Clinton and the World

Four years ago, candidate Bill Clinton paid scant attention to foreign-policy issues. The American economy was front and center. And it's not likely to be much different this time around.

But slicing off "foreign" issues is unfortunate. Many domestic issues - gas prices, immigration, drugs, crime - are bound up with foreign policy. So as the Democrats renominate Mr. Clinton, it's a good time to review his foreign-policy performance:

*On Russia, the administration didn't panic when it appeared Boris Yeltsin might lose and the Communists might return to power. But the US and other Western nations have been stingy with financial assistance that could help, on the margins, to right Russia's economy and encourage democracy.

*On Bosnia, Clinton lashed Bush for his refusal to end Serb aggression in Croatia and Bosnia, then followed almost the same policy. The NATO air strikes that brought the Bosnian Serbs to the peace table should have come at least a year earlier. The US stood by with the rest of the world as the Bosnian Serbs captured Srebrenica, a supposed UN "safe area" and massacred thousands. When the administration finally took a tougher line, its envoys did a masterful job of negotiating a peace agreement. The administration then bit the bullet and sent US troops despite deep domestic opposition.

*In the Middle East, the administration has tried to move Israel and the PLO toward full peace, only to be stymied by terrorism and hard-liners. It must now find a way to move new Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu off the dime and keep the stalled process from unraveling.

*The president sent peacekeeping troops to Haiti but waited longer than he should have. He let relations with China fall to their worst level since the '70s, though recent high-level visits have improved matters. He deftly handled a nuclear threat from North Korea but refused to apply the same nuanced touch with Iran. He tried engaging Cuba but then signed an extraterritorial sanctions bill that threatens a trade war. He rescued the Mexican peso and pushed through NAFTA despite Democratic opposition.

In the last two years, he's had to contend with a Republican Congress that has refused to pay the country's UN dues, gutted foreign aid, and tried to eviscerate the foreign-policy apparatus. But Clinton has failed to build bridges to Republicans such as Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana who could help build a new consensus.

In the final analysis, the Clinton administration has failed to develop a vision for the US in the post-cold-war world. In fairness, the Republicans haven't done very well in this regard either. But whoever wins in November, that's a task that can no longer sit on the back burner.

Slicing off 'foreign' issues is unfortunate. Many domestic issues are bound up with foreign policy.

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