- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 17, 2001

It scarcely matters whether you turn on the car radio, the television or open a magazine. Everywhere we find President Clinton singing of himself, shamelessly, relentlessly. If there is one thing that man loves to do, it is talk about himself. But all things must have an end, even the interminable Clinton presidency. While this is bad news for Mr. Clinton, who will pine outside the bright circle of the limelight, many Americans will be relieved to see the end of the me-president.

Born under a lucky star, Mr. Clinton has managed to avoid any cataclysmic foreign policy disaster. Nonetheless, given the amazing hand he inherited from the previous Bush administration including the fall of communism and victory in the Gulf War Mr. Clinton has hardly been a faithful steward of American national interests. American prestige and influence has declined abroad; this in contradiction of the fact throughout the 1990s, we were the world's only superpower. Furthermore, while the United States is beyond dispute the dominant economic power, and accounted in 1998 for half of all economic growth in the world (according to Gene Sperling, chairman of the Clinton National Economic Counsel), the credit goes by no means to the White House alone, but also to the Republican Congress and most of all, the creative geniuses of the U.S. new economy.

Or as Walter Russell Meade and E. Benjamin Skinner, fellows at the Council on Foreign Relations, put it in the December issue of the Foreign Service Journal, "Decisive failure is as hard to achieve as unmitigated triumph in the contemporary world. The United States is so dominant in international affairs that even a poorly designed and incompletely executed foreign policy is likely to achieve some plausible shadow of success." They generously award Mr. Clinton a C+ for foreign policy, a gentleman's C one presumes.

From a strategic perspective, the expansion of NATO has been the most notable achievement of the Clinton era. Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic are safely within the alliance. However, enlargement happened slowly and via a detour through the Partnership for Peace program. The administration was right to reach out to the client states of the former Soviet Union, yet this was done hesitantly out of deference to Russia. As we look into the future, a second round of NATO expansion has receded on the horizon, and will take a very deliberate effort by the Bush administration to revive. As for Russia itself, the country continues in decline, and is less friendly towards the West than it has been during any point in the post-Cold War world.

In the Balkans, international action was delayed while the crisis worsened. When we intervened, the U.S. air campaign, hailed as a grand victory by interventionists, caused the dislocation of huge numbers of Kosovars, left Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic in place (for a while) and has yet to produce a satisfactory result.

Another area where the Clinton legacy is often hailed trade hardly deserves the name success. Again the administration punted, appealed to domestic constituencies and failed to assume leadership. Early successes, such as the establishment of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the North American Free Trade Agreement, were policies inherited from the previous Bush administration. Their passage in Congress depended entirely on Republican commitment. Since then, Mr. Clinton lost momentum on trade with Latin America, failing to gain fast-track negotiating authority; left the world trade round in shambles in Seattle by joining forces with labor interests and thoroughly humiliated Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji, a relative reformist, in the course of negotiating Chinese accession to the WTO.

And of course, this list does not even begin to address the decline in readiness among U.S. military forces or the nation's vulnerability to missile attack from the growing number of well-armed rogue states abroad. In the Clinton era, international treaties have often been seen as the solution to any number of military threats. The most recent example is Mr. Clinton's wrong-headed signing of the Rome Treaty, which establishes the International Criminal Court. Those who have expressed fears that a Bush foreign policy will be too narrowly focused on national interest, need only remember that in the Clinton era, high-flown rhetoric has oftentimes been a substitute for action or serious policy.

Even to the very end, Mr. Clinton has pursued self-interest above all. His quest for the Nobel Peace Prize has been widely noted, from Northern Ireland to Kashmir to the Middle East. He has followed this course to his last days in office, when other presidents have bowed quietly out and left major decisions to their successor.

In all likelihood, Mr. Clinton will be remembered mostly for his scandals, and for being the president sandwiched between two Bush administrations. No wonder he is so upset George W. Bush won the election.

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