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COLUMN LEFT / ALEXANDER COCKBURN : Embracing the Carcass of Cold War : Candidate Clinton makes President Bush look like a dove.

August 09, 1992|ALEXANDER COCKBURN | Alexander Cockburn writes for the Nation and other publications

With his call for air strikes against the Serbs, Bill Clinton offers yet another important reminder that when it comes to foreign policy, the Democrats are well to the right of the Bush Administration. He achieves the difficult feat of making George Bush look good.

The Cold War is over and candidates for the presidency no longer need rattle their sabers along the campaign trail. There is, in 1992, a real opportunity to change the terms of debate. Faced with this opportunity, Clinton has shrunk back into the familiar blend of war talk and political opportunism.

If ever there was a case for avoiding partisan commitment, dismembered Yugoslavia is surely it. But Clinton now seeks to align the United States with Germany, which, with considerable success, has been trying to reconstruct the Nazis' World War II sphere of influence in the Balkans.

Anyone quite properly denouncing Serbian atrocities and "ethnic cleansing" should devote equal attention to the designs and behavior of the Croats and Bosnians, whose leaders' rhetoric has been couched at a level of nationalist and religious bigotry often outstripping that of the Serbian president, Slobodan Milosevic.

When the Serbs invoke the religious pogroms of the Nazi puppet state of Croatia in World War II, which saw the slaughter, in the name of Catholicism, of 750,000 to 1.2 million Serbs (along with Jews and Gypsies), their anguished memories are often treated as reminiscences of a distant past, irrelevant to the present hour.

But suppose, to take an analogy, that enclaves of European Jewry had survived in Germany after the war and were now confronted by the blood-curdling threats of a German government brandishing the Nazi flag. Would memories of wartime genocide be irrelevant? Croatia's president, Franjo Tudjman, already notorious for his defense of Hitler's racial policies, has chosen as the flag for the new Croat republic a design virtually identical to that of the old Nazi puppet republic.

Yugoslavia is a patchwork of nationalist anxiety, paranoia and religious bigotry. No ethnic or religious group, whether Catholic, Muslim or Orthodox, is immune from blame for the horrors now unfolding. Such is the mess into which candidate Clinton, seeking to capitalize on the hysterical anti-Serb tilt of the U.S. press, now urges military intervention against Serbia.

This is not an isolated example of Clinton's instinctive recourse to war talk and Cold War posturing. His discussions of Iraq these days take the form of tub-thumping oratory about President Bush's wimpish failure to go far enough in bombing Iraqis and punishing Saddam Hussein.

Cuba is yet another instance where Clinton has surrendered to hawkishness, this time on behalf of the most violent and fanatical lobby in the United States, the Cuban exiles massed in southern Florida. Back in April, at a rally in Miami's Little Havana, Clinton publicly endorsed a bill known as the Cuban Democracy Act. This bill, sponsored by Rep. Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.) and Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), mandates U.S. economic sanctions against any country or U.S. corporate subsidiary doing business with Cuba. The bill has been opposed by the White House, in part because it violates trade agreements with Canada and Britain.

Clinton's surrender to the exile lobby was bought fairly cheaply, with a $75,000 contribution to his campaign. In return, Clinton declared, "I think this Administration has missed a big opportunity to put down the hammer on Fidel Castro and Cuba."

This is the candidate of change?

On the issue of Israel, Clinton has carried water for the spiritual soul-mates of those fanatical Cuban exiles. At a moment when Bush and Secretary of State James A. Baker III were pressuring Yitzhak Shamir and his Likud coalition toward the conference table, candidate Clinton was howling for unconditional U.S. guarantees of the $10 billion earmarked by Shamir for the financing of further illegal settlements.

The diplomacy of Bush and Baker materially assisted in a victory for the Labor coalition headed by Rabin. Clinton, now flanked by Al Gore, one of the Israel lobby's favorite sons, has been unerringly on the wrong, the more reactionary, side.

This is the man who promises to bring freshness and new thinking to America and its posture toward the world. Finally, judge Clinton by his posture on Haiti. Here at least is a chance for Clinton to make a convincing case for stringent sanctions and for a U.S. posture designed to restore the democratically elected leader, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. But Haitians somehow fail to excite the passions aroused by Bosnians in Clinton's heart. His pollsters probably tell him that America's "forgotten middle class" doesn't care for victims who are brown, very poor and near at hand.

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