ZenPundit
Monday, November 15, 2004
 
A STUDY IN CONTRASTS

"Well, you have to understand that "It's the economy, stupid," was more than just a campaign statement. It reflected what the president wanted to focus on -- not only economic issues -- but domestic issues. He really cared about domestic issues. He was involved with domestic issues. As head of the Governors' Conference, he'd worked on education issues. That was where his energy and his compassion came from.

Foreign policy was not something he had done an awful lot with, and so foreign policy became almost a learning process for the president. It was a way to make sure we are doing the right things, but keeping it in place so that, in the end, it wouldn't blow up what he was trying to do domestically for this country. I think that, after a while, this president began to learn what foreign policy was all about. And he became much more effective in dealing with foreign policy issues as a result, but it took a while. In the interim, he relied a great deal on what the vice president said. He relied a great deal on the advisers that he had dealing with foreign policy. . . . I don't know that he ever properly defined what the role of the United States is in this post-Cold War era, where are our national interests, when should we intervene, when shouldn't we intervene, when should we use power, when shouldn't we use power? There's been no sense that that's ever come together. Yet, at the same time, even though it's been oftentimes responding to a crisis out there, you have to say that the president's done a pretty good job in responding to those crises. If peace is the determinative of whether or not your foreign policy has been successful, we have peace. "

Former Chief of Staff, Leon Panetta on Bill Clinton.

Correlation is not causation...as we have since found out.

I'd agree that Mr. Clinton was markedly better at Foreign policy in 1999 or 2000 than in 1993 or 1994. I'd even allocute to the fact that Bill Clinton's record on international economic policy was a bright spot, underappreciated by liberals and conservatives alike.

However it would have been a good deal better if Clinton's foreign policy principals had included at least one person with an interest and drive for strategic planning. Having everyone viewing the national security, foreign policy and intelligence communities as a kind of international fire brigade to push the annoying crisis du jour in Otherwhereistan off of the front page of the Times so the president could concentrate on "important" issues like school uniforms did not serve the country well.
 
Comments:
Mr. Clinton wasn't alone in this regard. Few presidents assume the office with much of any interest in foreign policy. Check Bush's statement when running the first time around. But foreign policy is thrust upon them willy nilly.

That's the nature of the presidency. The first responsibilities of the president are as commander-in-chief and diplomat-in-chief. That's probably why the Constitution is written that way.
 
True and that's unfortunate. Some exceptions:

Nixon had been thinking deeply about foreign policy for twenty years before he became president and it showed in his ability to make strategic shifts happen. Eisenhower had already made foreign policy decisions of enormous implications prior to becoming president. An invaluable experience.

Bush the elder was much more of a "here-now" tactician than Nixon but even so his long experience allowed him to guide major problems to at least a soft landing. Not all of them, he blew Yugoslavia but that sure beat the hell out of blowing German unification or the Soviet Collapse. I wouldn't mind Bush I. out there in some more public way on some issues - he has gravitas with our allies and enemies alike.

Bush the younger is not any kind of lifelong deep thinker on foreign affairs but people forget that he was his father's shadow and political enforcer for several years during Bush I - an important learning curve time. He also has a shrewd political judgement for how policy affects lines of power and is willing, despite traits of obstinacy, to keep an open mind regarding theories, doctrines and conventional wisdom. He will entertain some policy options that a conventional conservative or a CFR moderate type would not. Sometimes this is bad, other times good. Mixed bag.
 
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