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Jewish World Review March 15, 2001 / 20 Adar, 5761

Michael Kelly

Michael Kelly
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A fine foreign policy mess


http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- THERE are two ways to look at what happened in American foreign policy in the Clinton years, and they are sides of the same coin. One is to say that the administration adopted -- unwisely -- what might be called an aggressive-passive approach. It spoke loudly (and with much patting of its own back) of its big-stick plans to trouble-shoot the world. But in its actions it tended to end up with a solution designed not to remove the cause of the trouble but merely to remove the spectacle of the trouble -- to paper over the trouble, leaving it for another day and another president.

The other way is to say that, in a period of unavoidable flux and chaos, the Clinton administration adopted -- wisely -- what might be called a pragmatic-aggressive approach. It accepted the limitations of American power but at the same time pushed hard within those limits to promote, to a correspondingly limited degree, peace, stability and American interests.

Both views are arguable, and, in a sense, it doesn't really matter: The practical result is the same. Whether because his predecessor cared too little to do very much or because no one could have done much more, President Bush faces a world where all sorts of bandages are falling off and all sorts of bills are coming due. In Israel, the Balkans, North Korea, Colombia, Africa, Russia and the Taiwan Strait, the new administration must deal with a series of crises put off and now returning.

A few highlights of the fine mess Bush finds himself gotten into:

In the Balkans, NATO and Yugoslavia agreed on Monday to allow Yugoslavian (Serbian) troops to return as an armed force to police a nine-square-mile buffer area on Serbia's border with Kosovo and Macedonia.

The area includes the Presevo Valley, where Albanian guerrilla forces have been more and more openly waging their war to make Kosovo an independent Albanian state and to further spread war and Albanian domination into ethnically mixed Macedonia. Meanwhile, the Croats of Bosnia have announced they no longer regard the Dayton peace accord as applying to them. And meanwhile again, Montenegro is resuming its drive for independence from Yugoslavia. The deal that underpins NATO peacekeeping in the Balkans always left unanswered the hard questions: Whose land? Whose justice? Who stays? Who leaves?

In 1995, Vice President Al Gore and Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin reached a secret agreement by which Russia would stop its arms sales to Iran. It is not clear if that agreement was ever entirely adhered to, but it is clear now that it is dead. Moscow repudiated the agreement last year; and on Monday Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Mohammad Khatami agreed to resume arms sales. Putin also agreed to resume aiding Iran in the building of a nuclear power plant that U.S. intelligence believes is intended to assist Iran's nuclear bomb-building program.

"The fragility and inherent dangers of the Taiwan situation command immediate attention," gently warns David Shambaugh in the January/February issue of Foreign Affairs. Taiwan, which is to all practical purposes a state of its own, is increasingly determined to achieve independence; China, which has already consumed Hong Kong and Macao, is increasingly determined to swallow Taiwan. The Clinton administration politely ignored China's growing boldness and bellicosity. Bush won't be able to keep this up. In April, the United States must decide whether to sell Taiwan four Arleigh Burke-class destroyers equipped with Aegis battle-management radar systems. Beijing has warned that sale of the destroyers will increase the chances of war. China last week announced that it is increasing its military spending by almost 18 percent. Beijing intends to dominate an East Asia free of U.S. forces. Taiwan is the testing ground of this intent, and the test is coming.

The Israeli army this week sealed off the West Bank city of Ramallah with trenches and piles of dirt and rock and checkpoints. Ramallah is, essentially, the capital of the Palestinian West Bank. With its enclosure, and with the Gaza Strip always subject to enclosure, the Palestinian centers of Israel may now be immediately and, if desired, permanently isolated. The Oslo peace process, which represented the ultimate in ignoring unresolved conflicts, is paper that papers over nothing anymore.

The president who must pick up the detritus of delayed realities has so far displayed a distinct lack of interest in adventuring abroad. His administration has displayed internal disagreement amid overall confusion of purpose. Someone needs to get a grip. A president, perhaps?


Michael Kelly is the editor of National Journal. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

Up

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