Clinton's agenda for foreign policy spans broad spectrum of ideologies

October 04, 1992|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- Under the pressure of the presidentia campaign, Gov. Bill Clinton has been trying to outline his own foreign policy, while at the same time fending off criticism from the Bush White House that he is a closet dove masquerading as a hawk whose experience in world affairs is limited to breakfast at the International House of Pancakes.

Although foreign policy has not been a big issue in this first campaign after the Cold War, Mr. Clinton has laid out his internationalist vision in four speeches over the past year, knowing that he cannot pass the commander-in-chief test without appearing credible in this area.

The Clinton foreign policy is hard to summarize in a single phrase, but it is a blend of idealism and pragmatism, internationalism and protectionism, use of force and reliance on multinational institutions.

Mr. Clinton's critics say it is all of these things, because he wants to be all things to all men and has not really made up his mind.

He and his aides contend that after the Cold War, many of the old divisions in foreign policy, which particularly plagued the Democratic Party, can be bridged and that this is what "Clintonism" is all about.

Indeed, Mr. Clinton's team of foreign policy advisers is an ideological peacock made up of every wing of the Democratic Party. It is dominated by old hands from the faction of the Carter administration most averse to using force abroad, but there is also a heavy representation of members of Congress such as Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia and Rep. Les Aspin of Wisconsin who are associated with the more conservative wing of the party, as well as neo-conservative Reagan Democrats and a new generation of foreign-policy thinkers who might be called "Clintonites."

In fact, Mr. Clinton has embraced so many advisers that he relies on no single elder statesman and no single adviser stands out as first among equals.

The question of whom he might appoint as secretary of state or national security adviser is a mystery, even to his closest aides.

Mr. Clinton rebuffed repeated requests to be interviewed for this article.

At the core of Mr. Clinton's thinking is the contention that with the Cold War over, U.S. foreign policy needs a whole new focus. For him, that begins with revitalizing the U.S. economy.

Without doing that, he argues, the next president will have no chips with which to play abroad and will have no mandate from the American people for engagement abroad, because the public will be obsessed with domestic affairs.

"In this new era our first foreign priority and our domestic priority are one and the same: reviving our economy," he said in a recent speech in Los Angeles. "This has been the administration's most glaring foreign policy failure. An anemic, debt-laden economy undermines our diplomacy, makes it harder for us to secure favorable trade agreements and compromises our ability to finance essential military actions.

"I will elevate economics in foreign policy, create an Economic Security Council, similar to the National Security Council, and change the State Department's culture so that economics is no longer a poor cousin to old-school diplomacy."

Mr. Clinton has argued that he will also diverge from the Bush administration in two other fundamental areas.

One is the question of values, where he says he would assign a much greater weight than President Bush to promoting democracy abroad, rather than settling for stability based on authoritarian governments that repress human rights.

In that vein, for instance, he has said he would support the use of selective trade sanctions against China to get that country to ease its repression of human rights.

The second divergence would be in military strategy.

Mr. Clinton has proposed a five-year plan that would reorganize U.S. forces in a way that he contends would save $60 billion more than the Bush plan would through 1997.

He would shift money away from the full-scale, space-based "star wars" program and focus on a more limited, ground-based anti-missile plan.

And he would reduce the forces on the old Soviet front in Europe to 100,000 troops from 150,000, emphasizing instead smaller, more mobile forces to meet regional threats elsewhere.

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