Posted on October 04, 1993 in Washington Watch

Last week the President and his three top foreign policy advisors delivered major addresses designed to clarify the principles and purposes behind the Administration’s foreign policy. The speeches of Clinton, Secretary of State Warren Christopher, National Security Advisor Anthony Lake and United Nations Ambassador Madeleine Albright were thoughtful, well-crafted and complementary—but left critics unsatisfied.

President Clinton’s address before the UN General Assembly was cleverly wrought to respond to American isolationists.

He spoke, as President Bush had, of the drama of the post-Cold war world. “It is clear,” he noted, “that we live at a turning point in human history. Immense and promising changes seem to wash over us every day. The Cold war is over. The world is no longer divided into two armed and angry camps. Dozens of new democracies have been born. It is a moment of miracles.”

At the same time, Clinton also noted that this new world faces dangerous new challenges. These challenges emerge “from within nations” where “bloody ethnic, religious and civil wars” have erupted. These conflicts, coupled with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, unchecked hunger and disease and poverty combine to create tinderboxes which can explode into devastating and destabilizing regional conflicts.

The response of the world community to these conflicts, Clinton said, must be: economic development (in particular the expansion and strengthening the world community of market-based democracies), halting the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and the reinforcement of international mechanisms that aid in conflict resolution.

Throughout his remarks Clinton asserted that the U.S. “intends to remain engaged and leading. We cannot solve every problem but we must and we will serve as a fulcrum for change and a pivot point for peace.”

In his remarks before the prestigious Council on Foreign Relations, Secretary of State Christopher a week earlier, presaged the President’s heralding of the end of the Cold war. Using the dramatic signing of the Israel-PLO agreement at the White House as a starting point, he noted that the end of the bi-polar world had made possible recent developments in the search for a comprehensive peace.

Again, using the example of the Middle East peace process, Christopher also took aim at America’s isolationists.

In the debate between engagement and isolation, Christopher said, “the U.S. chooses engagement.” The end of the Cold War, he said, “has not ended America’s links to the world.” Rather, it has left the U.S. with a “continuing responsibility to provide leadership.”

Treasons for engagement, according to Christopher, are simple: economic interests and national security. And he provided arguments and elaboration for each.

In response to another issue being actively debated in the U.S., specifically whether the U.S. should exercise its power alone or with others, Christopher noted that it is incorrect to frame this as an “either-or” proposition. “Multilateralism,” he stated,”is a means, not an end. It is one of the many foreign policy tools at our disposal. And it is warranted only when it serves the central purpose of American foreign policy: to protect American interests. This country will never subcontract its foreign policy to another power or person.”

Christopher also stated that, in protecting its interests,

“the U.S. must maintain its military strength and reinvigorate its economy so that we can retain the option to act alone…. Let no one doubt the resolve of the U.S. to protect its vital interests. Yet in protecting our vital interests, we should not ignore the value of working with other nations.”

The most developed of the four foreign policy statements was delivered by President Clinton’s National Security Advisor Anthony Lake. His address, delivered on September 21st (the day after Christopher’s) to the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, was entitled “From Containment to Enlargement.”

Like the President and the Secretary of State, Lake tried through his address to take aim at the U.S. isolationists on the left and the right.

After outlining the areas where the Clinton Administration had responded to the imperative of international engagement, he noted that “engagement was not enough.” Rather, Lake asserted

“We also need to communicate anew why that engagement is essential. If we do not, our government’s reactions to foreign events can seem disconnected; individual setbacks may appear to define the whole; public support for our engagement likely would wane; and America could be harmed by a rise in protectionism, a loss of the resources necessary for our diplomacy—and thus the erosion of U.S. influence abroad.”

And so Lake stated that the purpose of his address would be to contribute to a “national dialogue about our purpose in the world.”

He began by defining what he termed American “core concepts”—democracy and market economies—and then argues that as America moves into the post-Cold War world its purpose must shift from a policy of containment of the enemies of democracy (the Soviet Union and its allies) to a strategy of enlargement of the world’s community of free market democracies.

Lake outlined four components of this new strategy:
· First, we should strengthen the community of major market democracies—including our own….
· Second, we should help foster and consolidate new democracies and market economies, where possible, especially in states of special significance and opportunity.
· Third, we must counter the aggression—and support the liberalization—of states hostile to democracy and markets.
· Fourth, we need to pursue our humanitarian agenda not only by providing aid, but also by working to help democracy and market economics take root in regions of greatest humanitarian concern.

Since neither Clinton nor Christopher focused on the two most difficult foreign policy issues of the day—Bosnia and Somalia—Lake used the end of his address to wade into those troubled waters.

He began with an important qualifying comment, when he stated, “Our efforts in Somalia and Bosnia are important expressions of our overall engagement; but they do not by themselves define our broader strategy in the world.”

And after reviewing the problems of Bosnia and Somalia that the Clinton Administration inherited from the Bush Administration, Lake sought to establish that failures in either case should not define policy in the future.

“Unfortunately,” he notes, “debates over both Bosnia and Somalia have been cast as doctrinal matters involving the role of multilateralism. This focus is misplaced. Certainly, in each case our actions are making multilateral case law for the future. But we should not let the particular define the doctrinal. ...I believe strongly that our foreign policies must marry principle and pragmatism. We should be principled about our response but pragmatic about our means.”

And, he concluded, in an echo of Christopher, “We should act multilaterally where doing so advances our interests—and we should act unilaterally when that will serve our purpose. The simple question in each case is this: what works best?”

Reverberations of the same ambiguity sounded in UN Ambassador Madeleine Albright’s speech as she was left to address, in detail, the U.S.’s conditions for participation in international peace keeping efforts.

“This Administration,” she said, “believes…that young men and women should not be sent in harm’s way without a clear mission, competent commanders, sensible rules of engagement and the means required to get the job done.”

While the U.S. had not completed its review of its overall policy toward UN peacekeeping efforts, Albright enumerated a number of questions that need answers: Does the mission have clear, definable objectives? Is a cease-fire in place, and have the parties agreed to a UN presence? Are the necessary financial and human resources available? Can specific “end point” for UN involvement be identified?

Finally, in what some felt was an avoidance of a clear-cut policy, she ended her address by stating that the U.S. will approach international conflicts “on a case by case basis, relying on diplomacy when possible, on force when absolutely necessary.”


In fairness to the Clinton Administration, the real problem is that they are attempting to define the underlying principles of a new policy while simultaneously confronting two complex and bedeviling old problems, namely Somalia and Bosnia.

That said, in the end foreign policy analysts and critics of the Administration have charged that as thoughtful and well-crafted as the addresses had been, they had not collectively produced a coherent response to these two real challenges of the post-Cold War world.

There is no doubt that the world is entering a new era, but with the morasses of Bosnia and Somalia (and the host of potential Bosnians and Somalians that the “new world order” may yet unleash), the U.S. seems to be stuck in the doorway, unable to fully enter the new phase.

The Cold War presented political theorists with a simple model for analysis and action—but the challenges of today, precisely because the are so complex, require definition and perspective before they can be effectively addressed.

The Clinton Administration must be credited for facing the isolationist challenge and defending the principle of U.S. engagement. In doing so, they are challenging the isolationist leanings of many members of Congress who would prefer to address only the local needs of their constituents. And by understanding the links between U.S. economic growth and an engaged U.S. foreign policy, the Clinton Administration is providing the necessary argument for justifying an engaged foreign policy to an American public that seems reticent to deal with the world’s problems.

But by implying that the U.S. would not become engaged or should possibly disengage from the two most troubling conflicts it faces, the Administration’s commitment to engagement left critics wondering “if not Bosnia, then when and where; and if not Somalia, how?”

Without a defense of engagement in these two cases, as one critic noted, “all we have are generalizations and abstractions—not yet an indication of what real policy might be.”

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