Clinton Trip Pushes U.S. Engagement In Europe

WASHINGTON -- With one eye on the history books and the other on a restive public, U.S. President Bill Clinton heads to Europe this week with a goal more domestic than diplomatic: convincing Americans that a U.S. commitment to defend Poland and other former Communist countries is worth the cost -- in money and troops -- because it will reduce the chances of another war on the continent.

Adding new members to NATO "will reduce the likelihood that Americans will have to die in Europe in the 21st century," Clinton said last week in an interview.

"It's almost impossible to get people to calculate the benefits of the dogs that don't bark," Clinton said. "But what we're trying to do is to create a world where the barking dogs of the 20th century don't yelp in the 21st."

With Clinton's encouragement, NATO is expected to invite Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic to join the alliance this year -- a decision that would commit the United States to defending the three countries against any outside attack.

But the president acknowledged that Congress and the public have not yet focused on the costs of enlarging NATO -- and that winning Senate approval will require a concerted effort.

"Historically, the United States has been much more, if not isolationist, at least noninvolved" in the security of the rest of the world, he said. "I sometimes think my biggest challenge is to create a climate within the country to meet the challenge."

Last month's ultimately successful struggle to win Senate ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention, which bans chemical warfare, and continuing resistance to granting the president "fast-track" authority to negotiate trade agreements have brought home a hard lesson, Clinton said: "It shows you this sort of resurgence of the historic American impulse of reluctance."

Thus, Clinton and his aides hope to turn his travels this week into one long infomercial on the benefits of U.S. engagement abroad.

Beginning with a Memorial Day speech at the grave of General George C. Marshall, who committed the United States to rebuilding Europe after World War II; running through visits to Paris, London and Rotterdam, where the Dutch are throwing a "Thank You, America" celebration in honor of the Marshall Plan's 50th anniversary; and winding up with a speech next week at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Clinton hopes to convince Americans that while expanding military alliances is costly and sometimes dangerous, it is still better than the alternative.

"This is a moment to create a structure that will carry us for the next 50 years, in the same ways that Marshall and his generation and the Europeans created a structure that carried us through the Cold War," Clinton said, previewing what aides said will be his main theme this week. "I hope the American people will see that we are going to be safer, we are going to be more prosperous, the world will be a more decent place if we maintain our engagement."

Aides said Clinton has spent considerable time and energy on his foreign policy agenda in recent weeks -- both because the issues are pressing and because he is looking for ways to make his second term's mark on history.