August 5, 1999 | Commentary on National Security and Defense

Gunpoint Democracy

First Somalia. Then Haiti. Then Bosnia and Kosovo. Each time, no American interests have been at stake. And each time, President Clinton has sent America's soldiers, sailors and pilots into harm's way.

Sadly, the president seems to have no concept of what is-and isn't-a vital U.S. interest. Here's the president in a recent speech: "Whether you live in Africa or Central Europe or any other place, if somebody comes after innocent civilians and tries to kill them en masse because of their race, their ethnic background or their religion and it is within our power to stop it, we will stop it." This is not foreign policy, it is humanitarianism writ large-the United States as global cop and civil-rights commissioner.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, had it right when she characterized Clinton's foreign policy as "Gunpoint Democracy." However noble the president's goals, Hutchison said recently, "in practice it means the United States could become involved in civil wars all around the globe, trying to create a utopian American multi-party democracy-at the point of a gun."

If this holier-than-thou approach to foreign policy sounds familiar, it should. It's essentially the same formula the Carter administration followed in the late 1970s, tying the U.S. military to dubious humanitarian crusades in far-flung regions of the world that had no direct bearing on U.S. national interests.

President Reagan understood the need to link foreign policy and international intervention to what's best for America. His response to the communist threat was clear: Go beyond the ineffective "containment" policy practiced since the Truman administration and find ways to reverse it. The fall of the Soviet Union, communism's poster child, testifies to his success. President Bush continued this legacy and-for his part-rescued Kuwait from Iraq's grasp and secured the vital flow of oil from the Middle East.

President Clinton, on the other hand, is three years into his second term and still hasn't defined a foreign policy. His track record shows a frightening inability to distinguish between our country's vital interests-those directly affecting America's national or economic security-and broad-based humanitarian goals. That's why the U.S. military, during his watch, has functioned more as the enforcement arm of the United Nations than the United States.

The president has yet to tell the public where he would intervene, where he wouldn't, and why. The world is a messy place, full of horrors - many of them wrought by oppressive governments. Should we intervene everywhere? What about Sudan? Indonesia? Rwanda? Since at any given time more than two dozen major armed conflicts are occurring around the world-most of them internal, even tribal-the president has plenty to choose from.

Ironically, even if President Clinton wanted to intervene everywhere, the deep cuts he and Congress have made in the post-Cold War military would make it impossible. Defense spending as a percentage of our gross domestic product has dropped to its lowest level since before World War II. The number of Army divisions, Navy ships and Air Force fighter wings has been drastically reduced. We may have smart bombs, but we have dumb policymakers.

Some doubt the United States can even maintain its ability to fight two regional wars simultaneously-the Clinton administration's professed goal. The Joint Chiefs of Staff say there's a "moderate to high risk" it can't. So this is where President Clinton's foreign adventures have brought us: If one mission goes awry, the global cop won't be able to call for much back-up.

Edwin Feulner is president of The Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org), a Washington-based public policy research institute.

About the Author

Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D. Founder, Chairman of the Asian Studies Center, and Chung Ju-yung Fellow
Founder's Office

Distributed nationally on the Associated Press Wire