chapter  4
26 Pages

Clinton: volte- face

Bill Clinton wrested the presidency from George Bush with 43 per cent of the popular vote, on a platform encapsulated by the catchy slogan ‘it’s the economy, stupid’.2 Promising to focus on domestic concerns ‘like a laser beam’, his ‘New Covenant’ tapped into a groundswell of economic disaffection, coloured, though by no means dominated, by an uneasy suspicion that the United States remained conspicuously ill at ease with the unfamiliar post-Cold War topography.3 The man from Hope promised to make America wealthier and stronger, his message of optimism the apparent antithesis of the creaking, out-of-touch administration he sought to replace. Clinton had both the good fortune and bad luck to take office at a time of exceptional change. It was a presidency of great promise, considerable controversy and a remarkable degree of professional and personal hostility that would culminate in ignominious impeachment over a self-inflicted sex scandal. Clinton’s foreign policy was initially shaped by two key factors. The first of these was the international context. The new president was, Josef Joffe wrote, ‘the New Age’, inheriting ‘fully blown, what his predecessor only dimly foresaw’.4 Significantly, he grasped ‘sooner, better, and more profoundly than

August US letter to Khatami offering talks; 6+2 talks at UN on Afghanistan involving US and Iran begin

December Khatami announces intention to send a message to the American people

1998 January Khatami proposes a ‘dialogue of civilisations’ in CNN interview May Clinton waives sanctions on Total, Gazprom and Petronas for Iranian oil

deals June Albright proposes ‘road map’ to normal relations

November/ December Four high profile political assassinations in Iran; Iran removed from list

of drug producers

1999 January Dissident murders linked to Intelligence Ministry February Iran holds first municipal elections in 20 years April US sanctions lifted on food and medicine; Clinton ‘apology’ July Reformist paper shut; student protests and deaths in worst riots since the

revolution September Clinton sends message to Khatami regarding Khobar Towers investiga-

tion and prospective opening December US and Europeans agree Iranian terrorist threat is growing

2000 February Reformists win 70 per cent of seats in parliamentary elections; Iran Non-

proliferation Act signed March Albright overture includes lifting of ban on carpets, pistachios and caviar

and winding up Hague Tribunal; oil ban remains in place September Clinton stays to listen to Khatami’s UN address

many other leaders’ that the world was being changed by technological innovation and political trends such as the internet, democratisation, open markets and porous borders.5 Consequently, he expected geopolitical drivers to be replaced by geoeconomic motivations and chose to place economics – domestic and foreign – at the heart of his presidency. The logic of this was compelling, if also, as it transpired, somewhat premature. Contrary to Clinton’s expectations, in the 1990s the ideology of free trade and the thrust for affluence took a considerable battering as other, presumably less effectual, ideologies continued to motivate states and individuals. In addition, the still-to-be-renamed post-Cold War era lacked a consensus among policymakers about risks, threats, goals and strategies. George Bush’s New World Order had failed to materialise; Clinton’s presidency was left, therefore, as Thomas Lippman mused, ‘to take shape in an intellectual vacuum without a construct or framework’ save the knowledge that the world was going to have to be managed in a different way.6