Year one of the Clinton foreign policy, the Year of Good Intentions, is mercifully over. It began with an Inaugural Address proclaiming a doctrine of armed humanitarianism - America acting "with force when necessary" not just to defend its interests but when "the will and conscience of the international community is defied." It ended with a return to prudence and sanity - the United States leaving Somalia, Haiti and Bosnia behind, an admission that, absent a compelling national interest, conscience alone is not reason enough for armed intervention.

Somalia, Haiti and Bosnia are now yoked together in a kind of compound word meaning good intentions gone bad or gone nowhere. In each instance, the administration took us up the hill and then back down. And a good thing, too, that we came back down. Each promised intervention without end.It would, of course, have been better had we gotten to where we are now without detours through ill-conceived action (Somalia, Haiti) and empty bluff (Bosnia). American credibility has been damaged and that will serve us badly in the real crisis now coming upon us in Korea.

Soon, very soon, the International Atomic Energy Agency will declare North Korea as having "broken the continuity" of inspection of its nuclear facilities. These are the required code words by which the IAEA sounds the alarm on nuclear cheaters. If non-proliferation is to mean anything, the international police, with America in the lead, are then supposed to come in and do something.

The president has said that he will, declaring unequivocally that "North Korea cannot be allowed to develop a nuclear bomb." But this may be just another of Clinton's rhetorical poses. The administration appears to be setting the stage for its fourth capitulation, this time on something vital to America's national interest. If it does, then the era of mass destruction - the name historians will give to what we now tentatively call the post-Cold War era - will have begun in earnest.

To be sure, there is more to Clinton's first year scorecard than just good intentions. On international economics, there was tactical finesse. He pushed through NAFTA over furious domestic opposition. And he pushed through the GATT treaty (worldwide tariff reductions involving 117 nations) over furious international obstructionism. GATT reduces world tariffs by around 40 percent and will boost the world economy. More important, it will arrest the worldwide slide toward protectionism that threatened a return to the ruinous trade wars of the 1930s.

And then there is the Middle East, where the administration has done very little and is to be highly praised for it. In the past, heavy-handed American intercession in what should be bilateral talks between Israel and its enemies has retarded the prospects for Middle East peace.

Clinton's Middle East team knows when to get out of the way. Apart from one case of backsliding - trying to induce niceness in Syria's Assad with a gift of three jets and a presidential audience - they have let the parties work it out on their own. When the PLO came crying to Uncle Sam during the current stalemate in Gaza-Jericho negotiations, the administration said: Go away. Work it out with the Israelis. You are going to have to live together. Start now.

The administration has correctly applied the lessons of Oslo. Get out of the way. Stay out of the way. And host a great big party when the bilateral talks succeed.

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What will next year be like? The last three have marked a period of extraordinary international calm. It was an eerie calm that produced the first presidential campaign in 50 years in which foreign policy played no part at all (except to the extent that an interest in foreign affairs became an exploitable political liability). This interlude, which many mistook and still mastake for the norm, began Feb. 28, 1991, with the end of the gulf war. It ended Dec. 12, 1993, with the thunderclap of the Russian election.

The Russian election reminds us of the fragility of the current peace. It points to the threat of a return not just to Cold War days, but to worse days. Stalin and his successors were evil, but they were not reckless. They never attacked Western Europe. They fought a losing war in Afghanistan and never used the bomb. They demonstrated caution even in proxy wars like in Vietnam and Nicaragua.

The prospect of the neo-Nazi Zhirinovsky or some other reckless and embittered imperialist at the helm in Moscow should concentrate American minds on the centrality of Russia. It's future is the main event. North Korea, the current crisis, is the undercard.

Peacekeeping, nation-building, the Somalia-Haiti-Bosnia triangle have preoccupied us for the past year. No more. The year of good intentions is over.

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