Bill Clinton

1946 - 

Bill Clinton, 42nd president of the United States (1993- ) and the first president born after World War II (1939-1945). Clinton, who was 46 when he took office, was the third youngest person to become president, after Theodore Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy. After a difficult campaign, Clinton defeated incumbent president George Bush and independent candidate H. Ross Perot in the November 1992 election. In 1996 he was elected to a second term, defeating the Republican candidate Robert Dole.

A moderate Democrat and longtime governor of Arkansas, Clinton was the first Democrat in 12 years to hold the presidency, and the first Democrat since Franklin D. Roosevelt to be elected to a second term. He promised to change not only the direction the country had taken under the two previous Republican presidents, but also the policies of his own Democratic Party. Clinton’s first presidential election victory came in part because Americans were gravely concerned about the nation’s economy, which had been depressed for much of George Bush’s presidency. Clinton worked on legislation to increase foreign trade and to address social issues, such as health care and education.

Early Life

Childhood

Clinton was born on August 19, 1946, as William Jefferson Blythe IV in Hope, Arkansas. He never knew his father, William Jefferson Blythe III, a traveling salesman who died in a car accident several months before Bill was born. After Bill became president, he and his mother learned that his father had been married at least three other times and that Bill had a half brother and half sister whom he had never met. Bill took the name William Jefferson Clinton after his mother remarried.

As a small child, Bill lived with his mother, Virginia Cassidy Blythe, and her parents in Hope, Arkansas. When Bill—called Billy—was a year old, his mother went to New Orleans, Louisiana, to study to be a nurse-anesthetist, and for the next two years he was reared mainly by his maternal grandparents.

When Bill was four years old, his mother married Roger Clinton, later the owner of a car dealership in Hope. Two years later, the family moved to Hot Springs, Arkansas. Life at home for Bill and his mother was not always easy. Roger was an alcoholic and a gambler, often losing the family’s money, including Virginia’s earnings as an anesthetist. He cursed and sometimes beat his wife and verbally abused Bill and his younger brother, Roger Jr., who was born in 1956. Bill was especially close to his mother and sometimes stood up to his stepfather to protect her. As a college student, Bill reconciled with his stepfather, who died of cancer in 1967.

Schooling

Clinton attended a Roman Catholic school for two years in Hot Springs before attending public schools. He was a popular student and maintained top grades. He held several student offices, played the tenor saxophone, and was a member of the all-state band. In 1963, after his junior year in high school, Clinton was elected as one of two delegates from Arkansas to Boys Nation—a government study program for young people sponsored by the American Legion, a veterans organization—in Washington, D.C. There he debated for civil rights legislation and met President John Fitzgerald Kennedy at a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden.

College

Clinton graduated from high school in 1964 and enrolled at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., where he majored in international affairs. He was elected president of his class during both his freshman and sophomore years. As a junior and senior he earned school expenses by working as an intern for the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, which was chaired by Senator J. William Fulbright, an Arkansas Democrat. Clinton greatly admired Fulbright, who was a leading critic of United States involvement in the Vietnam War (1959-1975). Clinton was also deeply moved by black Americans’ fight for equality in the 1960s. In April 1968, a few weeks before Clinton graduated, the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., set off rioting in several American cities, including Washington. Clinton volunteered to work with the Red Cross and took clothing and food to people whose homes had been burned.

During his senior year, Clinton won a Rhodes Scholarship to the University of Oxford in England, and he spent two years in Oxford’s graduate program after graduating from Georgetown. In 1970 Clinton enrolled at Yale University Law School, where he studied for a law degree. He paid his way with a scholarship and by working two or three jobs at the same time. At Yale he met fellow law student Hillary Diane Rodham from the Chicago area (see Clinton, Hillary Rodham). They began dating and in 1972 Clinton and Rodham worked in Texas for the presidential campaign of Democrat George S. McGovern of South Dakota. Clinton worked as a campaign coordinator for McGovern, and Rodham helped organize a voter-registration drive for the Democratic National Committee.

Marriage

Clinton graduated from law school in 1973 and went to Fayetteville, Arkansas, to teach at the University of Arkansas Law School. Rodham worked with a congressional team investigating Watergate, a political scandal that involved members of the administration of President Richard M. Nixon. She joined Clinton on the law school faculty in 1974, and they were married on October 11, 1975. Their daughter, Chelsea Victoria Clinton, was born on February 27, 1980.

Early Public Career

Clinton had worked on a number of political campaigns in the late 1960s, including those of several Arkansas Democratic politicians and a U.S. Senate candidate from Connecticut. In 1972 he had coordinated George McGovern’s presidential campaign in Texas and Arkansas. In 1974, midway in his first year of teaching at the University of Arkansas, Clinton entered his first political race, campaigning for a seat in the United States House of Representatives. The incumbent Republican congressman, John Paul Hammerschmidt, was a popular candidate and considered unbeatable. Clinton defeated three candidates for the Democratic Party nomination and ran an energetic campaign against Hammerschmidt. Hammerschmidt won with 52 percent of the votes, although it was the closest election of his 26 years in Congress.

Clinton’s close race with Hammerschmidt earned him statewide attention and helped him in his campaign for attorney general in 1976. He defeated two Democrats for the nomination and had no Republican opposition. Clinton took public office for the first time in January 1977. As attorney general, he fought rate increases by public utilities and opposed the construction of a large coal-burning power plant. He promoted tougher laws to protect the environment and consumers.

When Arkansas governor David Pryor ran for the U.S. Senate in 1978, Clinton ran for governor. He promised to improve the state’s schools and highways and to improve economic conditions so that more jobs would be created. At that time, the average income of people in Arkansas ranked 49th among the 50 states. Clinton won easily, receiving 60 percent of the votes against four opponents in the Democratic primary election and 63 percent against the Republican candidate, Lynn Lowe, in the general election. When he took office in January 1979 at age 32, he was one of the youngest governors in the nation’s history.

Governor of Arkansas

First Term

Clinton’s first term as governor included efforts to improve Arkansas’ economy. One of his biggest successes as governor was his highway program, but it was politically costly. Clinton thought good highways were a key to developing the state, and the state’s roads were among the worst in the country. To upgrade the highways, he asked the legislature to pass a package of tax increases. The largest increases were on licensing fees on automobiles and on large trucks that damaged the highways with heavy loads. Clinton was forced to make compromises in his plan because many businesses and the trucking industry opposed his program. The compromise plan passed but was unpopular because it levied more taxes on individual car owners.

Clinton undertook other legislative initiatives that generated opposition. His criticism of the practice of clear-cutting trees in national forests alienated the lumber and papermaking companies, which were the largest employers in the state. Physicians opposed his efforts to increase health care in poor, rural areas. Bankers disliked Clinton’s proposal to withhold state funds from banks that did not lend enough money for businesses that created jobs in their communities.

Another factor affecting the governor was the presence of Cuban refugees in Arkansas. In 1980 Cuba temporarily removed its exit restrictions and permitted about 120,000 people to go to the United States. In May 1980, President Jimmy Carter temporarily housed about 18,000 Cuban refugees at an old U.S. Army post near Fort Smith, Arkansas. By the end of May, the confined refugees were disgruntled with delays in their resettlement, and some 300 escaped from the fort. On June 1 approximately 1000 Cuban refugees broke through the gate of the post and were met in the nearby town of Barling by approximately 500 armed townspeople. State officers subdued the refugees, but the incident proved disastrous for Clinton, who had previously campaigned on his friendship with Carter.

Clinton ran for reelection in 1980 against Frank D. White, a Little Rock businessman who had switched to the Republican Party to run against Clinton. White received support from many of those alienated by Clinton—including the trucking and wood products companies, banks, utilities, and the poultry industry. In addition, White used television advertisements that showed rioting Cubans and claimed that the Cubans would be released into Arkansas communities and take jobs away from Arkansas workers. Clinton’s popularity plummeted further, and White won the election with nearly 52 percent of the votes.

Second Through Fifth Terms

After his defeat, Clinton joined a large corporate law firm in Little Rock. Against the advice of most of his friends and advisers, who urged him to wait before running for office again, Clinton quickly began planning his campaign for the next gubernatorial election, in 1982. Clinton won the Democratic nomination, although it required a runoff election because of the closeness of the race. In the general election, Clinton faced White, who was running for reelection, and the two candidates swapped bitter charges. White repeated his accusations from the 1980 campaign, and Clinton accused White of unfairly letting utilities raise the rates people paid for electricity and telephone service. Clinton promised he would make it harder for utilities to obtain rate increases. Clinton campaigned for the votes of blacks, and he received more than 95 percent of their votes. Clinton defeated White with nearly 55 percent of the votes.

Clinton had found lessons in his 1980 defeat about how to govern. He learned to choose his fights carefully, not to try to change everything at once, and to prepare people before proposing major changes. These abilities helped Clinton continue to be reelected in 1984, 1986, and after the gubernatorial term changed from two years to four years, in 1990.

At the start of his second term, Clinton decided to spend all his energies trying to improve education, which he thought was the state’s biggest problem. Clinton believed that the state’s poor education system did not prepare children for good jobs nor make Arkansas attractive to industries that offered skilled jobs. He appointed his wife as the head of a committee to write higher standards for Arkansas schools. She conducted hearings in each of the state’s 75 counties, and she and Clinton made numerous speeches across the state, saying more should be demanded from schools and students.

In the fall of 1983, Clinton called the legislature into a special session to approve many changes in the school system. Clinton won approval of most parts of his sweeping reform program: taxes were increased to pay teachers more money, offer more courses in the high schools, and provide college scholarships; state money for education was distributed differently to help the poorest schools; eighth graders were required to pass a test of basic knowledge before going to high school; and all school teachers and administrators also had to take a basic knowledge test in order to keep their jobs. The Clinton administration also adopted tough new standards proposed by Hillary Clinton’s committee that raised the requirements for graduation from high school and forced high schools to offer more science, mathematics, foreign language, art, and music classes, and to reduce the size of kindergarten and elementary school classes. School districts that did not meet these requirements within three years would be merged into districts that did meet the standards. The requirement that all teachers pass a test angered most school teachers and generated a national debate. But the program, and the taxes, proved popular with Arkansas voters. During this time, the scores of Arkansas students on college-entrance tests improved. In the early 1980s a high percentage of Arkansas students dropped out of school before graduating, and fewer high school graduates went to college than in any other state. But by 1990, the dropout rate had fallen well below the national average, and the percentage of young people who went to college matched the national average.

Clinton also concentrated on economic development, promoting new businesses and job creation. He introduced an economic package to change banking laws; provide money to start new technology-oriented businesses; arrange loans for people to start new businesses; and reduce the taxes of large Arkansas companies that expanded their production and created new jobs. The legislature approved nearly the entire package. Although the rate at which new jobs were created in Arkansas in the late 1980s was among the highest in the nation, most of these jobs did not pay high wages, and the average family income remained low.

Clinton had difficulty trying to persuade the legislature to raise more taxes to carry out further reforms in education. The business groups he had once angered—the state’s largest electric utility, the wood-products industry, trucking companies, the poultry industry and other farm groups—combined to block Clinton’s proposed higher taxes. They also defeated legislation that would have imposed higher ethical standards on public officials and lobbyists.

After his election to a fifth term in 1990, Clinton was more successful in getting his legislative program enacted. Based on his overall success at the legislative session in 1991, Clinton announced that, despite a campaign promise in 1990 to complete a four-year term, he was free to run for president because he had accomplished his goals for the state more quickly than he had planned.

Clinton had assumed national leadership roles during his years as governor. In 1985 and 1986, he served as chairman of the Southern Growth Policies Board, a group that planned strategies for economic development in 12 Southern states and Puerto Rico. He became vice chairman of the National Governors Association in 1985 and was the organization’s chairman in 1986 and 1987. In this role he was spokesman for the nation’s governors. In 1988 he led a movement to change the nation’s system of providing welfare to poor people. Clinton also headed the Democratic Leadership Council, a group of moderate Democrats and businesspeople who work to influence national policies, in 1990 and 1991.

The Presidential Campaigns

Clinton had prepared to run for president in 1988, but he backed out at the last minute, saying the campaign and the position would be too hard on his family, especially his eight-year-old daughter. He was then asked to give the nominating speech—a key role at the Democratic National Convention—for Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis.

On October 3, 1991, Clinton announced in Little Rock that he would run for president in the 1992 election. The presidential campaign consisted of party primary elections and caucuses in most states, which would select most of the delegates for each party’s nominating convention (see Political Convention). As the party primaries approached in early 1992, Clinton faced five Democratic candidates: former Massachusetts senator Paul Tsongas; former California governor Edmund “Jerry” Brown, Jr.; Governor L. Douglas Wilder of Virginia; Senator Robert Kerrey of Nebraska; and Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa. Clinton became the early front-runner among the Democratic candidates because he had raised more money than the other candidates and had a national backing from his connections in education and the National Governors Association.

Clinton’s campaign focused on domestic policy. He promised to institute national health care, enact a tax cut for the middle class, organize a new welfare system, institute a national service program for college graduates, make major investments in the nation’s infrastructure (highways, bridges, airports, libraries, and hospitals), reduce the federal budget deficit, and reform campaign-finance laws. Internationally, Clinton promised to use American military power to stop the advance of Serbs against Muslims in Bosnia. After a series of successful primaries, Clinton won the presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention, held in New York City in mid-July. Clinton picked Senator Al Gore of Tennessee as his vice-presidential running mate.

During the presidential campaign, Clinton ran against George Bush and H. Ross Perot, who ran as an independent candidate. The three candidates participated in three nationally televised debates. Clinton blamed Bush for the downturn in the economy and accused him of not caring about working people. In return, Bush said Clinton would raise taxes if he became president and that Clinton lacked foreign policy experience. Perot focused on the country’s deficit spending and promised to balance the budget by raising taxes and reducing government spending.

Clinton won the election with 43 percent of the popular vote as compared to 38 percent for Bush and 19 percent for Perot. Clinton received the votes of 33 states in the electoral college, where each state has a number of electoral votes depending on its population and usually gives all of them to the candidate who received the most votes in that state. On January 20, 1993, Clinton was sworn in as president.

In 1996 Clinton ran for reelection against Republican senator Robert Dole. During the campaign, Clinton stressed his desire to control the federal budget deficit and work for campaign finance reform. At the nominating convention, held in Chicago in August, Clinton announced more plans including additional funding for environmental programs; a proposal for a capital gains tax break for homeowners selling their houses; and tax credits for college tuition and for businesses that hire people who had been on welfare. In contrast, Dole focused on a 15 percent tax cut and attacked Clinton’s character. He also pointed to his own World War II military record and long career in government as examples of his service to the country. However, Dole was unable to build sufficient support for himself or his proposals.

In November 1996 Clinton defeated Dole with 49.2 percent of the popular vote, compared with Dole’s 40.8 percent. Ross Perot ran as a candidate of the Reform Party but was not as successful as he had been in 1992; he won only 8.5 percent of the vote. Clinton soundly defeated Dole in the electoral college votes, receiving 379 to Dole’s 159.

The Clinton Administrations

In his first term, Clinton appointed more women and minorities as cabinet members—the heads of major departments of government—than had any previous president. These included Attorney General Janet Reno, the first woman to hold that office, Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy, Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown, Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala, and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Henry Cisneros. In addition, in his first two years in office, Clinton appointed two new justices to the Supreme Court of the United States. Stephen G. Breyer replaced Harry A. Blackmun and Ruth Bader Ginsburg replaced Byron R. White, becoming the second woman on the Supreme Court.

At the beginning of his second term, Clinton reaffirmed his commitment to appointing women to cabinet positions by nominating Madeleine Albright as the first woman secretary of state. In addition he worked to make his cabinet bipartisan, appointing Republican senator William Cohen as secretary of defense. Other second-term Clinton appointees included Secretary of Commerce William Daley, Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Andrew Cuomo, Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater, and ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson.

Domestic Issues

During his first term, Clinton focused on the country’s internal problems, especially the economy and health care, rather than on foreign affairs, which had occupied Bush. With the Democratic Party’s sizable majority in both houses of Congress, Clinton promised in his inaugural speech “an end to the era of deadlock and drift.” He immediately signed orders overturning restrictions on abortions that had been put in place during the 12 years the Republicans occupied the White House. In little more than two weeks, he signed his first major piece of legislation, a family leave law that required companies with more than 50 workers to allow workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave a year to cope with family issues such as childbirth and illness.

During his first campaign for president, Clinton promised to lift the ban against homosexuals serving in the United States armed forces. He moved ahead on the plan as he took office for his first term, but his proposal ignited protests from military leaders and members of Congress. Clinton and supporters of the ban eventually settled on a compromise: Homosexuals would be allowed to serve if they did not reveal their sexual orientation and refrained from homosexual conduct. This compromise became known as the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Clinton’s budget for the 1993 and 1994 fiscal year passed by a narrow margin in both houses, 218-216 in the House of Representatives and 51-50 in the Senate. The package called for cutting $500 billion from the deficit over five years by reducing spending by $255 billion and raising $241 billion in new taxes. The federal budget declined sharply in the next two years. Clinton delayed acting upon his campaign promise to give middle-class families a tax cut until 1995.

One of Clinton’s most popular campaign promises during his first election was to guarantee health insurance for every American for life. Clinton promised that the health-care system would be reformed in his first year in office. He appointed his wife to head a task force to write a bill that would guarantee health insurance and hold down the rapidly rising cost of health care. The task force proposed a plan under which people would join a health-care alliance that would contract with insurance companies and others to offer health insurance to their members. The plan soon encountered stiff opposition from health insurance companies and Republicans in Congress. It was criticized as being too complicated and as giving the federal government too large a role in medical care. The Administration was unable to reach a compromise with Republicans in the Senate, and health-care reform efforts never made it through Congress.

Although Congress did not enact Clinton’s health-care reform proposal, it did pass a number of his programs during his first term in office, including major trade legislation; a national service program, which provided education money to students who performed service for their communities; the so-called Brady bill, which made it more difficult for criminals to buy handguns; and an anti-crime law that imposed the death penalty for more crimes, banned the sale of assault weapons, and gave the states money to hire 100,000 more police officers and start crime prevention programs.

During his first two years in office, Clinton was the subject of controversy. In the fall of 1993, new questions were raised about his early business dealings in Arkansas, particularly the investment he and his wife had made in a 1978 real-estate venture called the Whitewater Development Corporation, a home development in a remote part of Arkansas. Although the Clintons lost money, their partners in the venture later bought a tiny savings and loan association, Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan Corporation, which went into bankruptcy in 1989 and was bailed out by the Resolution Trust Corporation, a federal agency. Federal investigators and Republican members of Congress questioned whether money from the savings and loan might have helped the Clintons’ land venture and whether Clinton had used his influence as governor to help the savings and loan. In April 1996 Clinton gave videotaped testimony in the bank fraud trial of his former Whitewater business partners. Investigation of this controversy, dubbed the Whitewater Affair, continued into Clinton’s second term. In April 1997 the grand jury that was hearing evidence in the Whitewater investigation was granted an extension for six months, allowing it to continue until November 1997.

Another controversy facing Clinton during his terms as president involved a civil case filed by Paula Jones, a former state employee. Jones filed suit against President Clinton in 1994, alleging that he had violated her civil rights when he made unwanted sexual advances towards her in 1991 while he was governor. Clinton’s lawyers contended that the suit should be delayed until Clinton was out of office. The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in May 1997 ruled 9 to 0 that sitting presidents were not protected from civil lawsuits and that the trial could proceed.

Republican Congress

The congressional elections of 1994 ended the Democratic Party’s control of the Senate and House of Representatives. The election gave the Republicans a 52-48 majority in the Senate, and during the four months after the election, two Democratic senators switched parties. In the House of Representatives the Republicans also gained a majority with 230 Republican to 204 Democratic seats. Republican Newt Gingrich, committed to a conservative agenda, became the new Speaker of the House.

The House of Representatives became the focus of national attention as the Republicans worked on the agenda written by Gingrich in the “Contract with America.” The Republican Congress and Clinton often disagreed on legislation. Two pieces of legislation that were passed with the support of both Congress and the president were a bill to help combat terrorism by providing more funds to fight terrorism and making it easier to deport foreigners suspected of terrorist activities, and the presidential line-item veto, which allowed the president to veto individual items on appropriations bills but was challenged in court as being unconstitutional. But most initiatives of the Republican Congress were stymied by the president’s veto or threat of it.

Clinton and the Republicans in Congress were unable to agree on a federal budget for 1996. The debates ranged from how much to cut spending to how to reform welfare. Clinton particularly opposed the size of Republican cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, educational and environmental programs, a stand that seemed to be popular with the voters. As a result, the federal government had two partial shutdowns because money was unavailable for government operations. In April 1996 Clinton and Congress agreed on a federal budget that would provide money for government agencies until the end of the fiscal year in October. The budget included spending cuts, especially in art, labor, and housing programs, that the Republicans wanted, but preserved many programs, particularly educational and environmental ones, that Clinton wanted.

In August 1996, a week before the Democratic nominating convention, Clinton approved in quick succession three bills passed by Congress earlier in the summer. The new laws included an increase in the minimum wage from $4.25 to $5.15, signed on August 20; a measure making it easier for workers to transfer their health insurance between employers and not be denied coverage for preexisting conditions, signed on August 21; and a controversial overhaul of the welfare program, signed on August 22.

Clinton signed the welfare bill, in part, to fulfill a 1992 campaign promise to “end the welfare system as we know it.” Clinton had vetoed two previous welfare bills, saying that the cutbacks were too severe. The bill that he signed included provisions such as limiting lifetime benefits to five years, denying some welfare programs and food stamps to legal immigrants, and requiring that adult recipients work after two years. In addition, the federal government allowed states to set their own guidelines and gave them some money to help pay for the programs.

Early in his second term, Clinton reached an agreement with Congress on how to balance the federal budget in five years. However, disagreements between the president and members of Congress soon surfaced, calling into question the viability of the original agreement.

Foreign Affairs

Although the United States was no longer confronted by the Cold War, during his first term Clinton faced difficult decisions regarding bloody conflicts in Rwanda, Somalia, Bosnia, and Haiti, all places where the interests of the United States were not clear.

Conflicts in Africa

Only weeks before Clinton took office, President Bush had sent American soldiers to Somalia, on the eastern coast of Africa, where people were dying from starvation and civil war. The soldiers were to protect food and other relief supplies for starving people from being stolen by warring clans. When the soldiers came under fire from armed clans, the mission became unpopular with the American people. Clinton doubled troops in the country to help the Americans defend themselves and to prevent anarchy and starvation, but calls for withdrawal grew and United States soldiers were withdrawn in March 1994. In May 1993 the United Nations (UN) had taken command of the peacekeeping troops in Somalia, and UN troops remained until March 1995.

In April 1994 a civil war erupted in Rwanda. Within a few weeks, 2 million people had fled the massacres and repression in the country. With thousands dying of disease and starvation in refugee camps in neighboring countries, the Clinton administration was under pressure to provide relief. Clinton ordered airdrops of food and supplies for refugees, and in July he sent 200 troops to the Rwanda capital of Kigali to operate the airport and safeguard relief supplies. These troops were withdrawn by October 1994.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

More troubling for Clinton was the civil war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a nation formed after the breakup of Yugoslavia in southern Europe. Bosnian Serb soldiers, supported by Serbia, were better armed than the Muslims of Bosnia and controlled much of the countryside. They besieged cities, including the capital of Sarajevo, and caused massive suffering. Clinton suggested bombing Serb supply lines and lifting an embargo that blocked military arms from reaching the outgunned Muslims, but could not get European nations to join him on either strategy. He eventually found himself opposing Republicans in Congress who wanted to lift the arms embargo without the agreement of American allies in Western Europe. Throughout 1994 Clinton pressured Western European countries to take strong measures against the Serbs, but in November, after the Serbs seemed on the verge of overwhelming the Bosnians in several strongholds, he changed course and pushed conciliation with the Serbs to reach a settlement with the Bosnians.

In November 1995 the Clinton administration hosted peace talks between the warring parties in Bosnia and Herzegovina. A peace agreement was reached that left the country as a single state made up of two separate areas with a central government. As part of the agreement, Clinton pledged to send American soldiers to Bosnia and Herzegovina to help NATO troops in providing humanitarian aid and policing a zone between the two factions.

Haiti

Clinton had more success in Haiti, an impoverished island in the Caribbean Sea southeast of Cuba. Military leaders had ousted the country’s first elected president, Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide, in September 1991. Aristide escaped to the United States. As Clinton became president, thousands of Haitians fled from the country’s repressive military regime to the United States. Although Clinton had criticized Bush for returning Haitian refugees to their country, he continued Bush’s policy on the grounds that accepting refugees might encourage as many as 500,000 more to flee to the United States.

Clinton worked out an agreement with the Haitian dictators for Aristide to return to Haiti on October 30, 1993. The United States and the United Nations promised to send troops to retrain the Haitian military and police forces, but the military rulers balked when the time arrived. When anti-Aristide demonstrators prevented the American troops and Canadian engineers from reaching the dock, the ship was turned back. In 1994 Clinton gave the Haitian rulers repeated warnings that they must step down and restore democratic rule. Members of both parties in Congress opposed American intervention, but Clinton sent a large military force to the country in September 1994. At the last minute, before the troops reached Haiti he sent a delegation led by former President Jimmy Carter to urge the Haitian military leader, Raoul Cédras, to step down and leave the country. Cédras agreed to leave and surrender the government to Aristide. Cédras and his top lieutenants left the country on October 13; on October 15 American forces escorted Aristide into the capital, and the democratic government was restored. In early 1995 the UN assumed responsibility of the remaining troops in Haiti. They were expected to remain in Haiti until June 1997, although there was a possibility that their stay would be extended.

The Middle East

Clinton also had success in the Middle East. Secret negotiations between the nation of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization led to a historic declaration of peace between the two groups in September 1993, which had been at war for 45 years. Clinton arranged for the peace accord to be signed at the White House. In July 1994, he helped orchestrate an historic agreement between long-time enemies Israel and Jordan to end their state of war. The leaders of the countries signed their pact at the White House. In April 1995 the Clinton Administration helped to negotiate an agreement between Israel, Lebanon, and Syria. The agreement was intended to protect civilians and stop fighting between the Israelis and Hezbollah, a guerrilla organization in Lebanon that is supplied by Syria.

Korea

Tensions on the Korean peninsula, where the United States had fought a war 40 years earlier, increased when North Korea, one of the few remaining Communist dictatorships in the world, violated the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty by refusing to allow international inspectors to look at sites where nuclear waste from two electric generating plants was dumped. The inspectors wanted to see if North Korea was extracting plutonium, which could be used to manufacture nuclear weapons in violation of the treaty. Despite international concerns and repeated warnings by Clinton, North Korea refused to allow the inspections and raised the prospect of war with South Korea, a United States ally. After some private diplomacy by former president Jimmy Carter, the Clinton administration reached an agreement with North Korea in October 1994. North Korea would shut down the nuclear plants that produced the bomb material, and the United States would help North Korea build plants that generated electricity with “light-water” nuclear reactors that are more efficient and produce waste from which extracting material for nuclear bombs is more difficult. The United States promised to supply fuel oil to operate electric plants until the new plants were built, and North Korea promised to allow inspection of the old waste sites when construction started on the new plants.

Mexico

Another foreign crisis occurred in early 1995, when the value of the peso, the currency of Mexico, began to fall sharply, threatening the collapse of the Mexican economy. Clinton said the collapse of the Mexican economy would have a harsh effect on the United States and submitted a plan to Congress to help Mexico ease its financial crisis. Fearing that voters would not favor giving money to Mexico, Congress refused to approve the plan. Clinton then devised a $20 billion loan package for Mexico to restore confidence of investors around the world in the Mexican economy. In January 1997 Mexico announced that it had completed its loan payments to the United States, three years ahead of schedule.

In March 1996 Clinton declared Mexico a partner with the United States in the war against drugs. However, many members of Congress felt that Mexico had not done enough to discourage the production and transport of drugs. In February 1997 many U.S. politicians again questioned Mexico’s commitment to the war against drugs when a top Mexican antidrug official was arrested on charges of protecting one of the country’s most prominent drug traffickers. However, Clinton still supported Mexico’s efforts to combat the illegal drug trade and again declared Mexico a partner in the war against drugs. Clinton made his first visit to Mexico in May 1997. However, issues such as the drug controversy and the U.S. immigration policies strained relations between the United States and Mexico.

Cuba

Following talks with representatives of the Cuban government, in May 1995 Clinton announced a controversial decision to reverse a 30-year policy allowing Cuban refugees into the United States. Some 20,000 refugees detained at Guantanamo Bay Naval Station in Cuba were to be admitted to the United States over a period of about three months; to prevent a mass exodus of refugees to the United States, all future refugees would be returned to Cuba. According to United States Attorney General Janet Reno, Cubans seeking refugees status could apply for that status while still in Cuba.

Although the Cuban American National Foundation, an organization led by Jorge Mas Canosa, an exiled political leader from Cuba, approved of admitting the detained refugees, Mas Canosa was critical of the new policy to return future Cuban refugees. Cuban Americans feared that refugees would not be safe if they were handed back to the Communist government led by Fidel Castro. While some political figures praised the decision, such as the governor of Florida (where refugees were considered likely to settle), others in the Clinton Administration voiced their opposition.

Relations between the United States and Cuba worsened in February 1996 when Cuba shot down two civilian planes. Cuba claimed that the planes had been in Cuban airspace. However, Clinton condemned Cuba for shooting down unarmed civilian planes without warning. In response, Clinton tightened sanctions against Cuba, including the suspension of flights from the United States to Cuba. The president hoped this suspension would hurt Cuba’s tourist industry.

Also in response to the incident, the U.S. Congress passed in March 1996 the Helms-Burton Act, named after its two sponsors, Senator Jesse Helms and Representative Dan Burton. Parts of the bill strengthened the embargo against Cuba. However, another part, Title III, allowed American citizens whose property was seized during and after the 1959 Cuban revolution to file suit in U.S. courts against foreign companies that later invested in those properties. The uproar from other countries such as Mexico, Canada, and members of the European Union (EU) was immediate because they believed that the United States could not penalize them for doing business with Cuba. In July 1996 and again in January 1997 Clinton suspended Title III of the legislation for six months.

Trade Legislation

Clinton successfully lobbied for the passage of sweeping trade legislation that lowered the barriers to trade with other nations. He broke with many of his supporters, including labor unions, over free-trade legislation. Many feared that cutting tariffs (taxes on exports or imports) and import rules would cost American jobs because people would buy products made with cheaper labor from other countries. Clinton said the country would be helped, not harmed. The first fight was over the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which would gradually reduce tariffs and create a free-trading block of the North American countries—the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Opponents, led by H. Ross Perot, said it would drive American companies to Mexico, where they could produce goods with cheap labor and ship them back to the United States. Clinton persuaded Democrats to join most Republicans in voting for the measure. The treaty was voted on in the House of Representatives in November 1993, and passed, 234 to 200.

Clinton also met with leaders of the Pacific Rim nations to discuss lowering trade barriers. In November 1993 he hosted a summit meeting in Seattle, Washington, attended by the leaders of 12 Pacific Rim nations. Clinton’s negotiators also participated in the final round of negotiations to work out a comprehensive world trade agreement, called the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). Similar negotiations had been going on for seven years under three presidents. After the general election in 1994, Clinton summoned Congress to a rare lame-duck session to ratify the treaty. Congress approved GATT by votes of 76-24 in the Senate and 288-146 in the House of Representatives. Two weeks before the GATT vote, he orchestrated an agreement with the Pacific Rim nations meeting in Indonesia to gradually remove trade barriers and open their markets.

Contributed By: Ernest C. Dumas

"Clinton, Bill," Microsoft® Encarta® 98 Encyclopedia. © 1993-1997 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.