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World: Analysis From Washington--U.S. Foreign Policy's Domestic Roots

Washington, 6 February 1997 (RFE/RL) - Washington's approach to the world increasingly reflects often internally inconsistent domestic political considerations rather than a single overarching foreign policy vision.

Part of this shift is the product of the confusion arising from the collapse of the relatively simple bipolar world of the Cold War. Yet another arises from the increasing unwillingness of the American public to defer to the traditional foreign policy elite.

And still a third part flows from the fact that meeting many of the policy challenges in the post-Cold War environment will cost a great deal of money and will not show any quick returns to the skeptical Congress which must appropriate all of these funds.

This change has left many governments around the world confused about American intentions. But on Tuesday, U.S. President Bill Clinton provided a clear exposition of just what this shift means for both the United States and the rest of the world.

Delivering his annual State of the Union message to the Congress, President Clinton outlined his plans for foreign policy initiatives in six major areas.

First, he argued that the West must proceed with NATO expansion while simultaneously establishing a "stable partnership" with a democratic Russia.

Second, he suggested that the United States "must look to the East no less than to the West" and focus on building ties with China and the other powers of the region.

Third, he said that the U.S. government must work to expand American exports by opening markets around the world.

Fourth, he argued that the United States must be willing to deploy its forces in the cause of peace around the world.

Fifth, he said that the United States must continue its work to promote various disarmament initiatives.

And sixth, the president urged that Congress must provide the U.S. government with the funds necessary both to support the American military and to pay "our debts and dues" to international bodies, including the United Nations.

While important both individually and collectively, none of these represents a fundamental departure from President Clinton's first four years in office.

But what was new and important in his speech were the arguments he made in support of each of them.

In every case, he based his appeal on the immediate returns that he suggested his initiative would bring to the American people. An expanded NATO would be "good for America," Clinton argued.

Opening markets will enrich the American people, he suggested, pointedly noting that the United States had earned a "half a billion dollar profit" from its assistance to Mexico.

And in perhaps the clearest statement of this new approach, President Clinton argued that support for international bodies like the United Nations would bring a profit as well:

"Every dollar we devote to preventing conflicts," the president said, "brings a sure return in security and savings."

Whether the president's words will convince either the Congress or the American people is something that remains to be seen. Fights over all these issues seem certain to dominate much of the political life in Washington over the next several months or more.

But however uncomfortable this new approach may be for those here and abroad who were happpy with the simpler foreign policy of the past, the shift enunciated by Clinton this week has some important and possibly even welcome lessons for other countries around the world.

And that may be especially true for those states which are making the difficult transition from authoritarianism to democracy.

On the one hand, the domestication of foreign policy reflected in President Clinton's remarks is in fact a kind of democratization of foreign policy. And such a policy, however minimalist it may appear to some, will inevitably be prosecuted more reliably than one without such a base.

And on the other, President Clinton's efforts to link America's role abroad with the interests and values of Americans at home can help to overcome the isolationist impulses now on view in the United States.

Unless a new enemy emerges, no other argument is likely to generate popular support for American foreign policy now.

And consequently, President Clinton's attempt to root American foreign policy in domestic American interests represents the clearest indication yet that Washington has truly moved beyond the imperatives and constraints of the Cold War world.