Clinton Says U.S. Must Continue to Lead
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 29, 1996 President Bill Clinton said America must enter the next century as a nation of opportunity for all and responsibility from all.
Clinton, speaking at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy commencement in Groton, Conn., also said those who wish to field an anti-ballistic missile defense system now are wrong.
Clinton gave graduates a succinct job description of the presidency. "My job as president is to match the need for American leadership to our interests and to our values; to act where we can to make a difference; to do so wisely, not reflexively; relying on diplomacy and sanctions where we can, force when we must; working with our allies whenever possible, but alone when necessary, rejecting the call to isolationism, refusing to be the world's policeman."
He told the new Coast Guard officers they are confronting a time of tremendous opportunities. A revolution in technology and communications is changing the way the world does business. Democracy and free markets are on the march, he said, and are helping make enormous opportunities for people all around the globe.
"But we know these same forces also pose new challenges," he said. "The end of communism has opened the door to the spread of weapons of mass destruction and lifted the lid on religious and ethnic conflicts. The growing openness we so cherish also benefits a host of equal opportunity destroyers -- terrorists, international criminals, drug traffickers and those who do the environment damage that crosses national borders."
Clinton said with the end of the Cold War many Americans underestimate the threats confronting the country. He said people of all political persuasions are calling for a retreat from global leadership.
"But we cannot withdraw into a fortressed America -- there is no wall high enough to keep out the threats to our security -- or to isolate ourselves from the world economy and other trends in the global society," he said.
He said there are Americans who contend the country should lead, but won't provide the resources to do so.
Clinton asked the cadets to imagine what the world would look like today if the United States had followed the isolationist impulse at the end of the Cold War. He pointed to the Persian Gulf, Haiti, Bosnia, the Middle East and said in many cases there was substantial opposition to U.S. involvement. "But because we followed the course, Americans are better off," he said.
U.S. leadership still depends of a powerful military and strong alliances, he said. "And for this new era, we must first sharpen and strengthen these tools," he said. "Our military has never been more ready than it is today, prepared to fight and win on two major fronts at once, to deter aggression and to defeat it."
Clinton said the end of the Cold War also presents the United States an opportunity to strengthen old alliances and build new ones. These alliances will work to build a peaceful and undivided Europe and forge a community of nations in an increasingly open and democratic Asia.
He said the Partnership for Peace program with the states of Eastern and Central Europe will allow them to eventually join NATO. He cited U.S. and Russian troops working together for peace in Bosnia is a sign the United States can have strong partnerships with Europe and Russia.
He told the graduates they will be the ones to ensure the United States keeps on the right track. "But there is more to be done for America to keep moving forward and to pass on an even safer and more prosperous world to our children as we enter this new century and a new millennium," Clinton said. "First, we must continue to seize the extraordinary opportunity to reduce the threat of weapons of mass destruction."
Clinton said the United States has set a far-reaching nonproliferation agenda and is working with allies and former adversaries to reduce this threat.
Clinton said the United States is concerned about nuclear materials falling into the wrong hands or going to a rogue state. The country must eventually be prepared to defend itself against a strike. "That's why we're spending $3 billion a year on a strong, sensible national missile defense program based on real threats and pragmatic responses. Our first priority is to defend against existing or near-term threats, like short- and medium-range missile attacks on our troops in the field or our allies."
He said the possibility of a rogue nation launching a long-range missile attack on American soil is more than a decade away. "To prevent it, we are committed to developing by the year 2000 a defensive system that could be deployed by 2003, well before the threat becomes real," Clinton said.
He said those who want to spend $30 billion to $60 billion now to combat this threat are wrong. "I think we should not leap before we look," he said. He said the plan would waste money, weaken U.S. defenses by taking money away from more urgent programs and violate arms agreements.
Clinton said the country has been the world's leader for more than 50 years. "If we continue to lead, if we continue to meet the peril and seize the promise of this new era, that proud history will also be your future and the future of your children."