The vision thing: Clintonites in 1992 danced to the strains of "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow" and savaged George Bush for his inability to talk about where the United States should be in 10 or 20 years. Reality check: Intelligence officials whose job it is to think about tomorrow warn that the United States is an easy target for nuclear missile attacks that could come from Iran, North Korea, or other hostile powers as early as five years from now.
We tend to associate vision with vistas of progress, "bridges to the 21st century" and other flights of rhetoric. But vision also means a refusal to assume that good times will continue to roll, and an awareness that most of human history is a story of pride going before multiple falls. At this point, we should be happy if Bill Clinton gets into the history books as only a president who disgraced his office. He might also be the leader whose distractions proved fatal for many of his countrymen.
True vision-a balanced awareness of the potential for both positives and negatives-is not the same as pure brain power. Journalists waxed sarcastic about Ronald Reagan's brainpower during the 1980s, but he knew that national security demanded a strategic defense against missiles and at the same time a vision offensive. He spoke often about the inevitability of Communism dying out and freedom coming to the Soviet Union. He also gave legs to his words by meeting with Moscow dissidents.
President Clinton, a smart fellow, has done the opposite. He and his congressional think-alikes have violated their responsibility to provide for the common defense. He has opposed the strategic defense initiative begun during the Reagan administration. He has taken the easy road concerning Iraqi weapons inspections. He has emphasized an American-Chinese partnership, without suggesting that China has to be radically transformed if the partnership is to work.
Much of the debate about Clinton policy regarding China has emphasized wheeling and dealing. That's not surprising, since Democratic Party acceptance of Chinese government money, followed by the president's approval (over his staff's objections) of selling China technology that can improve its missile accuracy, looks fishy. But critics who charge "sellout" miss the real problem: a lack of vision.
The Clinton administration tends to paint the world as it paints adulterous sexual practices, in a thousand shades of gray. Mr. Clinton sees each country trying to move from a narrow-minded past toward a progressive future; hence, Clinton confessions of America's sins (but not his own) on almost every foreign trip. The president believes, evidently, that all leaders naturally want to avoid war but are forced into it by avoidable mistrust or institutional problems.
If Mr. Clinton had a different worldview, he would ask other questions: What if war is very natural, given man's greed for power? What if some leaders see war as a permissible way to gain more power, in the belief that they can achieve victory without overwhelming losses? History, of course, is full of mistaken calculations of that sort, since dictators have a tendency to overrate their own power-but they still tend to plunge ahead unless restrained by the obvious power of their adversaries.
If Mr. Clinton thought in terms of worldviews rather than hugs, he would expect aggressive action from any country that enslaves its own people. Every Communist country has struggled with the problem of defectors. None has successfully answered the question, "How'ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm, after they've seen Pa-ree?" Communist dictators who say, "Forget Paris," end up holding the bag; their goal must be, "Eliminate Paris."
Some radical Islamic regimes come to the same conclusion through different but parallel reasoning. They view sin as external to the human heart, the result of falling prey to temptations from the outside like American movies and other consumer products. Get rid of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, Taliban leaders in Afghanistan believe, and utopia is within reach. Eliminate Paris and New York, they yell, not realizing that the corruption comes from within.
The United States, in short, has real enemies capable of attempting thermonuclear blackmail, if they think they can get away with it. To explain Bill Clinton's lack of vision about such potential disasters, forget conspiracy theories: Simply mix together a falsely optimistic, progressive view of history, with "all you need is love" theories of the 1960s, and an ostrich-like foreign policy is at hand. That's what we're stuck with, until vision returns.