Two Cheers for Clinton's Foreign Policy

UNDER THE CIRCUMSTANCES

"It's the economy, stupid." Back in the 1992 campaign, that one line told us that Bill Clinton did not intend to be a great foreign policy president. As his second term ends, most pundits agree that this is one promise he has kept. Critics on the right argue that he is too eager to accommodate a rising China, too blind to Russia's corruption and cronyism, and too slow to use force against states like Yugoslavia or Iraq. On the left, liberals bemoan Clinton's failure to prevent the genocide in Rwanda, his tardy response to the bloodletting in the Balkans, and his abandonment of his early pledge to build a multilateral world order grounded in stronger international institutions. Even pragmatic centrists find him wanting, deriding his foreign policy as "social work" that is too easily swayed by ethnic lobbies, public opinion polls, and media buzz.

There is some truth in all these charges, but the indictment should be qualified in several respects. As with any president, it is easy to think up ways that Clinton's record might be improved. But on the whole, he does not deserve the chorus of criticism he has received. Clinton's critics fail to appreciate how changes in the international position of the United States have complicated the making of its foreign policy. The next president will face similar pressures and is likely to adopt similar policies -- but is unlikely to achieve significantly better results. Clinton's handling of foreign policy also tells us a great deal about what to expect in the future, regardless of what happens in November.

THE HALF-HEARTED HEGEMON

Bill Clinton has had to face a world vastly different from the one his predecessors knew. The end of the Cold War has left the United States in a position of unprecedented preponderance. America's economy is 40 percent larger than that of its nearest rival, and its defense spending equals that of the next six countries combined. Four of these six countries are close U.S. allies, so America's advantage is even larger than these figures suggest. The United States leads the world in higher education, scientific research, and advanced technology (especially information technologies), which will make it hard for other states to catch up quickly. This extraordinary position of power will endure well into this century.

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