The foreign policy record of the Clinton-Gore administration deserves a less than stellar grade. At the end of the Cold War, there was an extraordinary opportunity to build a new relationship with a democratic Russia; restructure U.S. security policy in both Europe and East Asia to reduce America’s burdens and risk exposure; and revisit intractable Cold War-era problems, such as the frosty relations with Cuba, Vietnam, and North Korea. The administration’s performance must be judged within the context of such an unprecedented opportunity for constructive change.
The record is acutely disappointing. True, the administration has scored some successes: improving the negotiating climate in Northern Ireland and the Middle East, pushing for permanent normal trade relations with China, and normalizing relations with Vietnam. But the failures greatly outnumber the successes. The administration needlessly meddled in the complex disputes of the Balkans, leaving to its successor two U.S.-led NATO protectorates (Bosnia and Kosovo) and a colossal mess of a nation-building commitment with no end in sight. A similar morass is emerging in Colombia as a result of the administration’s prosecution of the drug war.
U.S. policy toward long-time adversaries is on autopilot. The rote perpetuation of an economic embargo and occasional bombing attacks against Iraq have devastated the Iraqi people while barely bothering Saddam Hussein. Washington’s policy toward Cuba is equally sterile and cruel.
Worst of all is the growing list of missed opportunities. Instead of integrating a newly democratic Russia into the West, the Clinton administration needlessly antagonized Russia by expanding NATO’s membership and waging war against Moscow’s long-time allies in the Balkans. Relations with China have been damaged by an inconsistent, at times nearly incoherent, U.S. policy. Instead of embracing efforts for greater military self-reliance on the part of our European allies, the administration has engaged in carping criticism and apparently views such initiatives as a threat to America’s dominant position in the transatlantic relationship. Instead of viewing the end of the Cold War in East Asia as an opportunity to reduce America’s security burdens in that region, the United States insists on keeping 100,000 troops deployed seemingly forever. Administration officials even reacted with ambivalence to the recent summit between North and South Korea and gave highest priority to retaining the U.S. troop presence on the Korean peninsula.
Given the number of botched opportunities, the administration’s record merits a grade of D.