Put Foreign Affairs On The Front Burner

The division between domestic and foreign concerns is a false dichotomy that does the U.S. no good. While George Bush reveled in foreign affairs to the detriment of the domestic economy, Bill Clinton could risk stability at home and abroad if he pays insufficient attention to foreign affairs. The Administration sees foreign policy as the handmaiden of domestic policy and rebuilding the domestic economy as its primary objective. The premise is that a stable and secure world needs an economically strong America. But the reverse is also true--that for America to be stable and secure, its allies must be economically strong.

In the post-cold-war world of econopolitik that has replaced realpolitik, the interdependency of domestic and foreign concerns is well-recognized, although it may not play well in Peoria. Now there are signs that Clinton is readying himself to be bolder and more decisive in setting the nation's foreign policy agenda and in selling it to the American people. He should rally to this purpose, using the marketing and campaigning techniques that are serving him so well in promoting his economic program.

First, Clinton should make an aggressive case for assisting Russian President Boris Yeltsin--and any successor who is willing to push for democratic and market reforms. The dollar amounts of credits and loan guarantees are less important than the forcefulness with which a plan is presented. Equally important is the follow-through to get it approved by Congress and administered swiftly.

Second, Clinton has to sell the American people on foreign policy initiatives. He has to remind Americans that $5.5 trillion was spent on defense since World War II, in large part to protect against the Soviet threat, and that about $75 billion in defense savings over a four-year period may not be realized if the U.S. and the West fail to help Russia. He should urge Congress to pay up the $800 million in dues and peacekeeping assessments the U.S. owes the U.N. And in international trade relations, Clinton and his advisers must develop a coherent rather than a scattershot approach to resolving trade disputes, so they will not appear to ricochet between protectionism one day and free trade the next.

Finally, Clinton has to engage in personal diplomacy much more actively. Recession and political turmoil overseas today make Clinton the most powerful politician among the Group of Seven leaders, and he shouldn't be shy about using that power. Clinton should quietly press the Europeans, for instance, to open up their markets to the East. If Western Europe doesn't do more to welcome an inflow of Eastern European goods, it will face a greater influx of refugees. The Clinton Administration needs to practice an effective "preventive diplomacy" by twisting arms, building coalitions, and doing whatever else is necessary to ensure that new crises don't erupt. Today, the U.S. may be a diminished giant, but it still has the greatest muscle. Clinton can exercise that power more forcefully for the common international good--and at the same time strengthen the U.S. economy.

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