IN getting elected president of the United States, Bill Clinton proved himself one of the brightest and toughest campaigners of recent years. Now he must move from campaign mode to being the leader of the country that has more power and influence than any other single nation on earth.
What seems increasingly clear - indeed, in early January it became almost instantly axiomatic - is that while Mr. Clinton may want to make the US economy his forte, the demands of the world may require otherwise. Foreign affairs, more than "the economy, stupid," will be crowding in on the former governor of Arkansas from Day 1 - as shown by Saddam Hussein's tweaking of Kuwait, the UN, and the US, and the resulting Western air strike.
The somewhat grim stability that defined the cold war since 1950 is gone. What awaits the president-elect is a post-cold-war world still quite undefined and increasingly unstable. Troubles in Bosnia, Russia, Cambodia, India, the Persian Gulf, and Africa will not be resolved under the strategic disciplines of the bipolar cold war. The furies of the 1990s - nationalism, fundamentalism, tribalism, territorial disputes, nuclear proliferation - make the world more, not less, dangerous.
The US, for its own security, let alone a grander global security, cannot simply cultivate its own garden and let the world drift where it will. Health-care reform is important. Deficit reduction is important. It is true that a healthy economy will give the US important leverage in its foreign policy.
But the world won't wait for Clinton, Congress, or economic recovery.
The demands are serious. Opposition to communism is no longer an adequate definition of US values. The US must define anew what it is for and how its values will be manifest. The rules of the post-Soviet game are unclear. But new definitions and new rules will not come about through theory or endless talk. They will be the result of actions taken. Lawless aggression and ethnic hatred are trying to establish their own rules and definitions. What will the West do?
The Gulf war was a significant action. But it was not a defining one. Its rationale shifted from jobs, to liberating Kuwait, to oil, to stopping weapons of mass destruction. After Wednesday's air strike on Iraq, it is clear George Bush is not handing Bill Clinton the international coalition put together by James Baker.
Clinton's handling of Bosnia could define his presidency. Halting genocide, rape, and a forceful land grab - would send a message. Helping Muslims would tell a third of the world's population that they matter to the West. A US-European coalition would strengthen and redefine the Atlantic alliance. Importantly, dealing with this crisis would send a message of resolve to a very shaky Russia - which Secretary of State-designate Warren Christopher rightly identified in his confirmation hearings this week as of central concern.
The US elections allowed the country to go on a seven-month holiday from the world (since James Baker left State). Campaign rhetoric in 1992 focused almost solely on domestic issues. The world, however, did not go on vacation. Rhetoric must now give place to world realities.