Economics Color Foreign Policy Lens

Review of Clinton's global dealings is mixed

President Clinton is touting his foreign policy successes as he stumps for reelection - though relations with the rest of the world are low on most voters' lists of priorities.

He stresses that the US is more secure today than at any time in the recent past. As examples of his overseas stewardship, Mr. Clinton cites his expansion of US foreign investment and his stilling of Bosnia-Herzegovina's ethnic bloodletting. He lists blunting Chinese intimidation of Taiwan, assisting the democratization of Russia, con- taining Iraqi aggression, restoring stability to Haiti, and advancing peace efforts in the Middle East and Northern Ireland.

All of this makes for impressive campaign material. But it paints only a partial picture.

For one thing, Clinton inherited the helm of a country facing no major foreign rival. For another, some of the successes Clinton celebrates are still works in progress with uncertain outcomes; others are holding actions that offer no lasting solutions to US security concerns.

Despite the uncertainty, some analysts say Clinton is on the right track in using economic interests as a compass to navigate the US through the post-cold-war world of the future. "Fifty years from now, he will be known as the president who moved American foreign policy from geopolitics to geoeconomics," says Steven Hook, a foreign policy expert at Kent State University in Ohio.

In the meantime, the potential remains for renewed conflict in Bosnia - where US troops have so far seen few casualties. Postponement Tuesday of municipal polls because of flagrant election-law abuses increases the likelihood that Clinton will be unable to bring the 16,000 US soldiers home by year's end as promised.

The jury is still out on Haiti. And the election of hard-line Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatens to unravel progress toward an overall Middle East peace settlement.

Elsewhere, US dependency on foreign oil keeps 20,000 US troops in the Gulf region exposed to terrorist attacks. Tension-filled Sino-US relations are of foremost concern to many experts.

Critics, including members of Clinton's own party, concede that his job has been made harder by the disparate forces buffeting the post-cold-war world and by a GOP-led Congress that has slashed resources, seeking to limit US commitments abroad.

But they argue that overall, Clinton's foreign policymaking has been marked by crisis management and over accommodation of US corporate interests. More fundamentally, they say Clinton lacks clear principles to guide him in shaping a 21st- century international order that best serves US security needs.

"This is an administration ... that takes pride in managing individual issues, but there is no sense of broader themes and direction in American foreign policy in the post-cold-war era," says Casimir Yost, director of the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University.

While they dispute such charges, administration officials admit that Clinton's initial focus on domestic issues and emphasis on burden-sharing with US allies and the United Nations often led to inconsistent actions on international issues. This scattershot approach earned Clinton the reputation of a foreign-policy lightweight and invited doubts about the role of the US.

But administration officials say that as he came to appreciate the interconnections between foreign and domestic policies, Clinton reordered his priorities. With his eye on the next century, he reasserted US global leadership, including the selective use of US military power, they say.

"I believe we are laying the foundation for a post-cold-war world in which our interests are protected and our people prosper," Anthony Lake, presidential national security adviser, has said.

Kent State's Professor Hook says that in the new multipolar world, the US must prioritize its foreign policy. That requires the kind of case-by-case approach that Clinton has followed. Despite his rocky start, Clinton "has been fairly successful in pursuing the priorities he identified, primarily in global economic integration and US competitiveness," he says.

Hook says Clinton's most notable achievement is recognizing the emergence of the new global marketplace and making the promotion of US economic power an integral part of foreign policy.

If Clinton wins reelection, he will confront unfinished business around the world. Most critical is likely to be relations with communist China, the most populous nation and an emerging economic and military power with which the administration and US companies are hungry to do business.

But Clinton's first term saw a marked degradation in Sino-US ties fueled by China's massive piracy of American music and movies, its sales of military technology to Iran and Pakistan, and its dismal human rights record.

For its part, Washington sent mixed signals over trade and other issues and then infuriated Beijing by granting a visa to Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui.

Frictions came to a head this spring in the runup to Taiwan's first democratic presidential election. China held military exercises and live missile firings in the Taiwan Strait. Clinton responded by sending two carrier battle groups to the South China Sea to reinforce US insistence that Beijing resolve the question of Taiwanese reunification peacefully.

While both sides have since moved to lower tensions, relations remain brittle, especially over Taiwan. Some experts fear that unless the US and China make concerted efforts to reach a modus vivendi, Asia could witness the onset of a destabilizing and costly cold-war-style rivalry.

One of Clinton's main goals has been expanding American power by promoting US investments abroad and seeking reductions in trade barriers. For this, he dropped an initial linkage of human rights to trade with China and pursued the North American Free Trade Agreement and General Treaty on Tariffs and Trade.

The US maintains its dominance of international trade, with more than $57 billion in foreign business contracts signed by US firms since November 1993. But there have been political costs to Clinton's policies. His aggressive promotion of US business abroad, for example, has irked US allies competing for the same markets.

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