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Jewish World Review Dec. 21, 2000 / 24 Kislev, 5761

Michael Ledeen

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Clinton’s gift for Bush -- WE NOW HAVE Colin Powell and Condi Rice named to two of the top foreign-policy posts in the next administration. They are two marvelous people who deserve the praise of their countrymen and the admiration of the world at large. They will not get it. Instead, they are the heirs of the Clinton legacy, and that is decidedly more a curse than a blessing: The world has so many burning fuses and like so much of Clinton’s behavior, this is in bad taste, since he was given an unusually rich inheritance from his predecessors.

Clinton was bequeathed a world at peace, because Reagan and Bush had effectively used the two main instruments of national security: superior power and unbreakable will. As a result, the many foreign leaders who hated us were terrified of our great military power, and were convinced — by 12 years of proven resolve — that we were quite prepared to use it.

That is the stuff peace is made of--real peace, not the illusions of peace we have been fed for the past eight years.

Clinton and his feckless associates, from Warren Christopher to Madeleine Albright, from Tony Lake to Sandy Berger, from Les Aspin to Bill Perry, John Deutch and Bill Cohen, threw it all away. You want strength of will? They gave us the occasional puny gesture, like lobbing a handful of cruise missiles into Iraq from time to time, and then dismantling the sanctions regime when no one was watching, or applying Band-Aids to the open wounds in the Balkans when radical surgery was required, or repeating the blunders of Vietnam in the jungles of Colombia. You want military power? Forget it. They turned the armed forces into a vast anthropological experiment that produced defections en masse, broken morale, politically castrated commanders, and the world’s largest daycare program.

But that is the least of it. In what future historians will undoubtedly regard as the single stupidest policy ever adopted by a great power, we armed the People’s Republic of China with our best military technology, despite the Chinese proclamation that we are their major enemy, and their announced intention to prepare to fight and win a war against us.

This folly alone could soon threaten our survival.

Our enemies know all this, and they are no longer afraid. The Chinese are not the only ones preparing to do us in. Their North Korean allies — Madeleine’s recent dancing partners in Pyongyang — have robbed us blind, taking our money and our nuclear technology even as they build missiles that can target our ships, our troops in the south, and even our western shores. The Iraqis and the Iranians pursue their development and production of weapons of mass destruction, and ever more accurate missiles to deliver them against our allies and us.

The cauldrons of war are bubbling in all the major theaters of the globe: Israel is at war even as Clinton babbles on about the peace process; China is mobilizing men and materiel on its coast opposite Taiwan; India and Pakistan are fighting a guerrilla war; terrorists arrogantly take Western hostages in Europe and Saudi Arabia; Africa is a vast killing field; Latin American ecoterrorism erodes the fragile legitimacy of regional democracies brought into being during the Reagan years of strength and resolve.

This is the Clinton legacy, and although it would have been appropriate for some of these cauldrons to have boiled over during his presidency, we should be pleased that these enormous challenges will be handled by the Powells and the Rices and the Cheneys, serious grownups with a realistic view of the world, the esteem of our friends and allies, and the fear of our enemies. If we’re lucky, we’ll get enough time to get our fighting forces back into acceptable condition in time for the first crisis.

The first sounds from the transition team are encouraging, especially the resolve on missile defense, and the shot across the bow of the Europeans — from my excellent colleague John Bolton, apparently tagged for deputy secretary of state — warning about the grave consequences of the planned European army, outside the NATO structure. And we should take heart from Powell’s subtle shift in language about Russia and China, no longer “partners,” but works in progress, with as yet unknown outcomes.

It’s going to be tough, and it could be fatal. It’s a good thing that help is on the way, but very few Americans have the slightest glimmering of the gravity of our situation. As Tocqueville warned nearly 200 years ago, democracies do badly at foreign policy. It will take great skill, courage, and luck to survive Clinton’s legacy.

JWR contributor Michael Ledeen is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of Tocqueville on American Character . Comment by clicking here.


© 2000, Michael Ledeen