The Guns of 17th Street

A dissection of the few pluses and many minuses of the crusading approach to American foreign policy.

Issue: Spring 2001

Robert Kagan and William Kristol, Present Dangers: Crisis and Opportunity in American Foreign and Defense Policy (San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2000).

It is common currency that the Clinton administration's foreign policy was a disappointment. Even Clinton supporters give him only a middling grade. With the President never fully engaged (a few amateurish, end of term flourishes aside), policy either reacted to crises or preserved the status quo. Here and there are some bright spots--NAFTA was consolidated, relations with Vietnam were normalized, progress, albeit fragile, was made on Northern Ireland, and the UN dues issue was settled. Elsewhere, however, the legacy is full of unfinished business: uneasy relationships with Russia and China; impasse in Kosovo and Bosnia; indecision on European defense structures; Japan uncertain of its status; the Middle East in disarray; Iraq policy on the verge of breakdown; Haiti a dismal failure; Colombia on the threshold of implosion; Africa still adrift from the mainstream; a gaggle of emergent "global issues" like the environment and AIDS sitting uncomfortably with traditional foreign policy issues; treaty issues such as the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the International Criminal Court in limbo. Most of all, at the beginning of the second decade after the demise of the Soviet Union, there is still little consensus on America's core role and purposes in the circumstances of the new world.

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