ON THE AMERICAN PLAN: American Foreign Policy

Tuesday, November 28, 2000

From the Monroe Doctrine through the Truman Doctrine, from containment to détente, the principles behind America’s boldest foreign policy initiatives were straightforward and easy to understand. These simple principles told the rest of world what to expect from the United States and what we expected from the rest of the world. What were the principles behind American foreign policy in the 1990s? Did President Clinton apply those principles rigorously or haphazardly? How can President Bush do better?

Recorded on Tuesday, November 28, 2000

Peter Robinson: Welcome to Uncommon Knowledge. I'm Peter Robinson. Our show today, America's Foreign Policy, assessing the job that Bill Clinton did and offering a few words of advise on what his successors should do.

During his own presidency, Teddy Roosevelt was fond of saying that the United States should speak softly but carry a big stick. It was an apt description of Roosevelt's own foreign policy strategy, asserting the place of the country as a world power of the first rank.

From the beginning, American foreign policy has been characterized by simple, overarching strategy. The Monroe Doctrine, keeping European powers out of our hemisphere. In our own time, during the cold war, containment; opposing Soviet expansion anywhere on the globe.

During the last decade however, since the end of the cold war, American foreign policy strategy has been unclear, if indeed we've even had a strategy. President George Bush attempted to articulate; many would say he failed, a new world order. President Bill Clinton has never even offered a strategy. Can the next President do better?

With us today three guests. Ken Jowitt is a fellow at the Hoover Institution. Jane Wales is President of the World Affairs Council of Northern California. And Michael Nacht is Dean of the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley.

Title: The American Plan

Peter Robinson: William Jefferson Clinton, first inaugural address, January 21st, 1993, quote: "Today as an old order passes the new world is more free but less stable. We will not shrink from the challenges nor fail to seize the opportunities of this new world." Close quote. Did the Clinton Administration seize the foreign policy opportunities of the last eight years, or just muddle along? Michael?

Michael Nacht: Better than muddling and less than totally seizing. Clinton was dealt a very complicated post cold war hand and did a pretty good job overall.

Peter Robinson: Ken?

Ken Jowitt: I think he failed to grasp that the key characteristic of this age is the disintegration of states, not the universal spread of democracy.

Peter Robinson: So he missed the whole point?

Ken Jowitt: Yeah.

Peter Robinson: Jane?

Jane Wales: I'd argue that he managed the process globalization as best as any president possibly could.

Peter Robinson: Russia. President Clinton gave a lot of speeches about the importance of democracy in Russia, and encouraged the IMF to make gigantic loans to Russia and provided financial and technical assistance to help the Russians destroy large numbers of their own outdated nuclear weapons.

Results. Russian living standards have fallen. Russia is riddled with corruption. And in Vladimir Putin we have a leader who has been proven cool at best toward the United States, defying us in prosecuting a war against the Chechens and proving a little help, at best, in Kosovo. Ken Jowitt, grade the Clinton Administration's Russian foreign policy.

Ken Jowitt: Oh about C+, B-. We wasted a lot of money. In fact, what we should have done is simply send the money to Cyprus and develop Cyprus. Because that's where most of the money ended up. The Russian mafia just took it and put it in cyprea packs. So I don't think we've done a very good job in supporting democracy there. I think we've worked with this metaphysical concept, civil society. It's a bit like the Holy Ghost. You know it's there but you can't quite put your finger on it. And haven't helped create civil society in--in--in any way. And we…

Peter Robinson: Civil society meaning what? Explain the concept.

Ken Jowitt: Well, civil society in--in I think the simplest sense means a political realm that isn't dependent on the state. That has it's own autonomous organizations. That is bounded by the rule of law. That is substantiated by some real private property rights. And that has a sense…

Peter Robinson: No--no private property rights in Russia?

Ken Jowitt: They're not guaranteed by law at all. No.

Peter Robinson: Rule of law is just something of a joke?

Ken Jowitt: It's a joke. It's an absolute joke.

Peter Robinson: Is that Bill Clinton's fault? Grade the Clinton Administration Jane, on Russia.

Jane Wales: I'd--I'd say the highest priority that he placed was on securing nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons materials in Russia. And there he gets an A+. On the question of…

Peter Robinson: You're nodding.

Ken Jowitt: I agree. I think he's done a very good job dealing with the nuclear weapons. Yeah.

Jane Wales: And when it comes to our security and our interests, that had to be number one on the agenda.

Peter Robinson: You agree with that Michael?

Michael Nacht: Absolutely. And of course a part of that was the denuclearization, the removal of nuclear weapons from the other former states of the Soviet Union, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine, which was part of the nuclear security strategy.

Peter Robinson: And that was successful. And everybody here at the table agrees with that. Now, Jowitt here has said Russia is an unholy mess. But is that our fault or is that just Russia?

Michael Nacht: Well, I personally think we probably overestimated the amount influence we'd have in building a civil society, in building a democratic institutions and in a market economy. I mean Russia has more of a market economy today than it had under Communism. It has more of a democracy today than it had under Communism. Does it have an American style democracy? No. Does it have an American style market economy? No. Is there a lot of graft and corruption? Absolutely. Could we have done it better and differently? I'm not sure. They were going to take a lot of the money, use some of it perhaps productively, squander a lot of it. But we--we gave it our best shot.

Jane Wales: Let me give you the two--the two places where I think the Clinton Administration made a serious mistake.

Peter Robinson: Alright.

Jane Wales: The first was in threatening the Antiballistic Treaty. Standing out--in essence saying, "If you will not renegotiate that treaty, we will abrogate it in any event." That was mistake number one. Mistake number two, I'm actually doing this in reverse order in which they happened. Mistake number two was the expansion of NATO without taking Russian's legitimate concerns into account at all.

So we took two steps that seemed almost designed to humiliate a new Russia and undercut the reformers within the Russian Administration. I suspect Ken really disagrees with me on this. He probably thinks they're the two best steps that Clinton took with respect to Russia.

Ken Jowitt: No, I think, I--I'm ambivalent about the NATO. In balance, I--I'd favor the extension. And--and I was convinced by Adam Mitnich(?) when I--I spoke to him in Poland.

Peter Robinson: Who is? Give us a description.

Ken Jowitt: Adam Mitnich(?), basically one of the founders of solidarity, spoke most of his adult life in prison; I felt one of the great democratic philosophers of the twentieth century. He said, "We need a democratic subsidy for Poland. That Poland is the key country in eastern Europe," which is true. It's de--it's both demographically, politically, economically and strategically the most important country.

And what NATO will do, because the EU will never get to us, you know, in--in the short run, what NATO will do will--will in affect put us over in terms of a commitment to democracy. And that argument made a great deal of sense to me. And I accept the point that this offended Russia. But then, I don't think really that foreign policy is predicated on therapy. I--I--I really don't think…

Peter Robinson: Let's move on to what our policy toward Russia should be today.

Title: Four Years of Hard Labor?

Peter Robinson: What should the next president do toward Russia?

Jane Wales: I think the first thing he--he's going to face an immediate decision, and that's on the question of national missile defense. Will we deploy? And what kind of missiles defenses, if we do deploy, what kind of missile defenses will we go for? Will they be ones that, on the one hand, that--that force the abrogation of the Antiballistic Missile Treaty or not?

I would argue that he choose for a form of national missile defense, which is referred to as boost face--boost phase defense, that is clearly geared toward defending against rouge states and is something that the Putin Administration has already said they'd be willing to negotiate around.

Peter Robinson: Mr. Jowitt--Doctor Jowitt that sounds therapeutic to me. Let us do something that makes them feel good.

Ken Jowitt: No. It--it--it--you know, feeling good--if--if it's a side benefit I'm all for making people feel good.

Peter Robinson: What should the next president do toward Russia?

Ken Jowitt: He should spend less time dealing with civil society and Mr. Putin, per se, and trying to establish as close a relationship as possible between the United States military and the Russian military. The Russian military, without any question, in the next ten years is going to be a much more coherent, cohesive force.

Right now it doesn't have as much fire-power as most gangs in Detroit. But it is going to develop. It is an institution with a history. It has status, honor. We had better not just look to the "nûcs," which I'm all in favor of doing, there's no question about that and there's scientists who can build these things, but also to look at the Russian army and not just at this civil society democracy thing.

Peter Robinson: Michael, what should the next president do toward Russia?

Michael Nacht: Well I--I think the next president frankly, should continue with some modifications, this form of engagement that Clinton has in fact promulgated. I differ with Jane a little bit on the--on the Clinton mistakes.

First of all, NATO enlargement really wasn't approved 'till '98. And the--the missile defense position of Clinton wasn't really clarified 'till '99. So for most of the Clinton Administration, those were not really yet on the table.

And I go back to the earlier point. The emphasis of the Clinton strategy was democratization and market economy, with pa--with an overestimation of what we could achieve. What the new administration should do I think is continue to interact. Play the game across the board, economically, militarily, politically, socially, scientifically and all the rest.

I do have to say that President Bush has articulated a rather different view, which leads one to think that there'll be more separation, more distance. There's been language used that Russia will have to go it alone. And this would not be…

Peter Robinson: Well, why is that necessarily a different view? Isn't that just being me--more realistic?

Michael Nacht: It's a matter of whether we're going to try to engage in work on some of these problems with them and ultimately produce results on(?) which we don't like. Or we're basically going to say, "Look you guys, it's your economy. If you can't make it, it's your tough luck. It's your military. If you can't get it in shape, it's your problem. It's your nuclear materials. If you don't like it, you know, if you can't keep them safe and secure, you know, we'll--we'll make our own plans." And I think that would be a mistake.

Peter Robinson: Time to turn from the largest country in the world to the most populace.

Title: The China Syndrome

Peter Robinson: China. Clinton Admin--Administration pursues a policy of real warmth toward China. State visits go back and forth. Our president goes there. Their president comes here. Clinton Administrations lobbies Congress, very forcefully, to grant China Most Favored Nation status and succeeds in getting that status. The only real show of firmness toward China takes place in 1996 when the Chinese lob missiles into the Strait of Taiwan and we send a couple of carriers there to stick up for Taiwan.

Results. Plus side, China has embraced the market economy much more com--comprehensively after these eight years than it had before. Minus side, China has been belligerent toward Taiwan, continues the wholesale violation of human rights within it's own country, as the Cox Report demonstrated they've also been steeling technology from us, quite of a lot of it, nuclear technology, quite a lot of it during the Clinton Administration.

Grade--grade the Clinton Administration's China policy?

Jane Wales: I actually think that the Clinton Administration's China policy has been a real success. Here is an example of what Michael was referring to as a policy of engagement. And it's been a really--it's been a smart policy that has both done all that is possible to promote the rule of law in China by engaging, taking advantage of China's desire to be part of the global economy. Bring them in to, ultimately into the world trade organization, bringing them into institutions that force them to operate under rules based system. That's very smart. But…

Peter Robinson: They dangled the carrot skillfully and it worked.

Jane Wales: But, at the same time, there was an extraordinary show of force in 1996. You made that sound very insignificant. When two super powers talk about going to war, that is an extraordinary set of circumstances. And we showed real resolve in 1996.

Peter Robinson: Grade the Clinton Administration's China policy.

Michael Nacht: Well, I think they had problems in the beginning by linking human rights to economic relations too s--too tightly. And then that did not work and then they backed off on that. But later on, I--I tend to agree with Jane. China is the toughest nut I think of--of all the chestnuts in the foreign policy fire. This is I think the most dangerous relationship we're going to face for the new administration.

Peter Robinson: Ken? How did Bill Clinton do with China?

Ken Jowitt: Several things. First, to grade them…

Peter Robinson: Rave reviews so far.

Ken Jowitt: Yeah. To grade them im--im--implies that--that we have great control or degree of influence over China. We don't. China is like Russia. It is in--in--in it's potential, in some sense of reality, a great power. The difference is it has a cohesive leadership. So, we do have to take it seriously as Michael--Michael says.

I think what we have to understand is that most of the thing the Chinese have done have nothing to do with Bill Clinton or would have nothing to do with a republican president. They understand their economy has to work. The only thing that seems to work now is the market. So you use it to the extent to which you can and control its political consequences.

What the United States should have made clear is, yes, as one China, and we did do this in--in--in the mid '90s, we make it very clear any use of force means we defend Taiwan. What's the principle underlying the response. It's not just against Chinese aggression. It's in defense of what has clearly emerged as a democratic Taiwan. And if we don't make that our principle foreign policy, not human rights, not even nuclear decommissioning, but the s--the support of what happens to be a historical mutation in a minority in the world, democracy. I think that's a big mistake. It doesn't (?)…

[talking at same time]

Peter Robinson: That should be the lynch pin--that should be the lynch pin of the next president's policy toward China. We draw the line and it encompasses Taiwan. Don't cross it.

Ken Jowitt: That's right. They can work it out fine.

Peter Robinson: Michael, you going to go for that?

Michael Nacht: No. I think that would be inflammatory. I would not necessarily completely disagree with what Ken wants to do. But I wouldn't have the government, U.S. government say it that way. Since '72, where Nixon and Kissinger signed the Sh…

Peter Robinson: Creative ambiguity. That's what you want?

Ken Jowitt: …Shanghai Communiqué, it says, "We want the peaceful resolution of the Taiwan situation." We didn't say what would happen if it's not a peaceful resolution. It's an exercise left to the reader.

Peter Robinson: Jane.

Jane Wales: I actually am in the weird position of agreeing with both. And think that--that we--we have that creative ambiguity…

[talking at same time]

Peter Robinson: …this TV show, diplomacy has to be easy. Go ahead.

Jane Wales: And--and, in fact, we've got legislation that--that locks us into da--the defense of Taiwan. I think it's very, very clear from both our actions, our words, our laws that we will defend Taiwan. It is also clear that we think that the long-term answer to this problem is a peaceful resolution to the problem within China, the--the, both Taiwan and mainland China and that we think that ultimately engaging China in the rest of the world, in the international community, is the way we'll get from here to there.

Peter Robinson: So the next president ought to keep doing what Bill Clinton has done?

Michael Nacht: It was publicized during the campaign and I think it is a fact that there is, in fact, a deep division within the Bush advisory team on this exact issue. There is a kind of pro-engagement group that's not terribly different I think, in substance, from Clinton. And there's very much a pro-Taiwan group that says, "Let's cut out the ambiguity. Taiwan is an independent state, is a democratic state, and we should, you know…" here ambiguity, they would argue, is not useful any longer.

Peter Robinson: Nest topic, a tricky one. American policy in the Balkans.

Title: A Little Bomb'll Do Ya?

Peter Robinson: Kosovo. Doctor Jowitt, how do you grade Clinton's policy toward Kosovo?

Ken Jowitt: Well, again, I just think it's the wrong policy.

Peter Robinson: He did something, after all.

Ken Jowitt: Yeah. He did something. It's--it's the wrong policy. Partition's the best policy. I mean, basically what he's doing in--in Bosnia and Kosovo is a new--a new approach. It's called caring colonialism. And basically what he wants to do is create civil society, democracy. He wants to create a multicultural society. He wants it to be Berkeley in Bosnia. And--and basically what he's getting in Bosnia is a Frankensteinian version of Switzerland where multiculturalism actually works.

Partition can be--it can--it can happen in two ways. It can be murderous, and--it's never decorous, but it--it can be peaceful. And if you gave Serbia a Republic of Serbska in Bosnia, which has just voted for nationalist party, you gave Croatians the Croatians, which they want, you protect a little small rump state in Bosnia of Muslims and you allow the Albanians in Kosovo, in e--in western Macedonia and Albania, basically you'd have entities that were still poor, but that would not be ridden with ethnic conflict, where there'd be very little room for communal warfare. It's not a bad idea.

Peter Robinson: Michael and Jane, we have here the assertion that the entire Clinton foreign policy toward Yugoslavia, not just Kosovo, Bosnia, the whole thing has been misbegotten from the very beginning. These people can't live together. Let's face up to it, be realistic and just separate them into their own communities so atleast they stop killing eachother. Jane?

Jane Wales: How do you decided who lives in what neighborhood? I mean that--that means, ever since they've been commingled, that means you've got to decide that nobody lives at home anymore. You're going to rearrange where they're going to live, how they choose their neighbors…

Peter Robinson: But they've done quite a substantial part of rearranging themselves, have they not?

Jane Wales: That's right. But in a way, the la--I mean--this is the man that doesn't want to micromanage what happens in Russia and China. But he does want to micromanage every element of the lives of a Kosovar. I'm not sure this is practical. I understand arguments for partition. Those arguments have been--were made in the Middle East. I understand those arguments--there are--there're some validity to those arguments. But the reality is it's real hard to implement what Ken just described. And I'm not sure that's our job.

[talking at same time]

Peter Robinson: …practically difficult from our point of view or because it in--incurs hardships on the people…?

Jane Wales: Both.

Peter Robinson: …imposes hardships on the people?

Jane Wales: Both.

Peter Robinson: Because we did bomb for 78 days. I mean, 10,000 bombing sorties imposed a few hardships.

[talking at same time]

Peter Robinson: Michael.

Michael Nacht: I think things are being mixed up here. I actually am sympathetic to the view that these people are going to have a tough time living together and portioning may be the ultimate, best solution.

Peter Robinson: Try it for a century.

Michael Nacht: But, but…

Peter Robinson: Atleast they won't kill eachother.

Michael Nacht: …there's no way we could come close to implementing any policy of partition if we hadn't done what we did. If we hadn't done what we did…

Peter Robinson: The bombing.

Michael Nacht: …in both Bosnia and Kosovo, of which I, by the way, give Clinton an A, courageous A for.

Peter Robinson: On Kosovo?

Michael Nacht: On both.

Peter Robinson: On both.

Michael Nacht: Because there was--there wasn't a domestic support for it. This was not foreign policy by public opinion polls, by focus groups. There wasn't--you know, how many Albanian Muslims were protesting outside the Whitehouse and in Congress that he ought to do something? This was a courageous decision. It was based on several things. It was based on the fact that people were getting ethnically cleansed, which no one wants to be. It was based on more strategic decisions, you know? Milosovich wouldn't have stopped in Kosovo after he was thwarted in Bosnia. Macedonia was next. This could have led to Greek, Turkish problems. They could have--NATO could have had real problems dealing with that. There were strategic interests as well as humanitarian interests involved and C--and--and Clinton acted very courageously…

[talking at same time]

Peter Robinson: What does the next president do? What does the next president do?

Michael Nacht: Well…

Peter Robinson: It's still a mess.

Michael Nacht: It is a mess. It is a mess, but it's a--at the moment it's a relatively peaceful mess on the ground.

Peter Robinson: What should the next president do?

Jane Wales: I think what is most important, what is absolutely most important is that he keep American troupes as part of the peacekeeping mission there. That is the single most important thing the president could do, both for strategic reasons and for moral reasons.

Somehow, taking the position that w--we are within our rights and in fact it is wise to go and bomb to make the peace, but that we will not take the risks associated with keeping the peace, I think is an untenable set of positions to hold.

Peter Robinson: Last issue. Can the United States make a difference in resolving the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians?

Title: Bubba Ganoushed

Peter Robinson: There may be other ways to count them, but as I counted them last night, Clinton himself hosts five summit meetings between the Palestinians and the Israelis. And lots of other lower level meetings between the Palestinians and the Israelis. And the peace process is in a shambles. So the question is how do you grade the Clinton foreign policy toward the Middle East?

Jane Wales: I don't even know how to, 'cause it's a--id--when you co--when it comes to the Middle East, this is a history of the United States being willing to take great risk, political risk, have a president that will go out there and put his political credibility on the line, as did Jimmy Carter in the Camp David process. And sometimes have wonderful successes and sometimes and terrible disappointments.

Peter Robinson: So atleast you dared greatly to--to quote Theodore Roosevelt.

Jane Wales: And must. And must.

Peter Robinson: So he did alright. I'm just telling how you grade him, and you grade him pretty well. Doctor Jowitt, he was naive from the beginning, was he not? I'm trying to anticipate you.

Ken Jowitt: Yes. I--I think the fact of the matter is what's going to happen in the Middle East is in the first place going to be decided by Israel and Egypt. Those are going to be the two countries that decide what happens. And they're the countries that have to be told, "Yeah, we'll be there to pay the bill." That's our foreign policy. We go over and say, "Look, you guys hate eachother. If you could agree on this, whatever you can agree on, we've got the money." I'm not against that.

Peter Robinson: So Ken Jowitt recommends to the next president of the United States benign neglect. Look fellas, figure it out on your own. There are a few obvious points of conflict, the settlers is one, you know about this, you've known about it for years, you figure it out.

Ken Jowitt: Detachment. Not neglect. The fact of the matter is we should be there…

Peter Robinson: Get ready.

Ken Jowitt: …we should be there as backup groups. But it's their decision. If they want to keep the settlers and all the rest the stuff, if--if our…

[talking at same time]

Ken Jowitt: …it's their issue.

Peter Robinson: And your word for this foreign policy - creative detachment as opposed to creative engagement. Is that what you're going to go for?

Ken Jowitt: Yeah. Yeah.

Peter Robinson: Michael, first of all, grade Clinton. How did he do?

Michael Nacht: I think A for…

Peter Robinson: He pusses this peace process along and a few months before he leaves office it falls apart.

Michael Nacht: A--A for effort. C for results. And frankly I think most American presidents, as Jane has said, would make the effort. We are not going to be detached and say, "You guys work it out, we'll write a check." It's just sort of why--it's too important.

Peter Robinson: So what should the next president do?

Michael Nacht: There's no simple answer, because it also depends on who the players are. Just to even look in the Clinton Administration, there was a period of relative detachment by Clinton, Jowitt like detachment by Clinton, when…

[talking at same time]

Michael Nacht: …Netanyahu was in charge. He didn't seem to want to deal. Arafat didn't seem to want to deal. There was a limit to what could be done. Albright basically used Ken's terms and said, you know, "Here's our phone number. When you--when you want us, give us a call."

But later when Barak came in it changes. Suddenly Israel has produced a leader who wants to put on the table things that no American specialist on the Middle East ever thought he'd put on the table. Basically, 92% of the deal, we thought and presumably the Israelis thought and maybe even some Palestinians thought that was the basis for--for grand peace. It wasn't.

My personal view is that Arafat felt, for whatever reasons, maybe personal threat reasons or political reasons, he c--really can't accept anything less than 100%. He really can't, which includes East Jerusalem, by the way.

Ken Jowitt: Which Sheron(?) c--could'nt accept 92.

Michael Nacht: And he thought, I believe he thought that the way you get 92%, you walk away from the table, you unleash people who throw stones who are then responded to with--with real fire. The--the world opinion shifts to the Palestinians and I think he believes that over time the American's and the European's pressure Israel to give them 100%. Which I think that's the mistake of the Arafat policy.

Peter Robinson: This is television. We've just done a tour of the entire globe, solved all the problems. And I now have one last question for you. Richard Nixon is often graded very high in foreign policy. Détente for the Soviet Union, the opening toward China. Jimmy Carter, you may disagree with this but for the sake of argument, please don't, is often rated low, naïve toward the Soviets, surprised when they invade Afghanistan. If Richard Nixon is an A, and Jimmy Carter is an F, for flunking, how will history remember Bill Clinton? Michael.

Michael Nacht: I think in the middle. I mean Nixon gets an A because of also strategy. Clinton was not a grand strategist. He was a superb tactician with little sprinkles of strategy. So, on that spectrum, you know, I'd say B, B+.

Peter Robinson: Jane.

Jane Wales: I would actually argue, I--I'd also probably would put him in the middle, I would actually argue that Bill Clinton was a grand strategist without any discipline. That is to say he had a grand--he had a vision of a--of a--of a globalized world. He had a vision of replacing containment with engagement. He had a vision of building webs of relationships that give states more in common than in conflict. And then he proceeded to make little decisions along the way that didn't fit within it.

Peter Robinson: Ken.

Ken Jowitt: The question is whether you have a strategy that--that makes the word flesh. And he had no strategy. Partially that's his fault. Partially it isn't his fault. And that's because the world isn't--isn't well delineated enough so you can actually say, "These are the cleavages." I mean we lived in a world of barricades, even literally ones as with--with the Berlin Wall. And we now live in a world of frontiers. And so what you're going to need is a president with some degree of imagination because the political geography of the world has changed and our conceptual geography hasn't.

Peter Robinson: Jane, Ken and Michael, thank you very much.

Michael Nacht: Thank you Peter.