Hyphenated-American foreign policies

February 01, 1997|By Daniel Berger

EVERYONE'S IDEAL of a hyphenated-American foreign policy used to be Jewish. Once President Truman put United States policy on the side of creating Israel, mythic things were said about the power of the Jewish vote or finance in American politics.

That was not the first ethnic bloc seeking to influence foreign policy, but it eclipsed predecessors. In recent decades, this influence was vitiated by splits in the American Zionist community paralleling splits in Israeli politics on issues of land and security.

The more dramatic development has been the rise of other hyphenated-American agendas.

The figure of Americans claiming some Irish ancestry was once worked out at 40 million. Slightly more than half are Protestant. That puts more Irish-Americans in a boat with Ulster Unionists than with Irish Nationalists. But the Irish Catholic Americans, on average, came later and care more.

Joseph P. Kennedy, President Franklin D. Roosevelt's pro-Irish ambassador to Britain on the eve of World War II, failed to deflect Roosevelt's tilt toward Britain. Irish-Catholic Americans felt frustrated through the presidencies of Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan and Bush. And they were split between supporters and foes of the IRA.

With Bill Clinton, all that changed. The great effort of key Irish-Americans to champion his candidacy early and own a piece of his foreign policy in behalf of a peace process embracing the IRA is spelled out in ''The Greening of the White House.'' Author Conor O'Clery covered all that while Irish Times correspondent in Washington. Published in Ireland, its U.S. publication under another title is scheduled for spring.

President Clinton, proclaiming himself part-Irish, part Ulster-Scots and part-British, immersed himself in the Irish question as no predecessor had. Being led to it by the ''Greens,'' he then led them to even-handedness, and did not put a foot wrong.

But they were all made fools by the resumption of IRA bombing last February. Until a cease-fire and the peace process resume, the Irish-Catholic American lobby can claim no success in Ireland, only in the White House.

Cuban agenda

The other hugely successful lobby is the hawkish half of Cuban-Americans. Emigres own U.S. policy on Cuba. Caving into Jorge Mas Canosa was politically astute; Mr. Clinton carried Florida in 1996.

Serb- and Croat-Americans have been nullifying each other's influence. Arab-American influence is growing but does not yet threaten Zionist influence.

Randall Robinson and his TransAfrica organization put African-Americans in the foreign-policy influence game so long as apartheid ruled in South Africa. Then they helped obtain U.S. power to restore democracy in Haiti.

Afterward, African-American interest in foreign affairs tapered off. Mr. Robinson tried to revive it in behalf of democracy in Nigeria, to little avail. There is not enough identification with Rwanda, Burundi or even Liberia to engage the nation where the State Department fears to tread.

Most Asians, as they have become Americans, have been self-effacing about influence. The Clinton presidency worked the Asian-American business communities assiduously to reverse that, with scandalous success.

Full Asian-American participation in American life should be welcomed. Where it went wrong was using Asian-Americans to launder illegal political contributions from true foreigners.

As American nationality breaks down into the celebration of differences, more hyphenated foreign agendas must be expected.

The way to achieve a coherent, purposeful foreign policy in the national interest would be for national unity to overcome separate identity in domestic politics. It takes a unified country to mount a consensus foreign policy.

Daniel Berger writes editorials for The Sun.

Pub Date: 2/01/97

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