Courtesy Reuters

The Recovery of Internationalism: Stemming the Isolationist Impulse

That American foreign policy stands in disarray and confusion is one of the few propositions on which a consensus exists in the country today. The flips and flops of policy toward Bosnia, Somalia, Haiti, North Korea, and China, to mention only the more prominent examples, have elicited ridicule from all points on the political spectrum. The growing attention the president gives to foreign policy seems largely to respond to the pressures of domestic constituencies. It is as if President Clinton conceives his role to be that of a spiritual medium and has accordingly gathered round himself (hands clasped) a ramshackle collection of interest groups whose discordant voices from the netherworld are each allowed to dictate policy for a season.

But the president’s problem goes deeper than his apparent belief that foreign policy can be successfully constructed by adding up the demands of domestic interest groups. His basic dilemma is rooted in the foreign policy agenda he embraced in his campaign for the presidency and in the impossible demands it has imposed upon him. Clinton’s success in portraying Bush as a foreign policy president who was oblivious to the nation’s domestic problems obscured the fact that the Democratic challenger’s foreign affairs agenda was far more ambitious than that of the foreign policy president himself. Bush’s internationalism was centered on his revival of the collective security idea: the notion that the United Nations, with the United States at the lead, would guarantee the territorial integrity and political independence of all members of international society (although in practice this idea was applied rather selectively).

Clinton’s strategy in the game of political poker he played with Bush was to see all bets the incumbent had placed and then raise him. Clinton not only signed on to the idea of the "new world order," but added others that, taken together, amounted to a considerably more ambitious agenda. He would press the Chinese on human rights by linking improvements to renewal

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