Clinton calls for 'heartland's citizens' to pay attention to foreign policy during visit to UNK
Scott McClurg/DN

President Bill Clinton speaks to Nebraskans in the University of Nebraska at Kearney Health and Sports Center during the president's first visit to the state.

KEARNEY - Because America's future at home will be tightly linked with events abroad, all citizens have a responsibility to pay close attention to world affairs, President Clinton said Friday.In his first trip as President to Nebraska - the only state he had yet to visit - Clinton called for active U.S. engagement in the world during a 52-minute address titled "A Foreign Policy for the Global Age," at the University of Nebraska at Kearney's Cushing Health and Sports Center."I came here today not just to keep my promise to visit Nebraska," Clinton said, "but to keep working on something at the very end of my term I have been trying for eight years to do, which is to persuade ordinary, hard-working American citizens in the heartland of America that you should be concerned about what goes on beyond our nation's borders and what our role in the rest of the world is."He recalled a saying by Harry Truman: "We are in the position now of making the world safe for democracy if we don't crawl in a shell and act selfish and foolish."Clinton's speech at UNK was the first event of his daylong trip to Nebraska. Afterward, he toured the Great Platte River Road Archway, the monument that spans Interstate 80 two miles east of Kearney and commemorates the country's westward expansion.Then Clinton hopped on the plane designated as Air Force One and flew to Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue, where he appeared with Sen. Bob Kerrey and Sen.-elect Ben Nelson. Later, he attended a fund-raiser for the Nebraska Democratic Party at Omaha businessman Vinod Gupta's home.Clinton arrived late at UNK because, during his motorcade ride from Kearney Municipal Airport, he decided to stop and shake hands with schoolchildren lining the road in frigid temperatures to watch the president pass by.An estimated 6,500 people, mostly UNK students, packed the gym to hear Clinton. At one point, as the crowd waited in anticipation of Clinton's arrival, an announcement came over the loudspeaker: "Ladies and gentlemen, the president" - the crowd caught its breath and began to rise - "of the University of Nebraska, L. Dennis Smith." The crowd laughed.NU President L. Dennis Smith and the University of Nebraska Board of Regents took the stage, where they sat to the left of the podium. Soon after, the announcement came that everything awaited: "Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States."As the UNK band struck up "Hail to the Chief," the crowd rose and applauded the entry of Clinton, Gov. Mike Johanns, UNK Chancellor Gladys Styles Johnston and Casey L. Mendez, a UNK junior political science major chosen to introduce the president.Those four speakers and the NU Board of Regents sat on stage ahead of a blue backdrop bearing three UNK insignia. The podium was emblazoned with the seal of the President of the United States.Several prominent Nebraska politicians sat in the front row. They included former Gov. Frank Morrison, who first thought of building the arch at Kearney and played an important role in bringing Clinton to Kearney last week. Former Sen. James Exon also attended, as did Kerrey, who flew to Kearney with .Clinton on Air Force One, and Nelson."Can't you feel the electricity?" Johnston said as she began the convocation. She applauded Clinton's visit, saying he had helped bring about a "golden age" for higher education."It is appropriate that we pay homage to President Clinton as the education president," she said." The president has always understood the power and wisdom of education as a national treasure."Smith and Johnston presented Clinton, who wore a black gown and a white stole, with an honorary UNK degree.Johanns, who in August proudly announced on the floor of the Republican National Convention that Nebraska was the only state Clinton had not visited as president, welcomed Clinton to Nebraska on Friday."I can only assume this may be one of your last visits to a state as president," he said. "In recognition of this, we are proud to provide you with some of your last memories - your best memories - as 42nd President of the United States."Mendez, president of the Hispanic student organization at UNK, then introduced Clinton. She praised him for promoting diversity, expanding free trade, intervening to stop violence in Bosnia and Kosovo and seeking peace in the Middle East."As the first post-Cold War president, he has had no obvious signposts for foreign policy," she said. "But he has unquestionably met these challenges."When Clinton took the podium, he said: "Didn't Casey do a good job? She was great."Before beginning his foreign policy remarks, Clinton talked about the 50th state he had visited as president, a state which voted overwhelmingly for his Republican opposition in both 1992 and 1996."When I came in here and I looked at this crowd, one of my staff members joked that we had found a building in Nebraska that would hold every single Democrat - and a few charitable Republicans, to boot," he said to laughter. "Let me say, I'm glad that I finally made it to Nebraska. There were a lot of signs outside that said, you saved the best until last."And I saw the patriotism and the spirit of the people, all the children holding the American flags. It was very, very moving coming in."Clinton told a story about a movement in the 1870s to relocate the capital from Washington to a more central location. A Kearney publisher started a national campaign to make Kearney the new U.S. capital, promising to rename it New Washington, use the real estate profits to pay off the national debt and convert the government buildings in Washington into asylums."Well, history took a different course, except for that part about turning those buildings into asylums," Clinton said. "I have occupied one for the last eight years."And we are finally paying off the national debt, which is good," he said. "But since half of Washington is in Kearney today, maybe we should think again about moving the capital. I rather like it here."Clinton urged Americans to care deeply about foreign affairs because, as the world grows more interdependent, events around the world will affect everyone's lives. No longer is there a "clear, bright line dividing America's domestic concerns and America's foreign policy concerns," he said.He touted the country's successes, including the longest economic expansion in history, the lowest unemployment in 30 years, the lowest crime rate in 27 years and three years of budget surpluses and debt reduction. As a military and economic power, the United States is unrivaled, he said."But the really important question is, what do we intend to make of this moment?" Clinton asked. "Will we be grateful, but basically complacent, being the political equivalent of couch potatoes? Will we assume that in this era of the Internet, peace and prosperity will just spread? That all we have to do is kind of sit back, hook the world up to AOL and wait for people to beat their swords into shares on the NASDAQ?"Instead, Clinton said, the country must recognize the world's changes and steer the "train of globalization" to its proper destination."If we want America to stay on the right track, if we want other people to be on that track and have the chance to enjoy peace and prosperity, we have no choice but to try to lead the train," he said.Clinton emphasized the country's diversity as a source of strength in the future. Then he improvised, revealing a conversation he had on the podium with Johnston, who is black."You know what the chancellor said when the (UNK) choir was singing?" Clinton said. "I said, boy, they're good. She said, they got a lot more rhythm since I came here."As he recounted what he considered his presidency's foreign policy successes, Clinton outlined five broad principles that, he said, should guide U.S. foreign policy after he leaves office on Jan. 20.First, he said, the United States must maintain its alliances and adapt them to face future challenges.NATO, created to counter the expansion of Soviet communism in Europe, now must address crises like the ethnic warfare it faced in the former Yugoslavia.In Asia, the United States should maintain its military presence, preserve its alliance with Japan, work to prevent war between China and Taiwan, monitor North Korea's development of weapons of mass destruction and continue to support the democratic South Korea, Clinton said.In addition, the United States should build strong relationships with countries in Latin America, South Asia and Africa."America cannot lead if we walk away from our friends and our neighbors," he said.Second, the United States should try to build strong relationships with former Cold War adversaries Russia and China, Clinton said.In Russia, he said, the United States should support the country's move toward democracy and the rule of law, while expressing its objection when it disagrees with Russian policy, as in its war in Chechnya.With China, the United States should continue to pursue free trade because it will promote openness, improving freedom's chance to flourish there, he said.Third, the United States must not ignore local conflicts that have raged in places like the Balkans, Cyprus, India and Pakistan and Ethiopia and Eritrea, Clinton said. The United States must continue to press for peace in Northern Ireland and the Middle East, he said."Local conflicts can become worldwide headaches if they're allowed to fester," Clinton said. "Therefore, whenever possible, we should stop them before they get out of hand."The United States should encourage other countries to handle such conflicts in their own neighborhoods, he said. But because of its status as the world's lone superpower, he said, the United States must take the lead in many cases.He said the United States should pay its U.N. dues and support U.N. peacekeeping operations, saying "nobody in the world benefits from stability more than we do. Nobody.""When we walk away from our responsibilities, people resent us," he said. "They resent our prosperity, they resent our power and, in the end, when a whole lot of people resent you, sooner or later they find some way to manifest it."Fourth, Clinton said, the world's openness has raised new national security concerns, including terrorism, the spread of weapons of mass destruction and the threat of cyberterrorism. He congratulated the University of Nebraska for its new information assurance center.The United States also must respond to concerns such as global warming, the spread of AIDS and the need for more efficient fuels, including ethanol and biomass fuels. Advances in ethanol production eventually could allow cars to get 500 miles to the gallon, he said."If I were - no offense, Mr. President - if I were the President of the University of Nebraska, whatever I was spending on that, I'd double it," Clinton said.Fifth, Clinton called for further expansion of free trade, but with "a more human face."He said trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and the creation of the World Trade Organization had helped fuel the strong U.S. economy. More than 25 percent of the U.S. economy's growth has resulted from trade, he said.But as the United States pursues free trade, it should use foreign aid to address worldwide challenges such as education, health care, drug trafficking, the spread of AIDS and economic development. Now, the total U.S. spending on such programs is about the same as what Americans spend annually on dietary supplements, he said."So if the next President and the next Congress want to spend some of your money to relieve the burden of the world's poorest countries and debt ... if they want to double, triple or quadruple it, I hope you will support that," Clinton said.Urging the country not to "squander the best moment in our history on small-mindedness," Clinton urged an active U.S. role in the world that, he said, has the momentum of history on its side."We can no longer separate America's fate from the world any more than you could separate Nebraska's fate from America's or Kearney's fate from Nebraska's," he said. "So that's what I came here to say."I hope that in the years ahead, the heartland of America will say, America chooses to be a part of the world, with a clear head and a strong heart; to share the risks and the opportunities of the world; to work with others until ultimately there is a global community of free nations, working with us, for peace and security, where everybody counts and everybody has got a chance."If we will do that, America's best days, and the world's finest hours, lie ahead."UNK students said that, regardless of what they thought of Clinton personally, they enjoyed his visit.Ryan Palmer, a junior biology major at UNK, said he appreciated Clinton's call for Nebraskans to be interested in foreign policy."Love him or hate him, just seeing the spectacle of a presidential visit is what it's all about," he said. "He's a very gifted speaker. Love him or hate him, you have to respect him."Kenda Olson, a freshman education major at UNK, said she enjoyed listening to the substance of Clinton's speech rather than focusing on the scandals that have surrounded his administration."It was good to come and see everything that comes along with seeing the president," she said. "He did a very good job and didn't let in all the slander that people have said about him."James Scott, a UNK political science professor and author of books about Ronald Reagan's foreign policy and foreign policy in the post-Cold War world, said Clinton's speech would guide historians in studying Clinton's foreign policy record and ideas."It was a nice call to action and a reminder of America's responsibility in the world," he said. "What he's done in the speech is lay out the accomplishments of the last eight years. We have seen some real progress."