Jewish World Review Oct. 29, 1999 /19 Mar-Cheshvan, 5760
AFTER SEVEN YEARS, the big foreign policy thinkers in the Clinton
administration are convinced they have come up with a big idea. Having
spent the better part of a decade meandering through the world without a
hint of strategy--wading compassless in and out of swamps from Somalia
to Haiti to Yugoslavia--they have finally found their theme.
Engagement. Hence the speech's title, "American Power--Hegemony, Isolation or Engagement." Or as he spelled it out: "To keep America engaged in a way that will benefit our people and all people."
Has there ever been a more mushy, meaningless choice of strategy? Engagement can mean anything. It can mean engagement as a supplicant, as a competitor, as an ally, as an adversary, as a neutral arbiter. Wake up on a Wednesday and pick your meaning.
The very emptiness of the term captures perfectly the essence of Clinton foreign policy. It is glorified ad hocism.
It lurches from one civil war to another with no coherent logic and with little regard for American national interests--finally proclaiming, while doing a victory jig over Kosovo, a Clinton Doctrine pledging America to stop ethnic cleansing anywhere.
It lurches from one multilateral treaty to another--from the Chemical Weapons Convention that even its proponents admit is unverifiable to a test ban treaty that is not just unverifiable but disarming--in the belief that American security can be founded on promises and paper.
If there is a thread connecting these meanderings, it is a woolly utopianism that turns a genuinely felt humanitarianism and a near-mystical belief in the power of parchment into the foreign policy of a superpower.
The choice of engagement as the motif of Clinton foreign policy is a self-confession of confusion. Of course we are engaged in the world. The question is: What kind of engagement?
Engagement that relies on the fictional "international community," the powerless United Nations or the recalcitrant Security Council (where governments hostile to our interests can veto us at will) to legitimize American action? Or engagement guided by American national interests and security needs?
Engagement that squanders American power and treasure on peacekeeping? Or engagement that concentrates our finite resources on potential warfighting in vital areas such as the Persian Gulf, the Korean peninsula and the Taiwan Strait?
Berger cannot seem to tell the difference between isolationism and realism. Which is the fundamental reason for the rudderless mess that is Clinton foreign