Foreign Policy as Social Work

THE CLINTON RECORD

The seminal events of the foreign policy of the Clinton administration were three failed military interventions in its first nine months in office: the announced intention, then failure, to lift the arms embargo against Bosnia's Muslims and bomb the Bosnian Serbs in May 1993; the deaths of 18 U.S. Army rangers at the hands of a mob in Mogadishu, Somalia, on October 3; and the turning back of a ship carrying military trainers in response to demonstrations in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on October 12. Together they set the tone and established much of the agenda of the foreign policy of the United States from 1993 through 1995.

These failed interventions expressed the view of the worldwide role of the United States that the members of the Clinton foreign policy team brought to office. Their distinctive vision of post--Cold War American foreign policy failed because it did not command public support. Much of the administration's first year was given over to making that painful discovery. Much of the next two years was devoted to coping with the consequences of the failures of that first year.

Bosnia, Somalia, and Haiti were not, as the administration claimed, problems it had inherited. The Bush administration had sent troops to Somalia for the limited purpose of distributing food and not, as the Clinton administration's ambassador to the United Nations, Madeleine Albright, put it, "for the restoration of an entire country."ffi As for Bosnia and Haiti, during the 1992 presidential campaign Clinton promised to change the Bush policies by using air power to stop ethnic cleansing in the Balkans and by discontinuing the repatriation of Haitian refugees fleeing to the United States.

The Clinton campaign promises, however, cannot be properly understood merely as tactical maneuvers designed to secure electoral advantage. Although they certainly were that, they also reflected the convictions of W. Anthony Lake, the campaign's foreign policy coordinator who became President Clinton's national security adviser. The campaign commitments may have been expedient, but they were not cynical. Nor were they challenged by Warren Christopher, who became the secretary of state, the office from which American foreign policy has generally been directed.

Register for free to continue reading.
Registered users get access to three free articles every month.

Or subscribe now and save 55 percent.

Subscription benefits include:
  • Full access to ForeignAffairs.com
  • Six issues of the magazine
  • Foreign Affairs iPad app privileges
  • Special editorial collections

Latest Commentary & News analysis