If Bill Clinton was ever moved by anything larger than his own narrow self-interest, it is difficult to recall it. This self-absorption has been on display for eight years in domestic politics, but it has also marked his foreign policy -- the area in which presidents have usually demonstrated largeness of vision and concern for the nation.
As Robert Kagan sums up in a retrospective on the Clinton foreign policy in The Weekly Standard, "When it wasn't about personal fame and campaign cash, Bill Clinton's foreign policy was often about politics, the politics of staying in office." Apparently, even as relations between Israel and the Palestinians were careening toward open hostilities, Clinton had his people lobbying the Nobel committee for a peace prize.
Last week, the Palestinian Authority shot two Palestinians -- one in a town square teeming with spectators -- for collaborating with Israel. The word "collaboration" is meaningless in relations with a "partner for peace." It makes sense only toward an enemy. Those executions, like so many other recent events in the Middle East, point to the obvious reality that the Israelis and Palestinians are moving toward war.
The slide toward war is in part attributable to Bill Clinton's unholy rush to see some sort of peace treaty signed by Yassir Arafat and Ehud Barak before it's too late. Not too late for the principals -- but too late for Bill Clinton to get the credit.
Every American administration has urged peace between warring parties. But the Clinton administration has been unusually eager for pieces of paper -- to the point of meddling in Israel's elections and ignoring the voluminous evidence, including murders of civilians and the bloody lynching of two Israeli soldiers who took a wrong turn on the West Bank, that the Palestinians were not truly interested in peace.
Indifferent to reality, this administration leaned hard on Israel to make more and more concessions to an enemy, Arafat, who viewed each new offer as further evidence of Israel's weakness. (Barak was a fool as well, but that's another subject.)
Clinton's nearly final act as an international statesman was to sign, on behalf of the United States, the charter creating an International Criminal Court. Clinton acknowledged that the treaty contains "serious flaws," but he signed, he said, "to reaffirm our strong support for international accountability and for bringing to justice perpetrators of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity."
It is a measure of the shallowness of his soul that Clinton feels it necessary to sign a bad treaty simply because it sounds good. In fact, the notion that an international prosecutor, unhampered by norms of American justice such as the right to confront witnesses and the right to trial by jury, should be able to indict, arrest, try and sentence Americans (or anyone else) is unthinkable.
The United States, which has thrown its entire armed forces into the struggle against Nazism and communism, and which has been the most munificent nation in the history of the world, does not have to prove to anyone that we are truly opposed to war crimes and genocide. And we have sound reasons to suspect that the "international community" is not the most reliable judge of these matters.
The United Nations managed for 45 years to overlook the log in the Soviet Union's eye while noticing every speck in Israel's. And speaking of Israel, Clinton leaned hard on them to sign this treaty even though it contains language (inserted by the Egyptians) that would declare all of Israel's housing on occupied territory to be war crimes.
Not only does this treaty invite politically motivated mischief against American soldiers serving abroad, it is also incapable of achieving its purpose -- namely to punish war crimes. The full weight of economic and military sanctions were ineffective in preventing despots from killing and torturing throughout the last century. (In the one case where he could have demonstrated his seriousness, Rwanda, Bill Clinton pointedly declined to intervene.) How would a lawyer in The Hague wielding nothing more than a toothless indictment have more success?
The United States Senate will doubtless reject this exercise in window dressing, but it serves as a fitting capstone to the foreign policy of Bill Clinton -- rewarding to Clinton personally, but bad for the nation and the world.