Bill Clinton photo

Remarks at a Freedom House Breakfast

October 06, 1995

Thank you very much. I'm honored to be introduced by someone who writes so powerfully about the past and is working so effectively to shape the future. The Secretary of State and I have tried to encourage both those activities by keeping Win Lord busy at the State Department.

I'm honored to be here with all of you and to be here at Freedom House. For more than 50 years, Freedom House has been a voice for tolerance for human dignity. People all over the world are better off because of your work. And I'm very grateful that Freedom House has rallied this diverse and dynamic group. It's not every day that the Carnegie Endowment, the Progressive Policy Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and the American Foreign Policy Council share the same masthead. I feel that I should try out a whole list of issues and try to get check-off here—[laughter]—before the meeting goes any further.

It does prove that there is a strong, dynamic center in our country that supports America's continued leadership in the world. We have all worked for that. And I want to publicly thank the Secretary of State and Tony Lake, the others in our foreign policy team, my Counselor, Mr. McLarty, up here who's been especially active on our behalf in Latin America. And I want to thank all of you who have supported that continued endeavor.

You know, in 1991 I sought the Presidency because I believed it was essential to restore the American dream for all Americans and to reassert America's leadership in the post-coldwar world. As we move from the industrial to the information age, from the cold war world to the global village, we have an extraordinary opportunity to advance our values at home and around the world. But we face some stiff challenges in doing so as well.

We know that at home we have the responsibility to create opportunity for all of our citizens to make the most of their own lives, to strengthen their families and their communities. We know that abroad we have the responsibility to advance freedom and democracy, to advance prosperity and the preservation of our planet. We know that the forces of integration and economic progress also contain the seeds of disruption and of greater inequality. We know that families, communities, and nations are vulnerable to the organized forces of disintegration and the winner-take-all mentality in politics and economics. We know all this, and therefore, we have an even heavier responsibility to advance our values and our interests.

Freedom House, in my view, deserves extraordinary praise for your sense of timing of this meeting. I wonder if Adrian Karatnycky and his colleagues knew that in the days prior to this discussion the United States would have the opportunity to demonstrate so vividly once again the proposition this conference seeks to advance, that American leadership and bipartisan support for that leadership is absolutely essential as a source of our strength at home and our success abroad. We must stand for democracy and freedom. We must stand for opportunity and responsibility in a world where the dividing line between domestic and foreign policy is increasingly blurred.

Our personal, family, and national security is affected by our policy on terrorism at home and abroad. Our personal, family, and national prosperity is affected by our policy on market economics at home and abroad. Our personal, family, and national future is affected by our policies on the environment at home and abroad. The common good at home is simply not separate from our efforts to advance the common good around the world. They must be one and the same if we are to be truly secure in the world of the 21st century.

We see the benefits of American leadership in the progress now being made in Bosnia. In recent weeks, our military muscle through NATO, our determined diplomacy throughout the region, have brought the parties closer to a settlement than at any time since this terrible war began 4 years ago. Yesterday, we helped to produce an agreement on a Bosnia-wide cease-fire. Now, the parties will come to the United States to pursue their peace talks mediated by our negotiating team and our European and Russian counterparts.

We have a long way to go, and there's no guarantee of success. But we will use every ounce of our influence to help the parties make a peace that preserves Bosnia as a single democratic state and protects the rights of all citizens, regardless of their ethnic group.

If and when peace comes, the international community's responsibility will not end. After all the bloodshed, the hatred, the loss of the last years, peace will surely be fragile. The international community must help to secure it. The only organization that can meet that responsibility strongly and effectively is NATO. And as NATO's leader, the United States must do its part and send in troops to join those of our allies under NATO command with clear rules of engagement. If we fail, the consequences for Bosnia and for the future of NATO would be severe. We must not fail.

The United States will not be sending our forces into combat in Bosnia. We will not send them into a peace that cannot be maintained, but we must use our power to secure that peace. I have pledged to consult with Congress before authorizing our participation in such an action. These consultations have already begun.

I believe Congress understands the importance of this moment and of American leadership. I'm glad to see Chairman Livingston here at the head table today. As I have said consistently for 2 years, we want and welcome congressional support. But in Bosnia as elsewhere, if the United States does not lead, the job will not be done.

We also saw the benefits of America's leadership last week at the White House where leaders from all over the Middle East gathered to support the agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. For nearly a half-century now, Democratic and Republican administrations have worked to facilitate the cause of peace in the Middle East. The credit here belongs to the peacemakers. But we should all be proud that at critical moments along the way, our efforts helped to make the difference between failure and success.

It was almost exactly a year ago that the United States led the international effort to remove Haiti's military regime and give the people of Haiti a real chance at democracy. We've succeeded because we've backed diplomacy with sanctions and ultimately with force. We've succeeded because we understood that standing up for democracy in our own hemisphere was right for the Haitian people and right for America.

American efforts in Bosnia, the Middle East, and Haiti and elsewhere have required investments of time and energy and resources. They've required persistent diplomacy and the measured use of the world's strongest military. They have required both determination and flexibility in our efforts to work as leaders and to work with other nations. And sometimes they've called on us to make decisions that were, of necessity, unpopular in the short run, knowing that the payoff would not come in days or weeks but in months or years. Sometimes they have been difficult for many Americans to understand because they have to be made, as many decisions did right after World War II, without the benefit of some overarching framework, the kind of framework the bipolar cold war world provided for so many years.

To use the popular analogy of the present day, there seems to be no mainframe explanation for the PC world in which we're living. We have to drop the abstractions and dogma and pursue, based on trial and error and persistent experimentation, a policy that advances our values of freedom and democracy, peace, and security.

We must continue to bear the responsibility of the world's leadership. That is what you came here to do, and that's what I want to discuss today. It is more than a happy coincidence that the birth of bipartisan support for America's leadership in the world coincides with the founding of this organization by Eleanor Roosevelt and Wendell Willkie in 1941 when for the first time Americans, both Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives and moderates, understood our special obligation to lead in the world.

The results of that responsible leadership were truly stunning: victory in the war and the construction of a post-cold-war world. Not with abstract dogma but again, over a 5-year period, basing experience on new realities, through trial and error with a relentless pursuit of our own values, we created NATO, the Marshall plan, Bretton Woods, the institutions that kept the peace in Europe, avoided nuclear conflict, helped to spread democracy, brought us unparalleled prosperity, and ultimately ensured the triumph of freedom in the cold war.

In that struggle, Freedom House and organizations like it reminded Americans that our leadership is essential and that to advance our interests, that leadership must remain rooted in our values, must continue to advance democracy and freedom to promote peace and security, to enhance prosperity and preserve our planet.

When it comes to the pursuit of these goals, it is important that we never forget that our values and our interests are one in the same. Promoting democracies that participate in this new global marketplace is the right thing to do. For all their imperfections, they advance what all people want and often fight and die for: human dignity, security, and prosperity. We know these democracies are less likely to go to war, less likely to traffic in terrorism, more likely to stand against the forces of hatred and intolerance and organized destruction.

Throughout what we now call the American century, Republicans and Democrats disagreed on specific policies, often heatedly from time to time, but we have always agreed on the need for American leadership in the cause of democracy, freedom, security, and prosperity. Now that consensus is truly in danger, and interestingly enough, it is in danger in both parties. Voices from the left and the right are calling on us to step back from, instead of stepping up to, the challenges of the present day. They threaten to reverse the bipartisan support for our leadership that has been essential to our strength for 50 years. Some really believe that after the cold war the United States can play a secondary role in the world, just as some thought we could after World War II, and some made sure we did after World War I.

But if you look at the results from Bosnia to Haiti, from the Middle East to Northern Ireland, it proves once again that American leadership is indispensable and that without it our values, our interests, and peace itself would be at risk.

It has now become a truism to blame the current isolationism on the end of the cold war because there is no longer a mainframe threat in this PC world. But when I took office, I made it clear that we had a lot of work to do to get our own house in order.

I agree that America has challenges at home that have to be addressed. We have to revive our economy and create opportunity for all of our citizens. We have to put responsibility back into our social programs and strengthen our families and our communities. We have to reform our own Government to make it leaner and more effective. But we cannot do any of these things in isolation from the world which we have done so much to make and which we must continue to lead.

Look at what is going on. Many of the new democracies in this world, they're working so hard. I see their leaders all the time. They believe in the cause of freedom, and they are laboring out there in these countries against almost unbelievable obstacles. But their progress is fragile. And we must never forget that. We have to see them as growing, growing things that have to be nurtured in a process that could still be reversed.

And we also have to recognize that we confront a host of threats that have assumed new and quite dangerous dimensions, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. In the technology age, that can mean simply breaking open a vial of sarin gas in a Tokyo subway. It can mean hooking into the Internet and learning how to build a bomb that will blow up a Federal building in the heart of America. These forces, just as surely as fascism and communism, would spread darkness over light, disintegration over integration, chaos over community. And these forces still demand the leadership of the United States.

Let me say again, the once bright line between domestic and foreign policy is blurring. If I could do anything to change the speech patterns of those of us in public life, I would almost like to stop hearing people talk about foreign policy and domestic policy and instead start discussing economic policy, security policy, environmental policy, you name it.

When you think about the world and the way that you live in it, you readily see that the foreign-domestic distinction begins to evaporate in so many profound ways. And if we could learn to speak differently about it, the very act of speaking and thinking in the way we live, I believe, would make isolationism seem absolutely impossible as an alternative to public policy.

When the President of Mexico comes here in a few days and we talk about drug problems, are we talking about domestic problems or foreign problems? If we talk about immigration, are we discussing a domestic issue or a foreign issue? If we talk about NAFTA and trade, is it their foreign politics or our domestic economics? We have to understand this in a totally different way. And we must learn to speak about it in different ways.

The isolationists are simply wrong. The environment we face may be new and different, but to meet it with the challenges and opportunities it presents and to advance our enduring values, we have to be more engaged in the world, not less engaged in the world. That's why we have done everything we could in our administration to lead the fight to reduce the nuclear threat, to spread democracy in human rights, to support peace, to open markets, to enlarge and defend the community of nations around the world, to share our aspirations and our values, not in abstract but in ways that are quite practical and immediately of benefit to the American people.

Consider just a few examples. Every American today is safer because we're stepping back from the nuclear precipice. Russian missiles are no longer pointed at our citizens, and there are no longer American missiles pointed at their citizens. Thanks to agreements reached by President Reagan, President Bush, and our administration, both our countries are cutting back their nuclear arsenal.

Over the past 3 years, we've been able to persuade Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus to give up nuclear weapons left on their land when the Soviet Union collapsed. We've convinced North Korea to freeze its nuclear program. We've secured the indefinite extension of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. We're working hard to make sure nuclear materials don't wind up in the hands of terrorists or international criminals. And I hope and pray that next year we'll succeed in getting a comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty.

Americans are safer because of the tough counterterrorism campaign we have been waging, including closer cooperation with foreign governments, sanctions against states that sponsor terrorism, and increasing the funding, the manpower, the training for our own law enforcement. These have helped us to get results, big, visible results, like the conviction just this week of those who conspired to wage a campaign of terror in New York, and things that aren't so visible but are very important, the planned terrorist attacks that have been thwarted in the United States and on American citizens, the arrests that have been secured in other countries through our cooperation.

We have an obligation to work more and more and more on this. And if there is any area in the world where there is no difference between domestic and foreign policy, surely it is in our common obligation to work together to combat terrorism.

That is why, even before Oklahoma City, I had sent legislation to the Hill asking for additional resources and help to deal with the threat of terrorism. And after Oklahoma City, I modified and strengthened that legislation. The Senate passed the bill quickly, but I am very disappointed that the bill is now stalled in the House. We need this legislation.

I believe Federal law enforcement authorities must be held accountable. I believe we must be open about whatever has happened in the past. But that has nothing to do with our obligation to make sure that the American people have the tools that they need to combat the threat of terrorism. So, once again, I say I hope the antiterrorism legislation will pass. We need it. The threat is growing, not receding.

When we gave democracy another chance in Haiti, a lot of people said this has nothing to do with the United States. Well, it did. It did. It mattered that, when somebody came to our country and gave their word that they would leave and bring back democracy, that we enforce that commitment. And in a more immediate sense, in the month before our intervention, 16,000 Haitians fled tyranny for sanctuary in Florida and elsewhere in our region, but 3 months after the intervention, the refugee flow was practically zero.

When Mexico ran into a cash flow crisis, we put together an emergency support package to help put our neighbor back on the course of stability and economic progress. And to their credit, the Republican leaders of the Congress supported that effort. But it was impossible to pass a bill through the Congress endorsing it because of all the surveys which showed that the American people were opposed to the Mexican bailout by about 80-15, as I remember the poll on the day that I took executive action to do it. This is another case, however, when what may be unpopular in the short run is plainly in the interest of the United States in the long run.

When your neighbors are in trouble and they're trying to do the right thing, you normally try to help them, because it's good for the neighborhood. Look what's happened since the United States stepped in to try to be a good neighbor to Mexico. Economic growth has returned, even though in a fragile state, more quickly than it was anticipated; exports have returned to levels that exceed what they were pre-NAFTA; and just yesterday, President Zedillo called me to say that Mexico will repay $700 million of its debt to the United States well ahead of schedule.

Consider what would have happened if we would have taken the isolationist position. What would have happened to their economy? What would have happened to the international financial market's reaction to that in Argentina, in Brazil, throughout Latin America and other fragile, emerging democracies? What would have happened to our relationships and our cooperation on a host of issues between us? It was the right thing to do. Was it a domestic issue or a foreign issue? You tell me. All I know is we have a better neighborly relationship and the future is brighter for the American people and for the people of Mexico because we are pursuing a strategy of engagement, not isolation.

You can see that in what's happening in Europe, where we're trying to bring the nations of Europe closer together, working for democracy and economic reform in the Soviet Union and Central Europe and modernizing NATO, strengthening the Partnership For Peace. And again I will say, these things also further our interests.

I was told just last week that by all the trade initiatives which have been taken, from NAFTA and GATT to over 80 separate individual trade agreements that Ambassador Kantor has conducted, 15 of them with Japan alone, the expanded volume of exports for the United States has created more than 2 million jobs in the last 2 1/2 years, paying well above the national average. With the Summit of the Americas, with the APEC process that we have agreed on, there are more to come.

The Commerce Department and the State Department have worked together more and have worked harder than ever before to try to help Americans take advantage of these new opportunities. They are a part and parcel of our foreign policy and our domestic policy.

And let me say one other thing. We have tried to make it a constant refrain that while we seek to engage all countries on terms of goodwill, we must continue to stand up for the values that we believe make life worth living.

We must continue to stand up for the proposition that all people, without regard to their nationality, their race, their ethnic group, their religion, or their gender, should have a chance to make the most of their own lives, to taste both freedom and opportunity.

The most powerful statement of that by anyone in our administration recently was a statement made by the First Lady at the women's conference in Beijing, where she condemned abuses of women and their little children, and especially their little girl children, throughout the world, not sparing the problems of domestic violence and street crime here in the United States.

These are the kinds of things that America must continue to do. From Belfast to Jerusalem, American leadership has helped Catholics and Protestants, Jews and Arabs to walk the streets of their cities with less fear of bombs and violence. From Prague to Port-au-Prince, we're working to consolidate the benefits of democracy and market economics. From Kuwait to Sarajevo, the brave men and women of our Armed Forces are working to stand down aggression and stand up for freedom.

In our own hemisphere, only one country, Cuba, continues to resist the trend toward democracy. Today we are announcing new steps to encourage its peaceful transition to a free and open society. We will tighten the enforcement of our embargo to keep the pressure for reform on, but we will promote democracy and the free flow of ideas more actively. I have authorized our news media to open bureaus in Cuba. We will allow more people to travel to and from Cuba for educational, religious, and human rights purposes. We will now permit American nongovernmental organizations to engage in a fuller range of activities in Cuba. And today, it gives me great pleasure to announce that our first grant to fund NGO work in Cuba will be awarded to Freedom House to promote peaceful change and protect human rights.

Just mentioning this range of activities and the possibilities for positive American leadership demonstrates once again how vital it is to our security and to our prosperity, demonstrates once again that advancing our values and promoting our self-interests are one in the same.

I suppose, given the purpose of this conference and the unique sponsorship of it, that everybody here shares that belief and that, in a way, I'm just preaching to the choir. But this isolationist backlash, which is present in both parties, is very real. And if you look at it from the point of view of people who feel threatened by the changes in the world, it is even completely understandable. So it is important that we not simply condemn it. It is even more important that we explain the way the world is working. And as the world works its way through this period of transition toward a new order of things in which we can garner all of the benefits of change and technology and opportunity and still reinforce the importance of giving everybody a chance, giving all families the chances to be strong, solidifying communities, as we work our way through this period, it is more and more important that we not simply condemn the isolationists but that we seek to explain how the world works and why we must be engaged and lead.

Condemnation is not enough. Characterization is not enough. We must work through these issues. The American people are good people. They have common sense. They care when people are being murdered around the world. They understand that a war somewhere else could one day involve our sons and daughters. They know that we cannot simply pretend that the rest of the world is not there. But many of them have their own difficulties. We must work and work and work on the basic values and interests and arguments until we beat back the forces of isolation, with both intense passion and reason.

You can do that. That is what you must help us to do. Every one of you, each in your own way, with your own centers of influence, you can do that, with assertion and with argument.

Let me just give you one specific example: I am determined to do everything I can to preserve our international affairs budget. It represents, after all, less than 2 percent of our overall budget. Foreign aid is unpopular in the abstract because Americans believe we spend a lot more of their money on foreign aid than we do. But when you ask the American people how much we should spend, they will tell you 3 percent, 4 percent, 5 percent, more than we in fact spend.

No agency in this era when we're trying to balance the budget can be exempt from conscious cost-cutting. Vice President Gore and I have worked very hard to give the American people the smallest Government, in terms of Federal employees, we've had since President Kennedy was in office, to eliminate hundreds of programs. But we must have the tools of diplomacy.

American leadership is more than words and the military budget. Although the military budget is important, we must have a diplomacy budget. Some in Congress literally want to gut foreign assistance, to hack the State Department's budget, to slash the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, the USIA, AID. They would shirk our responsibilities to the United Nations. I want to go give this speech to the United Nations. Wouldn't you like it if I did? Wouldn't you like it if I did? [Applause] I appreciate the applause, but you tell me what I'm supposed to say. I will go give this speech, and they will say, "Thank you very much, Mr. President, where's your $1 billion?" [Laughter] Why is the United States the biggest piker in the U.N.?

Now, let me say, does the United Nations need to be reformed? Has a lot of our money and everybody else's money been wasted? Does there need to be greater oversight? Of course there does. Is that an argument for taking a dive on the United Nations? No.

We need your support for this. We must do this. It is the right thing to do. It is the responsible thing to do. Those who really would have us walk away from the U.N., not to mention the international financial institutions, they would really threaten our ability to lead.

As you know, in instances from Bosnia to Haiti, working out how we can lead and still maintain our alliances and cooperate through the United Nations and through NATO is sometimes frustrating and almost always difficult. But it is very important. We don't want to run off into the future all by ourselves, and that means we have to work responsibly through these international organizations and we have to pay our fair share. Every dollar we spend on foreign assistance comes back to us many times over.

By reducing the threat of nuclear war in the Newly Independent States, we've been able to cut our own spending on strategic weapons. By supporting democratic reforms and the transition to free markets in the Soviet Union and in Central Europe, we promote stability and prosperity in an area that will in the future become a vast market for the United States. By assisting developing nations who are fighting against overpopulation, AIDS, drug smuggling, environmental degradation, the whole range of problems they face, we're making sure the problems they face today don't become our problems tomorrow. The money we devote to development or peacekeeping or disaster relief, it helps to avert future crises whose cost will be far greater. And it is the right thing to do. It is the right thing to do.

I am very worried that all these budgets are at risk—some of them in an almost deliberate attempt to cut the United States off from partnership. I'll just give you one other example so I can go home and tell the Vice President I did it. [Laughter]

We have a little bit of money devoted to a comprehensive, worldwide effort to deal with the threat of global warming. It is simply a matter of science and evidence. Just in the last several days, there have been a whole new rush of scientific evidence that 1995 is the warmest year on our entire planet in 20,000 years, that the hole in the ozone layer is bigger than we had imagined it to be, and that global warming is a real threat. We spend a pittance on it. That is one of the items targeted for elimination. This is not budget-cutting; this is ideology. This is another example of what the teenagers say about "denial" being more than a river in Egypt. [Laughter] This is wrong. It is not necessary to balance the budget, and it is necessary to reverse it to stand up for America's values and America's interests.

Let me just cite one more example. Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty were key weapons in the war of ideas waged against communism. Many of you stood up for it and fought for them. To meet the challenges of the new era, they have been dramatically downsized and moved from Munich to Prague. But some want to squeeze their already vastly reduced budget on the eve of major Russian elections, at the very time the Russian reformers most need objective information and the free exchange of ideas. They would do the same for the Voice of America, which serves on the frontlines of democracy all around the world from Burma to the Balkans.

Reckless budget cutters would shut down our Embassies first and consider the consequences later. Last year alone, our Embassies responded to nearly 2 million requests for assistance from Americans overseas. They helped American companies win billions of dollars in contracts. And every international business leader will tell you that the State Department and its Embassies are working harder to advance our economic interests than at any time in the history of the global economy.

If we didn't have diplomats in Asia and Latin America to help stem the flow of drugs to our shores, imagine how much harder that task would be. In Northern Ireland and the Middle East, if we didn't have people representing us, it would be a lot harder to move the peace process forward. In Burundi or Rwanda, if we didn't have brave people there, like Ambassador Bob Krueger, it would be even harder to avoid human tragedy. We don't need half-strength and part-time diplomacy in a world of fast-moving opportunities and 24-hour-a-day crises.

The last point I want to make is this. There are people who say, "Oh, Mr. President, I am for a strong America. I just don't understand why you fool with the U.N. What we need is for America to stand up alone. We'll decide what the right thing to do is and do it. Let the rest of the world like it or lump it. That's what it means to be the world's only superpower." That also is a disguised form of isolationism.

Unilateralism in the world that we live in is not a viable option. When our vital interests are at stake, of course, we might have to act alone. But we need the wisdom to work with the United Nations and to pay our bills. We need the flexibility to build coalitions that spread the risk and responsibility and the cost of leadership, as President Bush did in Desert Storm and we did in Haiti.

If the past 50 years have taught us anything, it is that the United States has a unique responsibility and a unique ability to be a force for peace and progress around the world, while building coalitions of people that can work together in genuine partnership.

But we can only succeed if we continue to lead. Our purpose has to be the same in this new era as it has ever been. Whatever our political persuasions, I believe we all share the same goals. I think we want a future where people all over the world know the benefits of democracy; in which our own people can live their lives free from fear; in which our sons and daughters won't be called to fight in wars that could have been prevented; in which people no longer flee tyranny in their own countries to come to our shores; in which markets are open to our products and services, where they give our own people good, high-wage jobs; a country in which we know an unparalleled amount of peace and prosperity because we have fulfilled a traditional American mandate of the 20th century well into the 21st, because we, we, have led the world toward democracy and freedom, toward peace and prosperity.

If we want the kind of future I described, we have to assume the burden of leadership. There is simply not another alternative. So I ask you, bring your passion to this task, bring your argument to this task, and bring the sense of urgency that has animated this country in its times of greatest challenge for the last 50 years to this task.

The future, I believe, will be even brighter for the American people than the last 50 years if, if, we can preserve our leadership in pursuit of our values.

Thank you, and God bless you all.

NOTE: The President spoke at 9:37 a.m. at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. In his remarks, he referred to Adrian Karatnycky, president, Freedom House, and Representative Robert Livingston.

William J. Clinton, Remarks at a Freedom House Breakfast Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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