Kirkus Reviews QR Code
CLINTON'S WORLD by William G. Hyland

CLINTON'S WORLD

Remaking American Foreign Policy

By William G. Hyland

Pub Date: May 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-275-96396-9
Publisher: Praeger

A wide-ranging critique of Clinton’s foreign policy that will please those frustrated over the continuing popularity of a president focused on domestic issues. Criticizing Clinton’s foreign policy is like spearing fish in a barrel—it’s so easy, there is no real sport in it. Moreover, there is a built-in bias toward the negative: if something has gone badly, it is a debacle, but if something goes well, then we have to wait and see how things turn out before passing judgment. Hyland, former editor of Foreign Affairs (Mortal Rivals: Superpower Relations from Nixon to Reagan, 1987), is not deterred. Starting from the premise that Clinton inherited a world in better shape than any other modern president, albeit briefly touching upon and minimizing the problems created by Bush’s foreign policy of “prudence,” Hyland systematically explores foreign policy issues and records the ways in which Clinton has botched them. Interventions in the Balkans, Somalia, and Haiti, negotiating Middle East peace agreements, relations with Russia, China, and Japan, responding to the Asian financial crisis, and more are addressed. Throughout, patterns of hesitancy, unwillingness to designate authority until matters have reached a crisis stage, and placement of emphasis on economic diplomacy and international trade over the traditional concerns of security and geopolitics are identified and excoriated. Clinton’s transformation from idealist to pragmatist is noted, and seemingly some criticism is blunted, but Hyland doesn—t shrink from a strong conclusion: adopting an ad hoc “selective engagement” approach instead of a clear direction for American foreign policy has meant that “a magnificent historical opportunity to shape the international system had been missed.” Clinton’s blunders invite this kind of harsh criticism, but the irony here is that Clinton forfeited the chance to lead the world in a dramatic new direction when he followed the advice of veteran foreign policy hands such as Hyland and turned himself into Bush. Like the recent American foreign policy he chronicles, Hyland eschews any positive theme.