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Tuesday, 2 January, 2001, 07:29 GMT
Clinton's international record
President Clinton in Belfast
Making people feel good about themselves in Belfast
By diplomatic correspondent Barnaby Mason

Outgoing President Clinton has been making a last-minute effort against the odds to secure an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

But apart from that, the foreign policy legacy of his eight years in office has already been drawn up.

He has immersed himself in every detail of policy and international negotiations

Perhaps the last foreign trip of his patchy presidency took Bill Clinton back to Northern Ireland to promise continued support for peace.

It was another exercise in what he does brilliantly: making people feel good about themselves.

"What really matters is not what America does, what really matters is not even all the encouragement you give to people around the world," he told them.

"What really matters is what you do and whether you decide to give your children not your own yesterdays, but their own tomorrows."

For and against

Many people credit Mr Clinton with a key role in helping bring about a Northern Ireland peace agreement.

Rwanda genocide skulls
Critics ask why Washington did nothing to stop the genocide in Rwanda?
The Irish News commented that with his departure, someone rather exceptional was riding off into the sunset.

He's certainly that. Besides charisma and an actor's sensitivity to his audience, Bill Clinton has sharp intelligence and quick-wittedness.

He has immersed himself in every detail of policy and international negotiations.

But his critics say there's a negative side: an inability to delegate, a desire to micro-manage everything, and indecision resulting from a tendency to consider every angle.

The Clinton doctrine

Certainly, Mr Clinton took a very long time to make up his mind about intervention in the Bosnian war before the United States finally acted decisively in 1995.

Saddam Hussein
Iraq: One of the hardest issues facing the new administration
Since then, he has developed with others the doctrine of humanitarian intervention to prevent ethnic cleansing and the slaughter of innocent people.

It was the public justification for the Kosovo bombing campaign of 1999.

Right wing commentators and others in the United States and Europe have poured scorn on the doctrine as impossibly moralistic and inevitably inconsistent.

Sticking points

Why did Washington do nothing to stop the genocide in Rwanda, they ask, why didn't it condemn Croatia's savage expulsion of Serbs from the Krajina?

But while the incoming Bush administration advocates a more cautious line based on real American national interests, it may be no more successful in developing a convincing rationale for intervention in the affairs of other states.

One of the toughest nuts to crack will be Iraq, where the sanctions policy is widely seen as a failure and the United States and Britain are more isolated than ever.

Against that, Mr Clinton can claim success in reducing the threat from North Korea and helping to break down its isolation.

See also:

28 Dec 00 | Asia-Pacific
Clinton will not visit North Korea
11 Dec 00 | Northern Ireland
Clinton: His role in Northern Ireland
19 Nov 00 | Asia-Pacific
Clinton rounds off Vietnam 'success'
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