THE American role in a world where 50 years of cold-war rules and definitions have fallen apart is a serious matter. Like it or not, the United States is looked to for the new rules - the values and behaviors that get priority now that Soviet communism has ended.
This role is not something President Clinton can duck, even if he believes he was elected to "focus like a laser" on the economy and health care. So far, the administration has sent out a confused message about its foreign policy - what role it will play, what values it stands for.
Much of the confusion stems from Secretary of State Warren Christopher's recent trip to Europe on the question of Bosnia. The administration was going to "consult" with its allies, Secretary Christopher said. That sounds reasonable. Yet foreign policy in an undefined world cannot be conducted like an Aspen Institute conference. In diplomatic language, "consult" means "we don't really have a program." The US president talked tough about the use of force in Bosnia, but when pushed there was little resolve behind the words. Now the perception grows in European capitals that the US is weak.
Christopher's testimony last week before Congress about Bosnia adds to this perception. Clear evidence to the contrary, Christopher said "all sides" were responsible for atrocities. He declined to call the killing of some 130,000 Bosnians a genocide - thus removing an imperative for action. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan commented that Christopher's testimony "legitimizes genocide."
The recent agreement among allies to adopt a 13-step program for "safe havens" in Bosnia barely papers-over the perception of weakness. The plan already is deteriorating into disagreement: UN members don't like it, the Bosnians and Serbs are opposed.
US policy has real-world consequences. Saddam Hussein is massing troops on the border of the safe haven area in Iraq; perhaps he wants to test global resolve. The Khmer Rouge in Cambodia have been quiet, but the vote there is not over. If European stability is defined as a "European problem" only, how long will it be before US troops there are pulled out, removing an important security symbol?
The values and actions Mr. Clinton stands for have yet to be articulated. It is not too early to ask how seriously, in light of recent actions, the allies will take Christopher. Clinton's foreign policy has yet to demonstrate its core values and themes.