July 9, 1999 | Lecture on Political Thought
Russell Kirk, the conservative Bard, wrote about the Permanent Things that make conservative principles universal. The Heritage Foundation has become one of the Permanent Things on the public policy landscape, and America is better for it.
From offices right on Capitol Hill, you have raised the flag on the dangers of big and intrusive government. Your timely, concise, and forceful messages provided intellectual firepower for the Reagan Revolution in the 1980s and inspired the conservative takeover of Congress in 1994. And no other institution in America deserves more credit for making Ballistic Missile Defense a national priority.
In particular, I salute your commitment to thinking and writing about foreign policy. Opinion polls tell us--and we know from daily experience--that the American people are not that interested in such matters.
I once had a constituent call my office to inquire about vacation activities on an upcoming visit to Washington. He asked for the typical assistance: tickets to the White House and gallery passes to watch the Senate in session. But he had another request: While in Washington, he said, he wanted to visit Pearl Harbor.
Such apathy is not necessarily a bad thing, because a complacent public is not likely to let us get easily involved in questionable overseas adventures. They want us engaged, but not distracted. Complacency has its hazards, though. A leader who assumes that the public doesn't know or care what he does--or who ignores Congress--is a dangerous leader indeed.
I think President Clinton has been too free with our military obligations abroad. Without the strategic discipline imposed by the Cold War, the United States has reacted from one crisis to another at great cost to our treasury, our world leadership, and our long-term strategic interests. We are assuming too many commitments where our interests are vague. If this continues, it will sour the public to any international obligations and will eventually force our retreat from the global stage. That would be a disaster.
So tonight I want to talk about the need for a more coherent foreign policy. I commend your planning in asking me to speak on this subject on this date. Today is June 28, the 85th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo, which touched off World War I. It's also the anniversary of the 1389 Battle of Kosovo between the Turks and the Serbs, which touched off...well, it touched off the 1999 battle for Kosovo. I'm going to talk about these things tonight and put them into a framework.
Throughout the 1980s, we often heard Ronald Reagan's policy of strong military resistance to the former Soviet Union criticized as gunboat diplomacy. But the Clinton Doctrine of "gunpoint democracy" is much worse.
We are injecting American troops into political situations that pose no threat to us or our allies. It started in Somalia, then Haiti, now Bosnia and Kosovo. Where is this leading? Just recently, in a speech, the President outlined his principle clearly:
We must win the peace. If we can do this here...we can then say to the people of the world, "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."
What the President wants to do is to stop hatred around the world and replace it with democracy. As noble as that sounds, 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.
President Clinton says we acted in Kosovo because he didn't want to end the 20th century as it started, with the world at war that began in the Balkans. But in 1914, the United States was a bit actor on the world stage. We were a global neophyte. There was little we could do other than respond to global events as they occurred.
That conflict spun out of control because of outdated commitments by dying empires. The assassination of minor royalty in an obscure province touched off a chain of events that dragged the great powers into a conflict none of them wanted.
I agree with the President that we don't want to end the century the way it began. We do not want the United States reacting to events without a core guiding principle. We don't want civil wars dragging the great powers into conflict. But I am concerned that this is exactly what happened in Kosovo.
The President insisted that we had to preserve the integrity of the NATO alliance. Instead, I fear we've stretched the alliance to the point that we could tear it apart if we don't have a clear policy. We've turned a successful defensive alliance into an offensive, war-making one whose first foray had very mixed results. Rather than lead the alliance, we let the alliance lead us into a conflict in which our direct security interests were not threatened, resulting in an open-ended commitment of thousands of U.S. troops.
as in 1914, this conflict set off a series of events that left no
great power untouched. Today, our relationships with Russia and
China are in tatters because of the way the war in Kosovo was
As a superpower, the United States should be shaping events, not reacting to them. Isn't America capable of drawing distinctions among humanitarian emergencies, political realignments, civil wars, and real dangers to U.S. national security? Not doing so is draining our own resources.
Misusing the Military. We're relying too much on military solutions to humanitarian problems. This pattern began in Somalia. We went in with the best intention: to feed starving people. At a time of famine, or flood, or hurricane, Americans want to respond, and the military has traditionally been a key part of that emergency relief. The military has resources: airplanes, ships, and personnel.
Our military accomplished the original mission in Somalia. We broke the logjam, delivered the food, and saved lives. But the Clinton Administration--instead of withdrawing our forces--greatly expanded their mission. In Madeleine Albright's words, our objective became nation-building. We were going to impose a long-term solution by creating a democracy. The first job was to track down and capture the Somali warlord Aideed. That led to the tragic firefight when 18 American Rangers were killed. We failed to capture that obscure little warlord and withdrew in humiliation.
We invaded Haiti to restore democracy. Five years and several billion dollars later, Haiti remains a desolate and mostly undemocratic country where political opposition is squelched by the very political leaders on whose behalf we intervened. Five hundred American troops remain, painting orphanages, building schools, and performing other community outreach.
Democracy-Building in the Balkans. And now we have expanded this democracy-building experiment to the Balkans. In Bosnia, we have more than 6,000 American troops on an open-ended commitment to guarantee democracy. Bosnia is under semi-permanent occupation by NATO. Voters have been bused into disputed regions to vote for elected officials who cannot serve because they are unable to return to their pre-war homes.
We're in even deeper in Kosovo. In the name of restoring democracy and preventing humanitarian chaos, we bombed a sovereign nation that had not attacked us or our allies. That is unprecedented. NATO has been turned into an alliance that starts wars.
And we declared victory when 19 nations outlasted a country the size of the state of Kentucky, with a faltering economy and minimal military resources. This cannot continue. An elephant was called in to step on a gnat--the gnat is wounded and the elephant is limping. We've spent nearly $25 billion in the Balkans so far, with very dubious results to show and a dubious precedent for future engagements.
Undermining Military Readiness. The strain on our military forces is affecting our own military readiness. The Army last year had its worst recruiting year since 1979. For every pilot the Air Force keeps, it loses two. The Navy is lowering its educational standards to below the level of high-school graduate to attract recruits.
Worse, as we focus on these peripheral issues--Bosnia, Kosovo, Haiti--we're losing sight of the core strategic relations that will determine our future. For example, our relations with Russia are at an all-time low. We expanded the NATO alliance last year. We assured the Russians there was nothing to fear from an expanded NATO.
Less than two weeks after the new members officially joined the alliance, NATO was at war with another country that had not threatened any alliance member. The war damaged our already mishandled relationship with China, exacerbated by our accidental bombing of the Chinese embassy and the official Chinese response, which produced riots in Beijing.
First, we should acknowledge that bold leadership means war is the last resort--not the first. We should not allow our allies or our enemies to suck us into regional quicksands. This means having the courage not to act. In these days of laser-guided bombs and stealth aircraft, it seems the course of least resistance is to threaten force--before determining the cause is one that warrants it. Then our word is at stake--and we reluctantly have to follow through. We are avoiding the hard work of negotiations and diplomacy.
Second, we should not get involved in civil conflicts that make us a party to the conflict. Yes, Serbia has a terrible leader, and it is tempting to punish him with military force. But we cannot declare war against every crazed dictator in this world.
The Administration and Members of Congress seem to see nothing between no action and bombing. There is. Why not let those willing to fight for their freedom do just that? Too often, we ignore or even oppose local forces who are willing to fight for their own freedom.
In Bosnia, for example, since 1991 we've maintained an arms embargo on the Muslim forces who were willing to fight for themselves. Congress voted time and again to lift the arms embargo and allow the Muslims to have the arms to defend themselves. But the Administration opposed us. For three years, the Muslims and Croats were routed because they could not fight. When the Croats finally got arms in violation of the embargo and fought back, Milosevic cut a deal.
We've done the same in Kosovo. Are we better off because 25,000 bombs were dropped at a cost of billions of dollars and nearly depleting our inventory of critical weapons? Are we better off that thousands of Kosovars were massacred while we stayed 15,000 feet above the ground?
That was the Reagan Doctrine. The United States offered its support to those fighting for freedom. The results were mixed, but the United States avoided direct military confrontation and provided assistance to those trying to fight for themselves. By not becoming directly involved militarily in regional conflicts where our own national security interests are not threatened, the United States can preserve the impartiality needed to be a peacemaker: a friend to all and enemy to none.
What is the basis of a sound policy? When should we deploy our own troops? We need a much higher standard than we've seen in this Administration. I would say we should not even threaten the use of troops unless the security of the United States is threatened.
When is that? Well, I think it was right that we went to war in the Persian Gulf. A madman with suspected nuclear and biological weapons invaded a neighboring country and threatened more. It could have realigned the Middle East in a way that would have a profound impact on the United States and our allies.
I also believe we must honor our alliance commitments. If North Korea invades the South, we are committed to helping defend our allies there. That's why I'm so concerned about this new, offensive mission for NATO. The United States is bound by a treaty to defend our NATO allies as we would defend ourselves. That's a very clear commitment that becomes murky when the purpose for the alliance shifts from defense to offense.
our allies believe they must militarily engage in a regional
conflict, that should not have to be our fight. We could even
support them in the interest of alliance unity. We could offer
intelligence support, "airlift," or protection of noncombatants. We
do not have to get directly involved with troops in every regional
conflict to be good allies. Instead, we should focus our resources
where the United States is uniquely capable: in parts of the world
where our interests may be greater or where air power is
It is not in NATO's long-term interest for U.S. forces to be tied down on "neighborhood patrol" in Europe while thugs rule North Korea and there is a danger of someone getting a long-range missile tipped with a germ warhead provided by Saddam Hussein and paid for by Osama bin Laden. A reasonable division of labor--based on each ally's strategic interests and unique strengths--would be more efficient and more logical.
As a superpower, the United States must draw distinctions between the essential and the important. Otherwise, we will dissipate our resources and be unable to handle either. Writing in the Wall Street Journal recently, one analyst noted the danger this has posed for other global powers:
Britain and France intervened repeatedly in crisis after crisis in the Third World in the late 19th century, acquiring between them over eight million miles of territory.... Britain often intervened for moral reasons, abolishing local customs.... Unless the area was occupied and ruled, chaos persisted and crises recurred unendingly.... Most importantly, Britain and France wasted precious energy, resources and attention that should have been devoted to their central security problem-the rise of Germany. In gaining the periphery, they lost the core.
The Honorable Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Republican, represents the state of Texas in the U.S. Senate. Senator Hutchison spoke at The Heritage Foundation's President's Club Meeting.