Innocent Abroad

IF BILL CLINTON has sailed into his second term with a 62 percent approval rating, part of the reason may be the disturbing fact that a majority of Americans no longer get their news from a daily paper, but rather from TV--and from local TV news at that. Certainly this accentuates the abysmal ignorance about the world outside our borders that keeps our people's gaze turned ever inward.

With his first term denuded of any major positive initiative that would raise up our economy's left-out majority--and having bought the Republican myth about the need for governmental austerity--Clinton, we are now told, will increasingly turn his attention to foreign policy.

Herewith, then, are a few things you won't hear.

The nuclear danger is far from gone--indeed, it may be even greater than it was at the height of the Cold War. Russia, with its 25,000 nuclear warheads and rotting nuclear power plants, is a leaderless country. The Clinton policy of cleaving to Boris Yeltsin--Russia's Dead Man Walking--has left us with no interlocutors among the real contenders for power in the divided and incompetent opposition. No wonder the Salt II treaty is stalled in the Duma. The most likely après-Yeltsin scenario is a Bonapartist one in which power is seized by one of the corrupt circles at the boot of the country's military-industrial complex: either Alexander Lebed, the primitive general with the nationalist discourse, or more likely Anatoly Chubais, the self-enriching éminence grise of savage free enterprise, will soon replace Yelsin. Neither can be counted on to dismantle safely the stockpiles of warheads or renovate the crumbling reactors--indeed, there is no money in the country to
do so. Either accident or miscalculation could well bring a nuclear firestorm that would poison not only the former Soviet Union but Western Europe--a danger made all the greater by the skein of Chernobyl-style reactors that provide the power for Eastern Europe.

If impoverished Russia's considerable black market traffic in fissionable materials and nuclear technicians now places nuke technology within the grasp of any tinpot dictator or terrorist group with the ability to pay for it, China has been aggressively marketing nuclear technology--easily convertible to weaponry--to dictatorial states from Iran and Pakistan to Indonesia. At the same time, the Clinton policy of selling out China's democracy movement and human rights to enhance trade for slave-labor-employing multinationals has been an abject failure on its own terms: Year-end figures show that China has replaced Japan as the country with which the U.S. has the largest trade deficit.

Hebron may be in the headlines, but the prospects for Middle East peace are dimmer than in the decade since the Likkud won power in Israel. Bibi Netanyahu has scuttled the Rabin-Peres policy of seeking an accommodation with Syria by reinforcing the Golan Heights and expanding Israel's punitive military campaign in South Lebanon; the corrupt Yassir Arafat regime that runs the Palestinian "entity" has been browbeaten by the West into making so many concessions that Arafat no longer can control the fervid nationalism that is surging among his unemployed and increasingly youthful people.

Islamic fundamentalisms of various stripes are rolling like a tidal wave across a crescent that stretches from Marrakech to Tashkent. Traditional U.S. allies like Turkey and Pakistan now have Islamist governments. Saudi Arabia's "oiligarchy" can no longer find enough petro-dollars to pacify its population (neither, for that matter, can Libya's Col. Quadaffi). Algeria is awash in blood--the daily death toll is now 20 to 40, though whether from the armed fundamentalist factions or from the military dictatorship's plain clothes death squads is often hard to tell. Assassinations of intellectuals, Rai singers, and journalists have depleted the forces of modernity in Algeria, leaving it a battleground between the army and a religious reaction as brutal as that practiced by Afghanistan's Taliban. Repression, which the West tacitly supports, is not working to stem this tide, which is fueled by misery and want. If Algeria falls, it will not be long before Morocco and Tunisia are at the mercy of the mullahs, and the wave could sweep all the way to the Persian Gulf, taking with it the regimes in Cairo and Riyadh that have been the client mainstays of U.S. foreign policy.

With a series of religious regimes buying nukes on the cheap from corrupted Russia and feckless China, the world's peace is threatened, and with it the illusory safety of its people from a nuke-poisoned atmosphere. Meanwhile, Clinton's inaugural silence on these questions will have told you he doesn't have a clue...

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