Paradigm Lost

Courtesy Reuters


Senior Clinton administration officials are quick to point out that one reason for their foreign policy difficulties is that the world they inherited is a more complex place than what came before. Although this explanation exaggerates the simplicity and clarity of the past half century -- the applicability of "containment" was hotly contested throughout the Cold War, especially during the wars in Korea and Vietnam -- it does contain a kernel of truth.

Global changes have undoubtedly complicated the conceiving and conducting of U.S. foreign policy. Ours is a period of "international deregulation," one in which there are new players, new capabilities, and new alignments -- but, as yet, no new rules. This international flux is compounded by political anxieties at home. The public is motivated by a pervasive sense that domestic problems warrant the bulk of America's energies. Extensive media coverage and scrutiny have increased the pressure on the government to act while making acting more difficult. And the Republican control of both chambers of Congress that resulted from the 1994 midterm elections is certain to aggravate institutional friction between the legislature and the executive. The net result is that domestic support for foreign endeavors is contradictory, weak, and growing weaker.

In these unsettled circumstances, the Clinton administration has sought to articulate a new foreign policy doctrine -- a framework for international reregulation. Its principal attempt was National Security Adviser Anthony Lake's September 1993 statement that "the successor to a doctrine of containment must be a strategy of enlargement, the enlargement of the world's free community of market democracies." While arguably useful as a long-term vision, this statement falls short as a practicable doctrine, which, as containment did, must define both interests and intentions. Despite the administration's insistence, it remains unclear that "enlarging" democracy actually qualifies as a paramount American interest. In any event, the objective is difficult -- at times impossible -- to translate into immediate policy while the process of democratization works its uncertain way.

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