vivendi in the province. While the Albanians were allowed to operate an alternative state the Serbs took their 40 or so parliamentary seats which they refused to compete for in state and federal elections. No one paid their electricity bills and no one pressed them to do so. It is almost certainly true that without US intervention this highly irregular arrangement would have continued. Civil society it ain't but it didn't kill anyone.
It is instructive to compare life in the Balkans in the year 2000 with 1993 when Clinton came to power. Apart from the Bosnian war the region was relatively peaceful and seeking to rebuild its economies after, in some cases, nearly 50 years of hard-line Communism. The wars in Slovenia and Croatia were over, Albania was forging ahead from the lowest possible base. Newly independent Macedonia was praised for its multi-ethnic policies and Romania and Bulgaria were slowly edging towards liberalizing their economies.
Of course, there were problems with corruption and weak governments. Nevertheless, in 1993 Romanians could still celebrate their freedom while both Romanians and Bulgarians had enough to eat. By 2000, IMF sponsored 'reforms' and economic programmes aimed at bringing countries into line with the requirements of EU membership meant that Romania became officially poorer, producing less food than it did under Ceausescu, an amazing feat. Bulgaria, too, had lost its productive agricultural base and now imports food from Turkey and Greece. Unemployment and unpaid wages dominate the social scene in both countries.
Thanks, in the main, to the US/NATO driven Kosovo policy Albania is now a violent, crime-ridden pit; Macedonia is menaced by the very ethnic conflicts it's model constitution was meant to avoid while Montenegro, the only other republic to remain in Yugoslavia, has been cosseted with huge infusions of cash by the Americans and the EU to promote trouble with Belgrade. Under its 'reform-minded' president Milo Djukanovic (a former hard-line supporter of Radovan Karadic) it is a by-word for smuggling and the mafia. Kosovo itself is a lawless, criminalized state.
It is hard to see who benefits from this mess. And it is difficult to imagine the average American mom and pop thinking that these are the kind of societies their foreign policy establishment should be promoting. Why, they might ask, should the US be spending millions of dollars to combat drug production in Colombia while supporting the status quo in Kosovo which everyone knows is a haven for drug dealing and prostitution?
But the world of Bill and his friends in Europe are not interested in ordinary people either at home or abroad. In fact, there are two sure ways to keep a place under control: either render its inhabitants rich, bovine and passive or impoverish them completely, rendering them incapable of any retaliation. The first scenario works in places like the US and Western Europe, the latter in regions like the Balkans. Once the ordinary citizen is out of the equation the field is open for the elites to carve up the goodies between them.
But it isn't just the Balkans that has experienced the "whirlwind." In 1998 Indonesia collapsed after a series of financial crises many suspect were engineered by the international financial bodies. At the same time, a series of violent student demonstrations led to the resignation of President Suharto widely applauded at the time. But things have not improved in Indonesia which, today, is in turmoil plagued by widespread ethnic violence that has already claimed thousands of lives. Its sickly president, Abdurrahman Wahid, could barely stand up at his inauguration. Unsurprisingly criticism is mounting against his weak and ineffectual rule.
The Clintonites are also getting more and more involved in that old US stamping ground Latin America. Millions of dollars has been disbursed to fight the drugs war in Colombia which seems to have no effect whatsoever other than worsening the lives of ordinary Colombians. And there is plenty of evidence to show that the administration in Washington funded much of the anti-Fujimori campaign that preceded the recent presidential election in Peru. Mexico and Venezuela are also under more than just scrutiny for their upcoming polls.
Let us hope that the southern hemisphere is not reduced to the present state of sub-Saharan Africa that has benefited from several years of intervention, Washington-style. In 1997 the Clinton administration embarked upon its much-vaunted African renaissance. After establishing alliances in neighbouring Uganda and Rwanda it set about removing the decrepit dictator Sese Seko Mobutu from power in mineral-rich Zaire. However, Laurent Kabila, the client chosen by the US to replace Mobutu, proved less than compliant and within a year the Americans were urging Uganda and Rwanda to overthrow him. So far, Kabila has withstood the onslaught but the Congo has been effectively broken in two and the rival factions who were meant to overthrow Kabila are now fighting among themselves.
Since the beginning of the year outsiders have been provoking more mayhem in Africa. Attempts are underway to remove Robert Mugabe from power in Zimbabwe and in May there was armed intervention in Sierra Leone. In both cases the British have been delegated to lead the attack, no doubt, because of their former colonial connections with the region. However, writing in the New Statesman on 29th May, John Pilger pointed to US involvement in the events in Sierra Leone the Clinton administration has already pledged to work to undermine the country's rebel movement. The US also has interests in Zimbabwe not the least of which is putting a stop to Mugabe's military support for Kabila.
Whereas the Balkans has little to offer commercially apart from its strategic position vis-à-vis pipelines from the east Africa is a cornucopia of wealth not only in the form of mineral resources but also valuable farming land which is now being heavily coveted by agribusinesses in the West. The big question now is: will South Africa be targeted for "the treatment." We can predict the scenario: President Mbeki and the ANC will be branded as outdated, former Communists while 'reformers' with a more helpful agenda to the US will suddenly appear on the scene.
There are indications that this may not be entirely wishful thinking. Veteran left-wing academic and journalist R.W. Johnson has been attacking the ANC-led government for some time now in the pages of right-wing journals like the Daily Telegraph and National Interest. He recently visited Zimbabwe to join in the criticisms of Mugabe and has even stated that most Africans were happier under their colonial masters a strange message from an old lefty. Could the tide be turning ? The prospect may account for Mbeki's lukewarm support for the beat-up on Mugabe: he senses that he may be the next in line.
So, to sum up: in 2000 the US continues to support guerrillas in southern Sudan and it fuels the present war between Ethiopia and Eritrea by helping Eritrea. Angola's civil war continues apace and the Congo remains unpacified. Zimbabwe is being thrown into chaos and the West is supporting the ramshackle army of a corrupt government in Sierra Leone in a hopeless fight over the control of diamond production. However, whereas the populations in places like Bulgaria are easily subdued into passivity after years of the dead hand of Communism, Africans seem less likely to roll over and accept a renewed era of colonialism under a new version of the white man's burden.
Which leaves the biggest prize of all: Russia and the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union. On Monday 5th June, President Clinton made a startling admission to the Russian Duma. "Many Russians" he said "still suspect that Americans do not wish them well." As he spoke, groups of hecklers demonstrated outside the building protesting, in particular, US policies in Iraq and Serbia. Many Russians are fully aware that the US has now developed serious footholds in the Caucasus and Central Asia. Many suspect them of helping to arm Chechen rebels in their seemingly unending guerrilla war with Moscow.
Vladimir Putin's appearance on the scene may prove to be the marker in the sand, although his emergence from the clans responsible for the worst excesses of western-style market reforms in Russia means that the jury is still out on his long-term agenda. Perhaps he will just up the price for playing along with the US's goals. On the other hand, reformists like Anatoli Chubais and Boris Nemstov felt it necessary to be highly critical of NATO's Kosovo campaign. Full-scale American involvement in Russia is going to cut someone out and it could be people like them.
The debate over whether or not US hegemony over the planet was planned will, no doubt, continue. One thing is for sure that the appetite for world domination has grown with the feeding. If the Americans were spreading the best aspects of their way of life around the globe, no one might complain. But their interventions have depended on co-opting the most corrupt and sleazy politicians worldwide. The goal is not to impose democracy, but control - and the prize is the resources and wealth that, by rights, belong to other people. All other empires in the past have collapsed as will this one. Unfortunately, they have tended to disappear with a bang rather than a whimper.
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