When it took office last year, the Clinton administration’s conception of America’s responsibilities in the world seemed to be an extension of the 1992 campaign’s most memorable slogan—the bon mot attributed to Clinton’s campaign manager, James Carville: “It’s the economy, stupid.” Absent the disciplines imposed on all previous postwar Presidents by what John F. Kennedy had called the “long, twilight struggle” against Communism, and given the President’s campaign pledge to focus his attention on the economy “like a laser,” it came as no real surprise that the Clintonites were most attracted to international issues that could be tied directly to questions of American economic self-interest.
Judged by its own standards, Carvilleism had its moments of success in 1993—passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), as well as the alerting of Americans to the rising importance of our East Asian trading partners. But the gross inadequacy of economic solipsism as the conceptual framework for foreign policy was fully revealed when the Clinton administration faced its first tough call on the strategic design of the post-cold-war world order: namely, whether to accept the urgent request of several new democracies in East Central Europe for membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
About the Author
George Weigel is a senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. and the author most recently of God’s Choice: Pope Benedict XVI and the Future of the Catholic Church (HarperCollins).