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President Clinton Was Accused by Critics of ‘foreign Policy Incompetence’. How Accurate Is This Charge?

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Social Policy
Wordcount: 4657 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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Bill Clinton was the first exclusively post- Cold War president, committed just sporadic concern to foreign policy issues. While he was more concerned about the global economy, he viewed essentially through the eyes of a domestic policy president endeavouring to support American prosperity by winning access to the foreign markets. But, on issues, for example, Somalia, Haiti Clinton’s foreign policy advisers experienced problems in keeping him focused, due to his extreme sensitivity to public opinion. Consequently, he was criticized for being incompetent, lack of vision in handling foreign affairs. However, this essay will discuss the principles of Clinton’s foreign policy agenda. Second, it will discuss various critics of his foreign policy strategy with some examples in Somalia and Haiti. Lastly, also the influence of the congressional on in Foreign affairs.


Clinton Foreign Policy Strategy

In 1992 Bill Clinton was elected the American’s president and served in office from 1993-2001. Clinton was the first Democrat who belonged to a political party that had since Watergate and Vietnam war wanted to get control over the executive’s capacity to conduct foreign policy without congressional approval and failure (Healy 2000). During the election day in November 1992, there was no clear consent of foreign policy. The elites were in support of a strategy of international engagement and there was a persistent nostalgia for unilateral action.  While the Realists acknowledge the developing effect idealism on foreign policy (Hyland 1999). As Bill Clinton made a vow the of office there was intellectual disarray over the idea of the post-Cold War and consequently over what the goals of American Foreign policy ought to be. The Bush administration neglected to elaborate a clear perspective of the future. Clinton persisted that the U.S, foreign affairs could not be separated from ‘the moral principles most American share’ (Ibid). He said that for the first time in his lifetime it was possible constantly to promote freedom, democracy and human rights. In fact, in the inaugural address, he expressed an idea of the new world: ‘Today, a generation brought up in the shadows of the cold war accepts new obligations in a world warmed by the sunshine of freedom…. Our expectations, our hearts and our hands are with those on each continent who are building democracy and freedom’ (Gill,2017). this was in maintaining principles of his predecessors of Wilsonian Liberalism and the continuation of American as world policeman. This gave the idea that Clinton was prepared to accept a forceful doctrine of U.S. interventionism. However, some critics argued that Clinton was less interested in foreign affairs but had more passion for domestic matters at the beginning of his administration. Although Lake proposal of neo-Wilsonian internationalism, failed to clarify anything apart from American’s good goals, an unclear aspiration to morality, a U.S. engagement. However, he entered office with little experience in foreign affairs. Particularly, the fall of the Soviet Union and the scepticism of the Post-Cold War world create a series of Foreign policy crises which questioned Clinton’s competences as a statesman (Riley). Nevertheless, the new team promised that it would just refine Bush’s new world order, rather it would build its own design. Bill Clinton’s was not appropriate for such task and His interest for foreign affairs was dominated by his distraction with domestic affairs. Consequently, His advisors misinterpreted this as an opportunity to pursue their own policy predilections. Therefore, the Further, Clinton planned, and main priority was to concentrate on domestic policy, principally domestic economy and foreign policy assumed a subordinate priority.  Clinton’s foreign policy is less simple to identify. Though Clinton’s approach incorporates components of his predecessor’s policy, such as promoting human rights, nation-building but it lacks a general plan (Haass 1997). In the State of the Union Address in 1994 Clinton express a focal perspective of his foreign policy: First, democracy promotion, according to Him this ought to be the central national security strategy of the United States. This was the core of Clinton’s offer for new American strategy for the post-Cold-War world called ‘Democratic Enlargement’ declared by Lake in his speech to the school of Advanced International Studies (SØNDERGAARD 2015). The policy was focused on three strengthening objectives:  national security, reinforce the American economy and promote democracy. In other words, the Clinton administration gave ‘Engagement and Enlargement’ as its national strategy, whereby engagement meant embracing internationalism and rejecting isolation (Miles, 2012). While enlargement means expanding the community of democratic states. The grand strategy suggested moving from the doctrine of Containment to Enlargement. Further, this idea that the promotion of democracy abroad is favourable to American security, has been a persuasive current of idea in American political theory  since the presidency of Woodrow Wilson’s and it has become of part of the significant political tradition known as Wilsonianism, which includes the promotion of open market and international organization under American control (Ibid). Some scholars have noticed the impact of Wilsonianism on Democratic enlargement and Clinton’s overall foreign policy. Therefore, the Neo-Wilsonianism was pleasing to a nation weakened by the battle of the Cold War.  First, His foreign policy was characterized by multinationalism, efforts to secure peace. Second, it was characterized by the new transatlantic agenda. Third, he focused on strengthening international institutions such as NATO and supporting the creation of regional trade agreements and the creation of WTO.  However, other scholars have contended that Clinton’s foreign policy was focused on the key ideas of globalization, democratic peace and Post-Cold War American internationalism (Foreign Policy 2009). However, his policy positively shift over the eight years of  his administration: from initial withdrawal from foreign policy to the strong personal engagement ( especially in Middle East) of 2000; from democracy promotion but progressively moved from assertive humanitarianism to the adaptation of national security in first term;  form the Post-Cold War defence cutback to remilitarisation and from an increasingly militaristic unilateralism in the second term ( SØNDERGAARD 2015).

Critics on Clinton foreign policy

Clinton presidency confronted a set of the public question at the start concerning its real aims, policies and incompetence. These questions persevered through the initial three years of his presidency (Renshon 1996). However, critics for example the New York Times were assessing the ‘vacuity’ of Clinton foreign affairs, while other commentators considered his foreign policy to be ‘too cautious and lacking vision’ ( Stephen M. 2000) in fact in the 1992 campaign Clinton proclaimed that his intention not to be a great extraordinary policy president (Ibid). Further, in his second term post critics recognized this is one pledge he has kept. Critics on the rights contended that his too knee to even consider accommodating a rising China, too heedless to Russia corruption and cronyism, and too moderate to consider using face against states like Yugoslavia(ibid).  while the liberal complains about Clinton’s inability to avoid the genocide in Rwanda, his late reaction to the blood in the Balkans, and his neglection of his initial vow to build a multilateral world founded on stronger international institutions. Also, the pragmatics centrists describe his foreign policy as ‘social work’ that is excessively influenced by ethnic lobbies, public opinion and media bull, rather than ensuring American national interest. Nevertheless, there is a trace of validity in all these charges, yet they failed to acknowledge the shift in the international position of the United States and have obscure the creation of its foreign policy, that even the following president would confront similar approaches, but improbable to accomplish significantly better outcomes. Moreover, he was constrained with a world extremely different from the one of his predecessors knew the end of the Cold War and as left the United States in a situation of extraordinary preponderance. Therefore, American was not concerned in foreign policy because they see how favourable the present circumstance is. Subsequently, they chose a president who guaranteed to devote less time with foreign affairs and more time on domestic issues, and they chose a Congress whose reject for foreign affairs is practically pleased. The declining concerns in foreign policy increment the general influence of special interests’ groups, specifically those with extremist agenda. Accordingly, the issue that Clinton’s critics accentuate are not exclusively credited to his lack of engagement in foreign affairs, the misguided perspectives of his adviser, a disorganize strategy process, or an inability to set a clear priority. In addition, other critics like Henry Kissinger stated that Clinton’s foreign policy was a progression of distinct choices in response to certain issues. Clinton, as indicated by Christopher Hitches, had no enormous plans no great ideas, no noble dreams (Dumbrell ,2009). In other words of W.G Hyland without a general viewpoint, most issues were clear to decline into strategic manipulation, some effective some not. Further, in an essay written by Emily Goldman and Larry Berman they underline the absence of a strategic guidepost and his foreign policy has been expansive but superficial, numerous international plans in progress, but a limited asset and little time dedicated because of a lack of priorities (Ibid). In other, cases some internationalists on the right criticized Clinton’s indecisiveness even as they conceded that at least he retained American out of the hand of isolationists.

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Moreover, Clinton foreign policy was weak, but had a tremendous failure, such as woeful inaction concerning Bosnia in the first term and was described by inattention and uncertain reason. Thus, most criticisms were dominated by the impeachment and by the apparent disappointment of moral leadership in both foreign and domestic grounds. (Ibid). For some Conservatives, Clinton kept on being ‘counter-culturalist’. While the Liberal saw Clinton has a leader, who let down his generation’s liberalism by cooperating with the Republicans, by over- rewarding regarding his dealing with the US military and by accepting a policy of short-term opportunism. A London economist criticised Clinton overall conduct of foreign affairs as a ‘pattern of incompetence judgment’. (Hyland, 1999)

In the review of the Presidential autography My Life, the New York Time considered this as an indication of Clinton administration itself: the absence of control prompting to wasted opportunities, high prospect, weakened by self-indulgence and dispersed focus (Dumbrell 2009). In other words, he was inconsistent, superficial and sentimental. According to Professor Joseph Nye Clinton was a president with an inspirational style, but with gradual targets. Writers on presidential performance concurred that on matter of decisiveness, there obviously are a question about Clinton’s decision tendency and style. (Ibid).  Besides, many critics judged Clinton as a leader who dislikes making a hard decision, who frequently let policy drift, who failed to put American on a distinct Post-Cold War foreign policy direction. However, most of the criticism does have a level of accuracy. Clinton was regularly a decisional ditherer. He was fit for instant decision-making and his style remember the picture of Lyndon Johnson who did not reveal his own mind or position until the last moment when he’s fully aware of the condition. For example, his administration was criticised on how they handle US involvement in Somalia, Bosnia and Haiti. The death of American in Somalia and requesting troopship to return notwithstanding danger from a group of armed Haitians prompted consistently criticism (Campbell and Rockman, 1996). In fact, the headlines driving October 1993 stated: ‘Foreign policy left unclear’, ‘president strives mightily to shift from trouble abroad to goals at home’ (Ibid). Lastly, another criticism was Clinton personal disregard of foreign policy, especially his initial reluctance to place himself at the centre of the foreign policy process was detrimental and in connection to Somalia had negative consequences for the whole reason for his administration. In addition, the impeachment influenced the coherence and integrity of the foreign policy (Dumbrell 2009).

Congress Assertiveness in Clinton Foreign Policy

President Clinton’s troubled initial two years in office terminated in a catastrophe for Democrats at the polls. He had an ambitious program, however, lacked a directive. His freewheeling and modified style did not encourage a successful White House organization (Campbell and Rockman, 1996).  In 1993 when Clinton initially took the oath of office, Democrats enjoyed majority both in the House and in the Senate. Therefore, having a Democratic president and democrats congress (Nelson, M; Perry and Riley,2016). They both lacked the experience of a working relationship. Clinton had no broad Washington experience and most congressional Democrats had never worked with a Democratic president (Fraser, 2003). However, Clinton was more efficient passing legislation throughout his first term, with both unified and differed government.  After the 1994 Republican transformation changed the congressional and put limitations on some Clinton agenda matters. Moreover, the Republican was not ready to help the chosen Democratic president pass his legislative priorities. The victory of the Republican was the second major influence over the evolving path of Clinton entire foreign policy.  From the moment the Republican obtain control they notified the White House and the entire country their intention to take an activist (who wanted a form of benevolent internationalism) role in the domestic and foreign affairs.  In addition, there no doubt that Clinton was forced to accept the Republican overthrow of Congress to pursue the rest of his foreign policy in the most assertive and oppositional Congresses. (Dumbrell,2009)

However, in the second term, his relationship with the Congress declined more due to the Monica Lewinsky scandal, consequently , Clinton was not able to obtain fast track authority, he failed to get the consent of the CTBT and failed to get back the payment of US owed to the UN (Fraser,2003).

From 1995 all through the remainder of his administration, Clinton needed to account of the Republican Congressional inclination and pressures. Nevertheless, it was contended that the Republican Congress was the main force in determining and re-directing Clinton foreign policy. The Congress was the main cause in pushing Clinton towards unilateralist positions in the second term and left it to sign on both foreign and defence policy. The Republican Congress takeover was a significant fact urging Clinton to re-prioritise foreign policy after 1994.  In other words, attacking the ‘new isolationism’, the administration found it foreign policy voice.

Case study: Somalia

Somalia intervention can be linked back to the resolution by Bush Administration to intervene in 1992 and the implications of the tragedy in Mogadishu one year later. Bush’s humanitarian intervention was described as an ideational false start. There were no strategic interests at risk, while his successor Clinton was reluctant to acknowledge the political expenses of continued compliance with norm specifying intervention where no vital strategic or economic interests were at stake. He was reluctant to forfeit his mandate for domestic change for an unpopular foreign policy (Glanville,2005).  However, in 1993 Clinton stated that the goal of the UN was to accomplish its humanitarian mission and ‘keep on working with the Somalis towards nation-building’ and emphasized on multilateral peacekeeping and peace-making (Ibid).  These two principles of multilateralism and humanitarian interventionism were explained more by the Ambassador of the UN, who created the phrase ‘assertive multilateralism’. Therefore, the initial Bush objective of restoring order changed under the Clinton administration to a total pacification and nation building.  This new aggressive approach drove at first just little incidents, however, in time, the conflict worsened.  As the casualties began to increase, so did domestic opposition to the Somali intervention. According to Republican Senator Byrd written piece in the New York Times, ‘lacking congressional, US combat force in Somalia ought to withdraw as soon as possible’(Ibid). Further, in September, the Congress urges Clinton to inform by October 15 on the aims and purpose of the mission in Somalia and to get by November a congressional authorisation to proceed with the US deployment. Criticism of US policy in Somalia was joined by the general critique of Clinton’ policy of ‘assertive multilateralism’, which many argued abandoned responsibility regarding US interests to the UN. On October 3, 1993, a tragic attack against Aidid’s force resulted to the death of 500 and 1000 people and 18 of the casualties were US Rangers. Within days, President Clinton completed his administration’s public withdrawal from Multilateral peacekeeping, he ceded to congressional and public pressure and pledge to bring the US forces the home end of March 1994. However, critics such as Anthony Lewis of the New York Times attacked Clinton’s Somalia policy as tentative, fuzzy and unconvincing (Hyland,1999). Some Constructivist scholars such as Martha stated that the US intervention in Somalia was without material interest, therefore, it proved to be unsustainable. Also as stated by Lake who considered the failure of the Somalia intervention to be due to the lack of a clear objective.

For Clinton, Somalia significantly increased criticism of his policies, particularly during Somalia crisis there was another failure, this time in Haiti.

 Case Study: Haiti

On September 1991, a military revolution under the leadership of General Raul Cedras overthrew the Government of Aristide. President Bush called for the restoration of democracy and operated with the Organization of American States to place a ban on all goods expect medicine and food. In 1992 election campaign Clinton condemned Bush administration cruel policy on refugee return and grant escaping Haitians refugee and thought for political Asylum till democracy could be re-established in Haiti but he never explained how his restoration would be achieved. On July 1993 a multinational force led by the US landed in Port-au-Prince to implement the Governors Island agreement accepted by Cedras but turned back by violent mobs shouting Somalia Somalia!  (Dumbrell,2009).  Probably for the fearing for another Mogadishu, the following morning the American ship pulled out and returned to U.S naval base in Guantanamo. This was a shame and was the of the Governors agreement. Instead of Clinton to stand up to the military regime, he turned to the United Nations. However, the administration was divided over the possibility of intervention, in 1994 Clinton declared to the nations US -led intervention force to Haiti. A last-minute agreement facilitated by former President Jimmy Carter which enables the troops landed unopposed by the Haitian military and a constitutional government was re-established and Aristide came back to power. In April 1996 US troop withdrawn and turning the mission to the UN, some experts argued that it was too early to guarantee the stability of Haiti’s democratic institutions. Nonetheless, Haiti was a severe setback, more than Somalia. It profoundly upset the moralist in the administration who consider Haiti was a trail for an American policy of protecting human rights and spreading democracy (Hyland, 1999).  Haiti turned out to be a part of Anti -Clinton litany, alongside Somalia and Bosnia, a three-part criticism of his negligence of Foreign affairs (Ibid). In addition, what connected these diverse circumstances was the personal failure of Bill Clinton. He played less attention until it was too late. Critics think that Clinton and Christopher shared a vital characteristic: neither showed strong confidence about what America foreign policy should achieve ‘to satisfy expect voter’. Also, some critics suggested that Clinton was a president whose interest ‘slacked at the water’s edge ‘a slave to public and Congressional opinion when he comes short on his own clear bearing (Ibid).


President Clinton was the first democrats in the White House for twelve years, Clinton was willing to sacrifice his mandate for domestic change and declining interest in foreign affairs. His foreign policy strategy was based around three components: National security, Prosperity promotion and Democracy Promotion. Clinton promoted these in his first discourse on foreign policy and they framed the centre of his grand strategy all through his administration. Although, in pursuing his goals he was criticised of a lack of a general approach to foreign affairs and lamented of the loss of opportunities and confused initiatives. However, Clinton’s administration used the linkage of promoting democracy and security to justify humanitarian intervention in Haiti and Somalia, which resulted to be a failure because  they lacked a clear objective.In fact due to these unsuccessful intervention Clinton  gradually moved from assertive humanitarian intervention towards national security and moved from militarism to unilateralism approach. However, as discussed previously, Clinton incompetence in foreign affairs was main influenced by his lack of experience, indecision, lack of focused, he was easily misguided by his Adviser and unable to remove the incapable ones. These because he was extremely sensitive to public opinion. Further, he accepted to compromise with an assertive and oppositional Congress who influence most of his foreign policy. Lastly, he main focused on domestic policy, make his loss interest in foreign affairs.


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