Even while the Lewinsky scandal consumed his domestic agenda, Clinton continued to perform in the field that traditionally was reserved for even an unpopular executive—foreign policy. His first-term record had been mixed. There was the failed intervention in Somalia, the indecisiveness characterizing U.S. policy with respect to Haiti, and the un-productive bombings of Iraq. But he had presided over the conversion of NATO from an anti-Soviet alliance into a general instrument for promoting Western and democratic interests, and even compelled Russia to accept its extension into Eastern Europe. (It may have been as a partial offset that he postponed the development of a U.S. missile defense system that Moscow found objectionable). And NATO became, in 1999, a key player in an important victory.
The scene was the Balkans, where a peace agreement signed in Dayton, Ohio, in 1995 still held, but where a new crisis erupted when Yugoslavia's dictatorial leader, Slobodan Milosevic, launched a genocidal campaign of ethnic cleansing among Albanian separatists in the southern province of Kosovo. Faced with indisputable evidence of mass murders, the United States led the UN in protests, and then in March launched an aerial bombing campaign against Yugoslavia, including Belgrade, under NATO auspices. Within a few weeks, Milosevic was forced to pull back his troops and admit neutral monitors, and it all happened with virtually no loss of American lives. Though there was criticism of this kind of "humanitarian" military intervention, which killed a number of innocent Yugoslavs in target areas, Clinton defended it as something that should already have been international policy earlier. And as an aftermath, Milosevic was forced out of power by the Serbs in 2000, and then indicted as a war criminal by a special UN tribunal. If steps were being taken toward the establishment of international legal standards for intervention in states where human rights abuses were being perpetrated, Clinton deserves some of the credit.
In two other peacemaking efforts that had begun in the first term, the consequences of Clinton's actions extended into the second term.