Clinton calls on U.S. to lead

President chides foes, backs American aid, foreign engagement

A crucial world role seen

Declaration comes 10 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall

November 09, 1999|By Jay Hancock | Jay Hancock,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- In a jab at congressional Republicans who have rejected increases in foreign aid, President Clinton chose the 10th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall to urge the United States yesterday to continue its leading role in international affairs.

"We have to decide, quite simply, to maintain the tradition of American leadership and engagement in the world that played such a critical role in winning the Cold War and in helping us to win the peace over this last decade," Clinton said in a speech at Georgetown University.

After "we spent trillions of dollars" to win the Cold War, Clinton said, a few billion dollars spent on crucial foreign aid projects will ensure that the original investment won't be squandered.

Clinton did not repeat his description of congressional Republicans as "new isolationists," a term he used last month after the defeat of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. But his comments yesterday came after weeks of haggling over foreign aid between the Clinton administration and congressional leaders.

The president vetoed a spending bill last month that contained $12.7 billion in foreign assistance, billions less than the administration had wanted. The bill omitted $370 million Clinton had sought for reducing Third World debt and implementing the Wye River peace accord for the Middle East.

A bill passed Friday by the House restored the Wye money and some of the debt-relief money, and provided $15.3 billion for foreign operations, but Clinton still chided his opponents again yesterday.

"Some believe America can and should go it alone, either withdrawing from the world and relying primarily on our military strength or by seeking to impose our will where things are happening that don't suit us," Clinton said. Those with such views "are disproportionately represented" in Congress, he said, evoking laughter from the audience of students, faculty and journalists.

The president also extended a laurel to Republicans, saying President Ronald Reagan was right when he famously described the Soviet Union as an "evil empire."

Winning the Cold War "took the conviction of President Reagan, who said so plainly what many people on the other side of the [Berlin] Wall had trouble understanding, that the Soviet empire was evil and the wall should be torn down," Clinton said.

Ten years ago today, the wall that separated East Berlin and West Berlin and symbolized four decades of hostility between the communist world and the capitalist one began to fall.

Clinton, who has pushed greater international trade and occasional military action to further U.S. interests or aid oppressed peoples, portrayed his administration as having helped to increase stability and prosperity around the globe.

In particular, the president said, the intervention of Western nations in Yugoslavia this year showed that "the century is not ending on a note of despair with the knowledge that innocent men, women and children on the doorstep of NATO can be expelled and killed simply because of their ethnic heritage and the way they worship God."

The proclamation was less sweeping than the one Clinton made earlier this year, when he said, "Whether you live in Africa or Central Europe or any other place, if somebody comes after innocent civilians and tries to kill them en masse because of their race, their ethnic background or their religion, and it is within our power to stop it, we will stop it."

That statement, made immediately after the NATO victory in Yugoslavia, was widely criticized as vague and overly generous in its promise of U.S. resources.

Besides the danger of a United States turning inward, Clinton identified what he called three principal "challenges to the vision" of a peaceful Europe and strong cross-Atlantic relationship.

Noting that he will travel this week to Greece, Turkey, Italy and Bulgaria, Clinton called the rift between Greece and Turkey perhaps the oldest regional challenge "and in some ways perhaps the hardest."

"I believe the coming century will be shaped in good measure by the way in which Turkey itself defines its future. The future can be shaped for the better if Turkey can become fully a part of Europe as a stable, democratic, secular Islamic nation," he said.

As the former Yugoslavia shows signs of breaking further apart, Clinton said, "I am convinced that the only way to avoid future Balkan wars is to integrate the countries of southeastern Europe more with each other and then more with the rest of Europe."

Many foreign policy analysts suggest that the Yugoslav provinces Montenegro and Kosovo will become independent states. The Clinton administration advocates their staying with Serbia in Yugoslavia.

Russia is another country in which the United States has "a profound stake," Clinton said. He warned of nuclear instability if Russia continues to sink into an economic swamp.

"Years from now, I don't think we will be criticized, any of us, for doing too much to help" Russia. "But we can certainly be criticized if we do too little."

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