I greatly enjoyed Chollet and Goldgeier’s book on American Between the Wars. I have several thoughts about the book, but I wanted to begin by discussing their thesis that from a foreign policy perspective President Clinton had a disastorous first year in office. They write: “January 1994 brought an end to a very bad first year in office…. It would be 1995 before the president came to realize he could handle foreign policy as well as he could overswee bold domestic initiatives, such as welfare reform…. With a disastrous first year in office, Clinton had lost the initiative to define the era.” (pp. 83-84).
They are, of course, speaking about Somalia, Haiti, and Bosnia. But as a international economic scholar, I have always thought that the greatest foreign policy legacy of the Clinton Administration was its commitment to economic globalization. Thus, while Chollet and Goldgeier argue with the debacle of Mogadishu that October 3, 1993 was the “darkest day for American foreign policy since the triumph of 11/9” (p. 72), I think a strong case could be made that November 20, 1993–the day NAFTA secured final passage in Congress–was the best and brighest day for the Clinton Administration’s foreign policy legacy. Indeed, later in the book they argue that “passing NAFTA in 1993–followed by the deal to establish the WTO a year later–turned out to be the apex of the administration’s globalization agenda.” (p. 162).
From the long view, I have little doubt that the passage of NAFTA and the WTO has far greater historical significance than Clinton’s missteps in Somalia, Haiti, and Bosnia. So which is it? Was 1993 the worst or best days for the Clinton Administration’s foreign policy legacy?