Bosnia and Haiti, Somalia and North Korea . . . The failure of the Clinton administration's foreign policy becomes ever more clear, even as the menacing reality of a Russia that Washington has indulged and deferred to becomes more difficult to deny. That failure, it can be argued, is the direct result of a certain cast of mind.
Today the foreign policy of the United States is well-nigh controlled by that wing of the establishment that worked to defeat the U.S. in Vietnam, championed lower U.S. defense spending and arms control, favored concessions to the Soviet Union and its surrogates, and imposed a variety of restrictions on the use of U.S. power in the world. Their performance is best understood in terms of a syndrome which is the logical result of a mentality acquired over decades--a mentality that impairs understanding of America's place in the world and makes it nearly impossible to make policy in America's interest.
What is this mentality? To answer that we have to look back to the debates of the Cold War, debates as fundamental as any in our history. Today, those debates survive as ideas embodied in people. People do not spring up new, Minerva-like, in middle age. So, whereas terms like "nationalist" and "internationalist," "isolationist" and "realist," can be stuffed with anyone's favorite meanings, decades of struggles over real issues--Vietnam, the Soviet Union, armaments, and the rest have fashioned real mental capacities and incapacities in real people. These mentalities, rather than nebulous new concepts, are affecting reactions to post-Cold War challenges.