Iraq, Haiti give Clinton rare wins in foreign policy

October 11, 1994|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Buoyed by one foreign policy success -- and hoping for another -- President Clinton took to the airwaves last night to express his "pride" at the performance of the men and women of the American armed forces he has dispatched to Haiti and to the Persian Gulf.

He had planned to spend yesterday campaigning in New Jersey for Democrats up for election on Nov. 8. But with Air Force One fueled and ready for takeoff, the president abruptly canceled his trip to play another role -- that of a successful commander-in-chief.

It is one that has not come easily to the former governor of Arkansas. But Mr. Clinton and his advisers figured that a prime time speech to the nation announcing progress in Haiti and Iraq would do more good for Mr. Clinton's party than anything he could say in New Jersey.

Clearly, the president, whose foreign policy has been widely criticized, was also feeling some pride himself.

In Haiti, the resignation of Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras paved the way for the return of exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a man Mr. Clinton stood by stubbornly.

And in Iraq, the announcement by the Baghdad government of a troop pullback was the direct result of Mr. Clinton's lightning-quick deployment of ships, troops and high-performance aircraft to the Persian Gulf.

"Our work is not done," Mr. Clinton cautioned his fellow Americans. But at the White House, the feeling was that if Iraqi president Saddam Hussein follows through and if the return of President Aristide really takes place, a corner will have been turned.

When he ran for office, Mr. Clinton needled President George Bush for the substantial time he spent on foreign policy. He promised to focus "like a laser" on getting the U.S. economy moving again, and his campaign headquarters boasted a now-famous sign, reading: "It's the economy, stupid."

As president, however, Mr. Clinton found it impossible to ignore the rumblings of an unstable world. He also discovered it was easier to criticize foreign policy than direct it.

On Haiti, on China, on Bosnia, he reversed himself, embracing Bush administration policies he had once attacked.

Moreover, in crisis after crisis, Mr. Clinton and his foreign policy team seemed to wilt when faced with unexpected

counterpunches.

On May 1, 1993, Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher vowed that "the clock is ticking" on Serbian aggression in the former Yugoslavia. He then left for Europe to round up support.

When the allies balked, the Clinton administration backed off.

Last October, after a firefight in Somalia in which 18 American soldiers were killed, Mr. Clinton abruptly abandoned the stated U.S. goal of arresting the Somalian warlord Mohamed Farah Aidid -- and eventually pulled U.S. troops from that nation.

Less than two weeks later, on Oct. 11, armed thugs loyal to the Haitian military turned around the USS Harlan County with 218 lightly armed Seabees aboard -- a ship ordered to Port-au-Prince Mr. Clinton.

If there was any doubt that Mr. Clinton's reputation was hurting his own foreign policy, it was --ed that day in Port-au-Prince.

As the thugs stormed the dockyard, they shouted, "We're going to turn this into another Somalia!"

Mr. Clinton was widely criticized in the wake of that fiasco. It was a low point. But yesterday was the high.

"The strength of America's foreign policy stands on the steadfastness of our commitments." Mr. Clinton said. "The United States and the international community have given their word that Iraq must respect the borders of its neighbors. And tonight, as in Haiti, American troops, with our coalition partners, are the guarantors of that commitment, the power behind our diplomacy."

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