Bill Clinton photo

Excerpts of Remarks in Milwaukee

October 02, 1992

No American foreign policy can succeed if it neglects our domestic needs. And no American foreign policy can succeed if it slights our commitment to democracy.

The President often takes a lot of credit for Communism's downfall, but fails to recognize that the global democratic revolution actually gave freedom its birth.

He simply does not seem at home in the mainstream pro-democracy tradition of American foreign policy. He shows little regard for the idea that we must have a principled and coherent American purpose in international affairs, something he calls "the vision thing."

Instead, President Bush seems too often to prefer a foreign policy that embraces stability at the expense of freedom, a foreign policy built more on personal relationships with foreign leaders than on consideration of how those leaders acquired and maintained their power.

It is almost as if this Administration were nostalgic for a world of times past, when foreign policy was the exclusive preserve of a few aristocrats. This approach to foreign policy is sometimes described as power politics, to distinguish it from what some contend is sentimentalism and idealism of a pro-democracy foreign policy.

But in a world where freedom, not tyranny, is on the march, the cynical calculus of pure power politics simply does not compute. It is ill-suited to a new era in which ideas and information are broadcast around the globe before ambassadors can read their cable.

Simple reliance on old balance-of-power strategies cannot bring the same practical success as a foreign policy that draws more generously from American democratic experience and ideals and lights fires in the hearts of millions of freedom-loving people around the world.


Let there be no mistake, this world is still a dangerous place. Military power still matters. And I am committed to maintaining a strong and ready defense. I will use that strength where necessary to defend our vital interests. But power must be accompanied by clear purpose.

Mr. Bush's ambivalence about supporting democracy, his eagerness to defend potentates and dictators, has shown itself time and again.

It has been a disservice not only to our democratic values, but also to our national interest. For in the long run I believe that Mr. Bush's neglect of our democratic ideals abroad could do as much harm as our neglect of our economic needs at home.

Let us look at the record. It reflects an unmistakable pattern in the Bush Administration's foreign policy. Fearing attacks by isolationists in his own party, President Bush was reluctant to offer Boris Yeltsin, Russia's freely elected president, a helping hand. It took a chorus of complaints, culminating with the prodding of another Republican, Richard Nixon, to move him into action on the Russian aid package.

Just weeks before the attempted coup in Moscow, President Bush traveled to Ukraine. There he lectured a people subjected to genocidal starvation in the Stalin era, warning that their aspirations for independence constituted, and I quote, "a suicidal nationalism."

A few months later, the people of Ukraine voted by a huge margin for the immediate and total dissolution of the Soviet Union.


For over 40 years, the United States refused to recognize Soviet claims to the Baltic nations: Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. But when at long last, the moment of Baltic independence came, President Bush suddenly became a reluctant bridegroom.

The United States was 37th among the world's nations to extend diplomatic recognition to these countries. We should have been first.

. . .

In the Middle East, I supported the President when it became necessary to evict Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, and I support his decision now to provide air cover to Saddam's Kurdish and Shiite opponents in the north and the south of Iraq.

But I am angered by the Administration's appeasement of Saddam Hussein before the war and disappointed by its callous disregard for democratic principles after the war.

Just this week another friend of freedom, my running mate, Senator Gore, laid out in precise and devastating detail the errors of this Administration in dealing with Saddam Hussein.

President Bush showered Government-backed grain credits and high technology on a regime that had used poison gas on its own people. After the war, Mr. Bush encouraged the Iraqi people to revolt against Saddam Hussein but then abandoned them.


The Administration has sometimes treated the conflict between Israel and the Arab states as just another quarrel between religions and nations, rather than one in which the survival of a democratic ally, Israel, has been at stake. I support strongly the peace talks that are under way, and if elected, I will continue without interruption America's role in them.

I also believe that America's policy in the Middle East should be guided by a vision of the region in which Israel and Arab partners are secure in their peace, and where the practices and principles of the personal liberty and governmental accountability are spreading.

William J. Clinton, Excerpts of Remarks in Milwaukee Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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