The Clinton Doctrine

JEANE KIRKPATRICK

September 01, 1993|By JEANE KIRKPATRICK

"What is our purpose?'' Senate Minority Leader Robert Dole asked of the latest U.S. commitment of troops to Somalia. ''What is the cost? How long will they stay?''

U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali addresses these questions in his most recent report to the Security Council on Somalia. But his answers would not please Mr. Dole or a growing number of senators and representatives concerned about the increasing U.S. commitment to the U.N. operation in Somalia.

Mr. Boutros-Ghali explains that what began as an effort to prevent mass starvation has become a campaign ''to reconstruct [Somalia's] political, social and material infrastructure on a lasting basis,'' to disarm warring factions, apprehend ''criminal elements,'' establish a national police force, prison system and a judicial system.

Of course, the secretary general does not explain why the United States should commit hundreds of millions of dollars and risk thousands of lives to nation-building in one African state. That is not his responsibility. Explaining to American taxpayers why these activities are in the U.S. national interest is the responsibility of President Clinton and his administration.

We know why the Bush administration committed 20,000 troops to Somalia: It was to stave off imminent starvation of tens of thousands. But President Clinton and his top advisers have not explained why Americans should become militarily involved in the internal politics of Somalia -- a distant country to which we have no special ties. Nor have they explained why the conflict in Somalia should have greater claim to U.S. resources than, say, the bitter war of aggression against Bosnia.

The president's silence on these questions has given rise to the complaint -- heard with increasing frequency -- that the Clinton administration has failed to define a foreign policy. I believe that complaint is not justified.

In fact, the Clinton administration's foreign policy has been repeatedly described and illustrated by top administration officials. But what they say and what they do are so unfamiliar and unexpected that they are barely heard and even less understood.

For the Clinton team, implementing the decisions of the U.N. Security Council and secretary general in Somalia, Bosnia, Cambodia or wherever is our foreign policy. Doing what the United Nations calls on us to do is our foreign policy.

That is why Secretary of State Warren Christopher listed among the administration's foreign-policy accomplishments ''taking the lead in passing the responsibility to multilateral bodies.'' It is presumably why the administration accepted Mr. Boutros-Ghali's claim of authority to decide when and where NATO air strikes could take place in Bosnia, and why the U.S. dispatched crack troops to Somalia without raising serious questions about whether it is prudent, justifiable or in the U.S. interest.

The Clinton administration has made acting through the United Nations the centerpiece of U.S. foreign policy. ''There is a political will in the new administration to use the United Nations in solving international disputes,'' Mr. Boutros-Ghali told David Frost soon after President Clinton's inauguration. And he was right. But even he must be surprised at the extent of the Clinton administration's commitment to global multilateralism.

The clearest statement yet of the Clinton doctrine of ''assertive multilateralism'' was offered in U.N. Ambassador Madeleine Albright's June speech to the Council on Foreign Relations. But Mr. Christopher and other policy-making members of the Clinton team have emphasized and illustrated the administration's belief that a strong United Nations is critical to U.S. national security, that a conflict anywhere is a threat to U.S. national security, and that they have a commitment to promote peace and development everywhere through the United Nations.

In Bosnia, Somalia and Cambodia, and in its sweeping plans to upgrade U.N. peacekeeping capacities, the administration has demonstrated a will to make the U.N. secretary general's priorities its own.

In its support of Mr. Boutros-Ghali's boundless agenda and unprecedented claims of authority, in its willingness to defer to U.N. decisions (as, for example, on air strikes in Bosnia), in its decision to place U.S. troops under U.N. command, the Clinton adminis- tration defines its foreign policy and dissolves the national interest as traditionally conceived.

It eliminates from the calculation of interests and priorities factors like geography, history and culture that have traditionally shaped the foreign policy of nations. The Clinton administra- tion offers us a vision of foreign policy from which national self-interest is purged. And it proposes to forgo U.S. control over important decisions and rely instead on the judgment of international bodies and officials.

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