To start with, it has to be granted in mitigation that the world has become so confusing that even an intellectual giant in the White House would have trouble defining a coherent role for the United States. Victory in the Cold War has enabled it neither to withdraw from global responsibility nor to dictate peace terms to a fractured world. Its vast strength, so effective in deterring the Soviet Union, seems helpless against the spread of multiple sources of instability. The choices that have to be made now are genuinely difficult.
The conceptual response evolved by the present team is not bad as far as it goes. It defines the principal interest of the United States as the spread of democracy, to be pursued multilaterally where possible but alone where necessary. In action, however, this policy has suffered from lack of focus, poor anticipation and confused tactics.
The managerial problems have been caused largely by presidential inattention and inexperience. Mr Clinton thought he could leave foreign policy in the safe hands of Warren Christopher and Anthony Lake, with Les Aspin at the Pentagon, while he turned his attention to domestic reform. But no bureaucracy will work without clear decisions at the top. The President's attention was too often elsewhere.
His mistake was to assume that foreign policy had become less important. In reality it is critically important now, because decisions taken at this fluid moment of history will set the signals for the next century and shape the economic and security environment in which the United States pursues domestic regeneration.
If foreign policy is mishandled, the country may find itself facing new coalitions of hostile states, spending more than necessary on military security and sinking back into protectionism that will ultimately diminish its own wealth. Mr Clinton's domestic visions will then be unattainable. Foreign policy cannot be separated from domestic policy. 'Only connect' should be his motto.