chapter  9
19 Pages

Bill Clinton

ByNicolas Bouchet

Containment having become irrelevant with the collapse of the Soviet Union, Bill Clinton was the first president in half a century that did not inherit a ready-made grand strategic concept. He was subsequently criticized for failing to devise a postCold War strategy, but his foreign policy was in fact underpinned by a consistent worldview articulated through the concept of ‘democratic enlargement’. In developing this, Clinton and his advisers tapped into the liberal internationalist tradition that conceives the United States’ national interest partly in terms of promoting its political values abroad. Their ambition to expand the sphere of free markets and liberal democracy in support of American security and prosperity reflected enduring beliefs in the ‘unity of goodness’1 and the ‘utilitarian value of democracy’.2

These assume that all desirable outcomes for the United States can be pursued simultaneously and that the spread of democracy is central to this. Where and when the Clinton administration attempted to implement democratic enlargement, however, it became clear that how to do so through standard tools of international influence was not self-evident. The relatively new policy field of democracy promotion was one obvious avenue for pursuing enlargement and therefore the administration attempted to integrate it more in foreign policy, while framing it explicitly in terms of helping to achieve national security and economic goals. This chapter considers Clinton’s democracy promotion with regard both to democratization and to its role in the service of these broader goals. It first looks at the origins of democratic enlargement. It then addresses how enlargement was implemented through the institutionalization and application of democracy promotion. Having considered the impact of the administration’s policies on democratization, the chapter sets out some legacies and lessons from its experience with enlargement in relation to the instrumental value of democracy promotion for American foreign policy.

When Clinton left office, judgements on his foreign policy were mixed. Though they have grown more favourable since, the accusation of failing to set the United States on a new post-Cold War course has endured.3 Clinton is blamed for not developing a strategy for a world in the throes of a historic realignment.4 Richard Haass, for example, accuses him of having ‘inherited a world of unprecedented American advantage and opportunity and [doing] little with it’, overseeing an era of ‘underachievement and squandered potential’.5 But the failure to encapsulate Clinton’s strategic thinking in a lastingly popular concept should not be confused with the absence of any.6 Clinton’s own defence was that containment was not born fully formed in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War either, and that its architects had improvised on their instincts.7 With democratic enlargement, his administration did in fact develop a strategic vision based on a mainstream American worldview. As John Dumbrell puts it, Clinton’s foreign policy had ‘an integrating purpose in its commitment to the expansion of market democracy under conditions of accelerating globalisation’.8 Walter Russell Mead describes a ‘uniquely far-reaching and systematic’ Wilsonian agenda.9 How much this constituted a grand strategy proper is a valid question. As Stephen Krasner argues, though, ‘Most foreign policies most of the time have not been guided by a grand strategy’, and American foreign policy in the 1990s was informed instead by ‘orienting principles’.10 This is echoed by Clinton’s second National Security Adviser Sandy Berger: