Clinton administration

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The Clinton administration' (from January 1993 to January 2001) was characterized by a budget surplus, free trade internationally, military interventions in southeastern Europe, reform of the Great Society welfare system, and impeachment. While Clinton claims credit, most of the success in his era can be traced to Republican majorities in Congress that crafted welfare reforms and a budget surplus.

Clinton voter Coalition

Bill Clinton
1994 cartoon by Tom Toles shows Clinton was all things to all people

Focus groups and opinion polling

Needham (2005) argues the "permanent campaign" is said to have reached its apogee in the incumbent communications strategies of Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. However, their assiduous courting of public opinion while in office has been used to explain both the high approval ratings of these leaders and their unpopularity for long periods of their incumbency. This apparent paradox suggests that the permanent campaign model is too blunt an instrument to usefully describe or evaluate incumbent communications. Its assumption of continuity between election campaigning and office-holding fails to explain how the strategic terrain changes once a challenger takes office. The concepts of branding and relationship marketing can be used to highlight the difference between gaining support in the one-off transaction of an election and retaining voter loyalty in a post-"purchase" setting. The success of Blair and Clinton in establishing a relationship with voters from within office can be assessed using six attributes of successful brands: simplicity, uniqueness, reassurance, aspiration, values, and credibility. As incumbents, facing challenges in shifting strategic and institutional environments, Blair and Clinton developed messages that were simple and appealed to voter aspirations. Voters remained skeptical about the extent to which these leaders embodied values and delivered on their promises.

Suspicions often arose during Clinton's tenure about the timing of cruise missile attacks to manipulate public sympathy at crucial points when his approval ratings sagged. On several occasions [1] generally when the approval ratings dipped to 47%, surprise cruise missile attacks[2] were launched which resulted in a 10 point gain in the public opinion polls. Nick Gillespie of Reason remarked,

Consider, for instance, the relative lack of scrutiny accorded the August 20 cruise missile attacks on Afghanistan and Sudan … immediately after the bombing, polls showed that close to half of all Americans thought the missile strikes were meant to divert attention from the president's sex life… the Sudanese bombing suggests something else as well: If and when the public's and the media's attention shifts from the president's sex life to wider-ranging inquiries about how he makes deadly serious policy decisions…"[3]

Voter demographics

The Presidential Vote in Social Groups (percentages)
% of
% of 3-party vote
1992 1996
Social group Clinton Bush Perot Clinton Dole Perot
Total vote 43 38 19 49 41 8
Party and ideology
2 Liberal Republicans 17 54 30 44 48 9
13 Moderate Republicans 15 63 21 20 72 7
21 Conservative Republicans 5 82 13 6 88 5
4 Liberal Independents 54 17 30 58 15 18
15 Moderate Independents 43 28 30 50 30 17
7 Conservative Independents 17 53 30 19 60 19
13 Liberal Democrats 85 5 11 89 5 4
20 Moderate Democrats 76 9 15 84 10 5
6 Conservative Democrats 61 23 16 69 23 7
Gender and marital status
33 Married men 38 42 21 40 48 10
33 Married women 41 40 19 48 43 7
15 Unmarried men 48 29 22 49 35 12
20 Unmarried women 53 31 15 62 28 7
83 White 39 40 20 43 46 9
10 Black 83 10 7 84 12 4
5 Hispanic 61 25 14 72 21 6
1 Asian 31 55 15 43 48 8
46 White Protestant 33 47 21 36 53 10
29 Catholic 44 35 20 53 37 9
3 Jewish 80 11 9 78 16 3
17 Born Again, religious right 23 61 15 26 65 8
17 18–29 years old 43 34 22 53 34 10
33 30–44 years old 41 38 21 48 41 9
26 45–59 years old 41 40 19 48 41 9
24 60 and older 50 38 12 48 44 7
6 Not a high school graduate 54 28 18 59 28 11
24 High school graduate 43 36 21 51 35 13
27 Some college education 41 37 21 48 40 10
26 College graduate 39 41 20 44 46 8
17 Post graduate education 50 36 14 52 40 5
Family income
11 Under $15,000 58 23 19 59 28 11
23 $15,000–$29,999 45 35 20 53 36 9
27 $30,000–$49,999 41 38 21 48 40 10
39 Over $50,000 39 44 17 44 48 7
18 Over $75,000 36 48 16 41 51 7
9 Over $100,000 38 54 6
23 East 47 35 18 55 34 9
26 Midwest 42 37 21 48 41 10
30 South 41 43 16 46 46 7
20 West 43 34 23 48 40 8
Community size
10 Population over 500,000 58 28 13 68 25 6
21 Population 50,000 to 500,000 50 33 16 50 39 8
39 Suburbs 41 39 21 47 42 8
30 Rural areas, towns 39 40 20 45 44 10

Source: Voter News Service exit poll, reported in The New York Times, November 10, 1996, p. 28.

Proposal to privatize Social Security

Performance of the Dow Jones Industrial Average since Clinton asked to privatize Social Security; Clinton made his proposal at or near the top of the investment cycle when stocks were overvalued, prior to the crash.

In 1999 President Clinton proposed investing the Social Security Trust Fund in what some might consider "risky" assets in the stock market and bonds. The stock market then was in the late stages of a bull market cycle with stock prices and indexes overvalued. Clinton told a joint meeting fo the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate,

I propose that we commit 60 percent of the budget surplus for the next 15 years to Social Security, investing a small portion in the private sector, just as any private or State Government pension would do.[4]

Foreign Policy

Critics of Clinton argued that he lacked a knowledge of world affairs. In his 1992 speech at the Democrat National Convention, he devoted one minute to foreign policy issues in an oration that lasted an hour. [5] Clinton entered office after the U.S. won the Cold War, and the U.S. was the only superpower. There were no major foreign crisis during his presidency. His foreign policy was based on five principles: 1) strong alliances with Europe and Asia, 2) positive relations with former adversaries, 3) a global perspective on local conflicts, 4) the adaptation of national security priorities to incorporate technological advances, and 5) effective economic integration.[6]

Butfoy (2006) argues that in the 1990s the "revolution in military affairs" (RMA), which produced "smart" weapons like cruise missiles, came of age. This apparently transformed how America viewed the relationship between force and international relations. It looked as though technology was framing foreign policy. In particular, smart weapons enabled Clinton to combine risk minimization with an expanded security agenda. However, we should be wary of ascribing technological determinism to the conflicts of the 1990s dominated by Washington's flexing of its strategic superiority, such as its bombing of Belgrade. As shown by comparison with US strategy after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Washington's stance in the 1990s was shaped by linkages between technology and specific political circumstances. As these circumstances changed, so did the RMA's place in US efforts to shape world order.

North Korean nukes

From 1985 to 1992, N. Korea "bought time" for its nuclear weapons program by entering into a series of international diplomatic agreements under which it promised to "deweaponize" its reactors and halt further production of plutonium. By Clinton's second, however, N. Korea had violated the terms of most of the non-proliferation agreements and withdrew from the rest.

Clinton forged an agreement with Kim Il-sung that the North would temporarily halt its signed on Oct. 21, 1994 known as the "Agreed Framework."[7]

In addition to the oil supplied under the 1994 Agreed Framework, North Korea continued to the United States and other countries for free, unconditional food aid while eschewing any real reform of its Stalinist agricultural system. [8]

By 2000, the United States contribution of food and other forms of humanitarian aid to North Korea had amounted to over $61 million.


Clinton tried to contain Iraq, and used military attacks to make the point. Clinton launched a small cruise missile attack against Iraq in 1993 as a response to a suspected terrorist assassination attempt made on former President George H. W. Bush in Kuwait. In 1998, Clinton threatened military action when Iraq denied full access to UN weapons inspectors.

Human Rights

Supporters of human rights faulted Clinton’s ideological transition from Wilsonian idealism to realism, especially regarding China and Bosnia. They gave high marks for his efforts at pushing peace negotiations in Haiti and the Middle East, the use of economic sanctions against North Korea, India, and Pakistan, and his efforts to get a chemical weapons convention. However, they give low marks in terms of human rights for inaction on the genocide in Rwanda and the Russian repression of secessionist Chechnya.

Middle East

There was little progress in the Middle East, where US support for Israel angered the Arabs. While Clinton made some accomplishments, including the 1993 Oslo Accords, the death of Israel’s prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 slowed the peace process. The election of Ehud Barak as prime minister in May 1999 appeared to give the president his last chance to achieve a foreign policy success. A meeting at Camp David between Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Barak in December 2000 produced a plan to create a Palestinian state in about 95% of the West Bank and Gaza. The plan was not accepted by the public on either side. President Clinton's hesitant political style was partially responsible for the lack of a lasting peace settlement.====Japan==== Relations with Japan, the main American ally in Asia, started off poorly. Yet by 2000, both sides realized how important friendship was, and this led to a redefinition and strengthening of the US-Japanese alliance. Although some changes have occurred in the asymmetry of power in the post-Cold War alliance with the relationship becoming less unequal, US interests still dominate, for the weakness of the Japanese economy limited its self confidence.


Clinton started off with heavy criticism of the lack of human rights in China. The main issue was Most Favored Nation (MFN) trade status for China, favored by China and American business and farm interests but strongly opposed by religious and human rights groups. Clinton's policy, which began with a 1993 executive order to make MFN status conditional on Chinese reforms, changed as the importance of a trade relationship with China forced the issue to be separated from the government's human rights policies.

He adjusted his China policy in 1996 and advocated dialogue and engagement; this led to improved relations. But Washington continued to criticize China on the issues of Hong Kong, human rights, trade, arms sales, Taiwan, and questionable political donations to US election campaigns. President Jiang Zemin's visit to the United States regained the momentum and led to a level of cooperation between the two countries not seen in years. The major factors affecting the relationship include: the enduring impact of the 1989 Tiananmen episode when the Communist Party crushed a democratic movement with the army; the negative coverage of China by American media, American psychological insecurity caused by the rise of China, and US domestic politics which has a love-hate relationship with China (loving to buy cheap Chinese products while watching competing American factories shut down.)


Relations with India were expected to improve following the end of the Cold War. They did not do so as both sides mishandled relations. The contradictory policies of the Clinton administration that simultaneously pressured India to liberalize its economy while criticizing New Delhi on human rights and nuclear issues undermined the very officials who strove to improve ties. In the face of criticism from Washington and opposition at home, Indian diplomats lost their enthusiasm for rapprochement. The controversy that surrounded the passage of the Brown Amendment, which restored aid to Pakistan in 1995 despite Islamabad's violation of the 1985 Pressler Amendment, is a case study of the delicate nature of the Indo-American relationship. In resurrecting Cold War rhetoric, Indian parliamentarians and American congressmen demonstrated their unwillingness to establish a new relationship. However the George W. Bush administration reversed policy and developed close, friendly ties to India.


Relations with Canada went smoothly. Thanks to the precedent set by the Brian Mulroney government and the administration of George H.W. Bush in the resolution of issues such as the acid rain problem and the Pacific salmon dispute. A friendly relationship between the Canadian prime minister Jean Chrétien and Clinton helped, as did the strong economic growth enjoyed by both countries. In addition, there were multilateral and bilateral institutions in place, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, to resolve some major disagreements. However, the relationship faces a number of challenges in the future. While concerns about ballistic missile attacks and threats of international terrorism are priorities for Americans, Canadians do not share those concerns but view the importation of American culture into their country with trepidation, and there are no institutional structures in place to resolve disagreements on these particular issues.

Mexico and NAFTA

Clinton, with GOP help, passed a free trade agreement over the objection of most Democrats and labor unions. The implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) generated political disagreements and stress in Mexico, involving issues of economics, labor unions, environmentalism, and international power. Mexico's financial crisis of 1993-95, which led to peso devaluation and new dislocations in that country, and disputes between Clinton and the Congress also exacerbated NAFTA's implementation. Nonetheless, the positive consequences of NAFTA included increases in Mexican imports to the United States and shifts in the trade balance in Mexico's favor.

NATO and Eastern Europe

Much attention was devoted to Eastern Europe.

Clinton actively promoted the expansion of NATO to the east, over the objections of Russia. Russia wanted to maintain some degree of control over its former satellites, and they wanted true independence. The NATO expansion was a political decision. An expanded NATO gave full play to political functions aimed at merging East European nations into NATO and bringing about their transformation into Western-style political and economic systems. NATO members will continue to work toward containing Russia if it fails to integrate itself into the West and returns to its traditional expansionist practices. The Russian transformation and NATO's adjustment influenced each other.


With the breakup of Yugoslavia civil wars erupted leading to genocide. With NATO support--but without UN approval--Clinton sent in the US Air Force to launch air strikes on Serbs in Bosnia and later deployed twenty thousand troops. The goal was to protect Muslim Bosnians from genocidal attacks from the Serbs. The policy eventually worked in Bosnia but later had to be extended to nearby Kosovo. Clinton briefly consulted Congress, but promised the troops would soon leave. They remained for years.


There was no internationally significant human rights crisis in Kosovo immediately prior to the NATO bombardment that justified its intervention on behalf of the ethnic-Albanian population. The problems of warfare that existed in Kosovo were largely a result of Clinton's support for the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), a narco-terrorist organization[9] linked to al Qaeda, with the intent of causing a crisis that justified intervention. The intervention was not humanitarian. NATO failed to produce evidence of massacres approaching anywhere near its claims. The intervention was illegal, destructive, and based on fraudulent claims.[10]


In Africa, Clinton expressed the exasperation of he American public after decades of single-party rule involving massive misuse and pillage of the continent's resources by local dictators. Clinton called for an end to protected European economic and commercial zones and for open competition on terms that would gradually eliminate African dependency. The Americans, in an effort to promote both democracy and prosperity, urged the African political class to create regimes in their states responsible to the people, to accept participation by opposition parties, and to install rigorous accounting and management procedures. Congress and public opinion supported the new initiatives, which involved much less public assistance to Africa and a great deal more private investment and mutually profitable trade. Essentially, American policy challenged African leaders to undertake reforms that would make them artisans of their own futures.


But for the efforts of President Clinton and his administration, and his special envoy Senator George Mitchell, the Good Friday Agreement (1998) reached between the British government, Irish republicans, and Ulster unionists would be impossible and the troubles would still be going on.


  1. The Facts About Clinton and Terrorism, Byron York, National Review Online, September 11, 2006.
  2. Airstrikes Against Iraq: 'What Happens Now?', U.S. Information Agency Daily Digest, December 21, 1998.
  3. Bombs Away - Troubling questions about the U.S. attack on Sudan, Reason, December 1998.
  4. President Bill Clinotn's 1999 State of the Union Address, January 19, 1999. Retrieved from 19 August 2010.
  5. The Presidents by David Maraniss, Pg. 626
  6. Samuel R. Berger, "A Foreign Policy for the Global Age," Foreign Affairs 2000 79(6): 22-39. 0015-7120