Sunday, April 27, 2008

Nice Corrective on Clinton Foreign Policy

If you want to stroll memory lane, check out this Nation piece on Clinton foreign policy.

The whole thing is worth reading, but here are some of the highlights I remember from the 90s. In particular I remember Somalia (while I was in college) then resulting genocide in Rwanda. Remember how they showed all the bodies floating down the river?

Yeah, happy times. Bring back the 90s.
The Clinton record on which Hillary is running is anything but stellar in global or even US security terms. What would become the hallmark political timidity of the Administration was first demonstrated after eighteen American troops were killed in Mogadishu in October 1993 in an ill-fated assault on a Somali warlord. Though that operation was entirely American-planned and led, the Clintons let stand (if not promoted) the isolationist falsehood that the tragedy was the fault of the United Nations, which also had a peacekeeping mission in Mogadishu.
The Clintonian record on Osama bin Laden, Afghanistan and the defense of the United States itself is both bleak and tragic in the light of what happened after the Clintons had gone from the White House. The trial of Ramzi Yousef, implicated in the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, had revealed an Al Qaeda blueprint for strikes against high-value American targets, but the Administration did not act expeditiously to shore up policies and tools at home for dealing with this possibility--or inevitability.

Instead, the Clinton Administration focused on Khartoum, where bin Laden had established a base. He was ultimately chased out of Sudan under US pressure, only to find in a welcome haven in battered, bankrupt Afghanistan, first under the mujahedeen and then the Taliban. One useless US missile attack on an Al Qaeda camp there in 1998 after the bombings of two American embassies in Africa failed to do him any harm. (The United States also hit a pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum, possibly the wrong target, in an effort to destroy what was believed to be a chemical weapons facility.)

and to concluded
Administratively, the Clintons (we are now asked to assume that it was both of them) signed off on a reform that took away the independence of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, merging it, as well as the United State Information Agency, into the State Department. Arms control lost an important voice in policymaking. Crucial information services took a hit worldwide, and the United States could not have abandoned an effective public relations tool at a worse time.

In diplomacy, even a veneer of decency and statesmanship can matter. Neither Richard Holbrooke, the author of Dayton, who lost no opportunity to refer to the UN as "deeply flawed" or Secretary of State Warren Christopher, who disposed of Boutros Boutros-Ghali in the most high-handed and thoughtless manner, can lay claim to glory as statesmen. Albright, responding to critics at the UN, reminded everyone that we are the "indispensable nation," so get over it.

Could there be a subliminal message now in talking tough to foreigners? Is Barack Obama somehow one of them? Patriotic lapel pins are in and substantive discussions about America and the world are not.

I wish more would have spent on exploring the possibilities of continuities (or at least Bush foreign policy as a logical consequence/progression) of the Clinton years, but perhaps that can be found elsewhere.

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