If These Be Successes . . .


Washington. -- As the midterm election approached, the idea that Bill Clinton had enjoyed a string of foreign-policy successes spread like autumnal crabgrass. In TV, radio and print media, U.S. policies in Haiti, Iraq and North Korea were cited as examples of Mr. Clinton's "victories." But what victories? It could more accurately be said that in these places the administration seems to have avoided catastrophe.

In Haiti the world's strongest industrial and military power managed to land forces in one of the world's smallest, poorest, least-developed countries. Those U.S. forces then succeeded in discovering and destroying some arms caches and disarming and arresting some "attaches" who had formerly terrorized the population.

Additionally, the U.S. government arranged the return of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to the post to which he was elected, secured the cooperation of the U.N. Security Council in repealing the economic embargo that it had caused to be imposed and made commitments of economic aid.

Little progress had been made toward "restoring" democracy, (though it was announced that all judges of Haitian courts would be fired, and that most police and a large part of the armed forces have been judged unfit to serve the new regime.

Haiti lacks virtually any of the characteristics believed to be required for a democratic government.

The fact that no one can explain how this Haiti venture contributes to the U.S. national interest still seems not to bother either the Clinton administration or the various journalists who term it a "success." Polls tell us the American people still have their doubts.

The North Korean "success" looks little better. After months of negotiations and the death of the patriarch, North Korea's government agreed to permit the U.S. and its allies to provide it something over $5 billion worth of oil, two new upscale nuclear reactors and a variety of other high-tech goodies, in return for which the North Korean government will permit international inspections of its existing reactors in about five years -- unless, of course, it has changed its mind in the interim.

And that's about it -- except that the United States will inaugurate full diplomatic relations with this totalitarian communist dictatorship, and will maintain American forces in South Korea. It is extremely difficult to see how American national interest or nuclear non-proliferation policy, or security have been served by this non-achievement and, as in Haiti the "victory" is expensive.

The third in the touted "string of successes" is that of success in deterring a new Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

In the absence of reliable facts, we are -- each of us -- free to choose what seems to us the most plausible explanation of why Saddam Hussein moved some 60,000 crack troops toward the Kuwaiti border. My best guess is that, feeling frustrated, this man of extremely violent inclinations did what comes naturally in the effort to break out of U.N. sanctions. He threatened to use force. He "tested" the new American president to see how Mr. Clinton would react. What Mr. Hussein learned caused him to turn to other tactics. In subsequent days the U.S. president has explained to journalists that he had learned, as a boy, how to deal with bullies.

Let me be fair. The response of President Clinton and his team to Saddam Hussein's threatening move was timely, clear and firm enough to achieve his goal. I count this a success. But it may have been made necessary by previous impressions of weakness.

And let me emphasize that this success depended not only on the personal impression made by the president, but also on American military strength -- which is steadily declining. I hope Mr. Clinton understands that continued reductions in American military power will undermine his credibility as quickly in the world as on the playground.

Then came the Middle East where Bill Clinton managed to look as if he, rather that Yitzhak Rabin, had played the central role in negotiating a formal peace with Jordan's King Hussein.

Other items that had figured high on the Clinton foreign-policy agenda were not much mentioned on the midterm report card.

In Bosnia where the president has repeatedly promised more decisive action, the U.S. position folded once again in the face of U.N. and allied opposition. Meanwhile, Bosnian Muslims continued to suffer. In Somalia the efforts at pacification, reconciliation and nation-building undertaken by President Clinton (not President Bush) have long since been abandoned.

In Guantanamo the president and his administration displayed the curious moral/political astigmatism that permits them to virtually ignore the routine human-rights violations of the Cuban government (where no member of the administration sees "thugs" and "dictators") -- and also to ignore their own callous treatment of Cuban refugees, whom they have trapped under guard and under harsh conditions at Guantanamo Bay. No official comment has been offered on the persistent rumor that there is an intent to enhance U.S. relations with the government of Fidel Castro as part of a long-range plan to bring democracy to Cuba.

In sum, I would say the foreign policy of the Clinton administration at midterm is not a disaster. But it is also not a success. It does not reflect the high standards and moral seriousness we were led to expect. It is, at best, disappointing.

Jeane Kirkpatrick is a fellow of the American Enterprise Institute.

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