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Taking stock of Clinton's measured foreign policy

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When President Clinton sent 2,000 US troops to Haiti in 1994, two-thirds of the public was against it. Congress didn't like it either.

But the president went ahead anyway. As former aide George Stephanopoulos writes in his new book, White House polling showed the public could rally behind a limited, humanitarian mission. And Mr. Clinton felt he had to keep his word to return democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power.

Keeping your word; sounding the humanitarian warning; limiting engagement. Sound familiar?

Kosovo isn't exactly Haiti. Refugees are not washing up on the shores of Miami. Nor is it Iraq, Bosnia, or Somalia. But former Clinton advisers as well as military and political analysts hear the echoes of the president's other foreign-policy crises in the way he's approaching this one.

Characteristically, they say, Clinton's modus operandi in Kosovo has been to take measured steps, avoiding the risk of major loss of life to US forces. It has been far more reactive than preventive. And, they add, as with other military missions, some of the goals are vague, making it difficult to measure success.

With hundreds of thousands of refugees on the move and gruesome accounts of killings, the strategy so far has been judged a gross miscalculation on the part of the administration and its NATO allies - though it remains to be seen whether the president's renewed call for "undiminished, unceasing, and unrelenting" airstrikes will ultimately prove him right.

The stakes for his presidency are high. If Clinton loses Kosovo, the shadow of impeachment "will pale in terms of what history has to say about Bill Clinton," says Leon Panetta, former chief of staff for Clinton.

Mr. Panetta, who helped the president through Haiti, describes the commander in chief as "two presidents": a man who operates mostly on "gut" when it comes to domestic policy, but who has to make up for his discomfort with foreign policy by constantly soliciting advice from others.


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