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Some Hints for the Incoming President

Column by Matthew H. Hersch

Opinion Editor

If I have any piece of foreign policy advice for Bill Clinton on the day of his inauguration, it would be to drop his insistence on always showing his complete agreement with the Bush Administration on foreign affairs and admit that for all intents and purposes, George Bush's Iraq policy since the moment he slid into office has been foolish at best and near-tragic at worst. As a result, George Bush has left Bill Clinton with the most difficult transition since Lyndon Johnson turned over the reigns of power to Richard Nixon during the height of the Vietnam War.

There's a lot to be said about Bush's blundering in the Persian Gulf, and a lot of lessons Clinton needs to learn if he hopes to end the crises the Bush Administration perhaps did not start, but certainly at least helped to expand out of control. Fortunately, Clinton and Gore have already learned the most important of these -- that Saddam Hussein must go. Here are a few more of the biggies:

The goal of foreign policy is security, not stability.

The Bush Administration has raised a lot of eyebrows with its insistence on maintaining stability around the globe, using this dubious rationale to justify such unpleasant foreign policy stands as support for Saddam Hussein's regime during the mid-1980s, failure to eliminate Saddam's power base during the Gulf War, and chronic inability to assist Kurds and Shiites in their revolutionary enterprises. When guerrillas and insurgents were running around waving Marx and Lenin, Bush had reason to love stability, but now, when people all over the globe are clamoring for democratic government for the first time since the 18th century, to discourage revolution is downright un-American. "A little revolution now and then," Clinton's hero, Thomas Jefferson, wrote, "is a good thing, and is as natural in the political world as it is in the physical."

In the Arab World, the enemy of my enemy is my enemy.

Choosing sides in inter-Arab disputes such as the Iran-Iraq war will never be in the long-term interests of the United States as long as the area is dominated by autocratic regimes. The United States may aid a regime today only to find that it needs to be flattened tomorrow, and we cannot hope that by assisting one Arab monarchy in its fight against another, that monarchy can be cajoled into accepting democratic government. The only kind of intervention that makes sense is that which secures the security of local allies, innocent civilians, and natural resources.

Coalition military action is impractical.

Not only is the process of building an alliance network time-consuming and difficult, but all to often it allows unscrupulous pip-squeak allies to control the behavior of the United States -- creating a constraint on U.S. foreign policy that cannot be tolerated. Unfriendly, undemocratic, oil-less Arabs (Syria, Jordan) join coalitions to earn political capital with the United States while at the same time secretly wishing for their failure. The last thing these nations want is to set a precedent for outside military intervention in Arab affairs.

The only way to hurt a dictator is to take away that which keeps him in power.

I like a cruise missile attack just as much as the next guy, perhaps even more. But at $1 million a pop, the least you can do is pick good targets. Saddam Hussein doesn't really care if the United States flattens nuclear production centers, and air defense sites are only peripheral to his power base. Continued American attacks on these "political" rather than military targets only strengthens Iraqi resolve and enhances Saddam's public image as an immortal Arab hero. If the United States really wants to pull the plug on Saddam Hussein's regime, it should be going after targets that really matter -- remaining units of the Republican Guard and offensive weapons Saddam will use to start his next war.

Destroy the Arab oil weapon. For much too long, the United States has allowed its foreign policy to be dominated by its need to coddle oil-rich sultans. If he eliminates American reliance on imported oil, Bill Clinton will go down in history as the finest American president since Abraham Lincoln.