When President Clinton steps to the podium of the U.N. General Assembly on Monday morning, he will be forced to do something he has largely avoided during a frenetic eight months in office: outline his vision of the world and America's place in it.
Elected on a platform of domestic renewal, Clinton has deliberately spent less time on foreign policy than his predecessor, George Bush. A White House log of Clinton's telephone calls to foreign leaders shows an average of fewer than three a week; Bush often made more than that in a single morning.
"Like a lawyer who's interested in foreign affairs, (Clinton) loves talking about this stuff," a White House official said. "But it's not what he does for a living."
Now, however, prodded by some of his own aides, anxious allies abroad and, finally, his speaking date at the United Nations, the President is ready to unveil what some are already dubbing the "Clinton Doctrine," his overall approach to the post-Cold War world.
As previewed last week in a hastily organized series of speeches by Secretary of State Warren Christopher, National Security Adviser Anthony Lake and U.N. Ambassador Madeleine Albright, the Clinton policy--aides wince at the word "doctrine"--promises continued American engagement in the world despite the public's turn toward domestic concerns; more attention to bolstering democracy around the globe, and new initiatives on weapons proliferation, environmental protection and population control.
Clinton may also propose a global effort to cooperate on immigration control, one aide said.
Pervading the entire approach, aides say, is his conviction that foreign policy should focus on promoting American economic prosperity more than it did during the Cold War, when military security came first.
The main global threat to the United States today, Lake said last week, is no longer "Nazi conquest or Soviet expansionism," but "sluggish economic growth, which undermines the security of our people as well as that of allies and friends abroad."
But Clinton and his aides have a problem: To much of the American public--and the world--the Administration's most visible forays into foreign policy have been largely unsuccessful.
In Bosnia-Herzegovina, Clinton tried to persuade U.S. allies in Europe to join in arming Bosnia's Muslim-led government, but was rebuffed. In Somalia, American troops have been trying to capture rebel warlord Mohammed Farah Aidid in a costly mission: On Saturday, the deaths of three American soldiers in a Somali attack raised the death toll among peacekeepers there to 56 since the United Nations took over command of the operation in May.
Moreover, the Administration's problems in those two countries--and its difficulties in explaining its approach--have led critics at home and abroad to charge that Clinton has no clear strategy.
"They've gotten better in the last few weeks, but it hasn't been very inspiring," said former Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger, who served under Bush. "It is very dangerous to make threats and never carry them out. It sends every pipsqueak dictator the message that we aren't serious, and that they can get away with anything they like."
To which Lake and other Clinton aides reply: Bosnia and Somalia have indeed been unhappy experiences, but there are more important problems in the world. "Our efforts in Bosnia and Somalia . . . do not, by themselves, define our broader strategy," Lake said, calling the debate over U.S. involvement in those places "overdrawn."
Indeed, the national security adviser noted, Clinton has scored some significant early successes. He has acted vigorously to back Russia's reformist President Boris N. Yeltsin with American aid, reached out to traditional allies in Europe and Japan and presided over the signing of an agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Still, Lake and other aides acknowledge that the Administration has been overdue in articulating an overall foreign policy approach--and they admit that their tardiness has had practical consequences. "As far as providing a road map for the public and Congress and allies and others, we have not done well," a White House official said.
One reason explaining foreign policy is so important, aides said, is that American allies overseas are less willing to accept U.S. leadership if they don't know where it's going.
Another is that the American people are preoccupied by domestic problems and less willing than before to pay the cost of sending troops and economic aid around the world--the concrete means by which the United States exerts influence on other countries.
"It is time . . . to define our purpose and to rally the American people," Lake said.
He proposed that the United States should replace the "containment" strategy of the Cold War with a new global purpose: "the enlargement of the world's community of market democracies."
"Enlargement," he said, requires strengthening U.S. relationships with its current democratic allies; fostering new democracies, especially Russia; opposing aggression from the remaining non-democratic states, and, finally, pursuing humanitarian concerns.
But Lake took pains to say the Clinton Administration would be guided by practical interests, not starry-eyed idealism. "This is not a democratic crusade. It is a pragmatic commitment to see freedom take hold where that will help us most," he said.
And he said the Administration would use military force only when it is clearly in the U.S. national interest. "While there will be increasing calls on us to help stem bloodshed and suffering in ethnic conflicts . . . there will be relatively few (cases) that justify our military intervention," he said.
Predictably, Democrats praised the Administration's new doctrine, and Republicans were skeptical.
"Who can disagree with goals like market economy and democracy and basic security?" asked Robert B. Zoellick, a former Bush aide. "The question is: Will they act on their own words?"
Will Marshall, president of the Progressive Policy Institute and a longtime Clinton adviser, applauded Lake's approach as an attempt to marry a concern for American values with hardheaded realism.
"This goes well beyond a crusade for human rights," Marshall said. "We know we're going to have to do business with countries that are not democratic. . . . We're just going to have to exert subtle pressure in the direction of economic and social liberalization."
Brent Scowcroft, Bush's national security adviser, was doubtful that the idea of promoting democracy would do much to stem the problem of isolationism.
"Americans beset by rising taxes are going to say: 'Expand democracy? Who (cares) what happens in Nigeria?' " he said. "The way you get people's attention is with security threats. The problem is, there aren't any."