November 22, 1999 6:00PM
APOLOGY TOUR '99
It is one of Bill Clinton's dubious achievements that a presidential
candidate can no longer come out in favor of honor and dignity without
being accused of a negative attack. President Clinton added to this
achievement over the weekend in Greece. "When the junta took over in 1967
here, the United States allowed its interests in prosecuting the Cold War
to prevail over its interests I should say its obligations to support
democracy, which was, after all, the cause for which we fought the Cold
War," he said. "It is important that we acknowledge that."
This, mind you, is a president who not two weeks ago was talking about the
Cold War as though it were a time of moral simplicity and national unity.
We are all Cold Warriors, at least after the fact. But then he goes to
foreign soil to apologize for the decisions of the people who actually
fought the Cold War.
In typical White House fashion, spokesman David Leavy insisted that this
wasn't an apology at all. "This is not an apology," he said. "This is an
affirmation of the president's views about supporting democracy." Well, it
may not have been inscribed on a Hallmark card, but the newspapers all
described Clinton as "contrite." Then again, genuine contrition for his
own misdeeds is something this president has never shown. A better word,
perhaps, would have been "shameless."
WHAT BUSH ACTUALLY SAID
"I think the governor read it very well." That was Pat Buchanan's review
of George W. Bush's foreign policy speech, a review delivered during the
Q&A after his own speech at the Cato Institute today. It's a measure of
Bush's dominance of the presidential field that critics are now going
after his advisers as Buchanan went after Paul Wolfowitz today. Nobody's
writing stories on Orrin Hatch's foreign-policy advisers.
If the governor read his speech very well, the same cannot be said of all
of his respondents. To judge from critics such as Buchanan and from fans
such as William Kristol and Robert Kagan, you would think Bush had issued
some sort of neoconservative manifesto in favor of a benevolent American
hegemony. When Kristol and Kagan describe Bush's speech as Reaganite,
after all, they mean that it conforms to a particular definition of
Reaganism in foreign policy that they have formulated.
Except that it doesn't conform to their distinctive views.
- Kristol and Kagan have scorned the notion that free trade promotes
peace. But here's Bush, saying, "We believe, with Alexander Hamilton, that
the 'spirit of commerce' has a tendency to 'soften the manners of men.'"
- K&K have opposed liberalized trade with China. Bush welcomed Chinese
membership in the World Trade Organization: "Economic freedom creates
habits of liberty. And habits of liberty creates expectations of
democracy. . . . Trade freely with China, and time is on our side."
Kristol has referred to this set of ideas as Marxist in its economic
- K&K reject the notion that America is overextended; Kagan has counseled
conservatives to refrain from criticism even of unwise commitments abroad
lest that criticism promote isolationism. Bush: "American internationalism
should not mean action without vision, activity without priority, and
missions without end an approach that squanders American will and drains
- Kagan has criticized "Russophobia"; Bush condemned Russia's "corrupt
and favored elite."
- Bush said that he would assert "a great principle: that the talents and
dreams of average people their warm human hopes and loves-should be
rewarded by freedom and protected by peace. We are defending the nobility
of normal lives, lived in obedience to God and conscience, not
government." Kristol has explicitly rejected a traditional rhetoric of
decency in favor of a rhetoric of national greatness.
It is not possible, then, to conclude that K&K have won the debate within
the GOP over foreign policy. Bush's speech offered a foreign policy that
is not: unilateralist, neoconservative, Wilsonian, imperialist, hegemonic,
or isolationist. What it was, in a word, is conservative.
|Think a friend would want to read this? Send it along.
Ramesh Ponnuru - Senior Editor
John J. Miller - National Political Reporter
Kate Dwyer - Editorial Associate
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