Peace on Earth?

Daniel Ruen

BILL CLINTON'S marathon press conference last week was remarkable for his lengthy boasting about what the president proclaimed to be his administration's foreign-policy successes. But the rosy view from the White House is so out of synch with reality that even the New York Times' R.W. Apple, a notorious Clinton coddler, wrote that the president's description of the world was, in the eyes of most foreign-policy experts, "unrecognizable."

The last Democratic president, Jimmy Carter, at least put human rights at the rhetorical center of America's role in the world (although his embrace of the murderous Shah of Iran precipitated the 1980 hostage crisis). Clinton, by contrast, has subordinated such principles to the geopolitical trade imperatives of the multinational corporations, as demonstrated last week by the revelation that the White House ordered the Voice of America not to broadcast on its Mandarin-language service an interview with dissident Wei Jingsheng.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright just returned from a tour of Africa during which she neatly avoided visiting (with the exception of South Africa) any of the emerging, yet still fragile democracies that are the continent's best hope for the future. Instead, she cozied up to two of Africa's most genocidal dictators--Congo's Laurent Kabila and Uganda's Yoweri Museveni--and showed U.S. support for one-party authoritarianism by visiting Zimbabwe, Angola, and Ethiopia. Aside from brutal repression of their own peoples, what these countries all have in common is their embrace of so-called "market reforms"--meaning that they've all become playgrounds for the multinationals, whose briberies finance lavish living by the local ruling elites.

There are few bright spots for U.S. policy on the rest of the globe. Clinton is in Bosnia for Christmas with that old corporate courtier Bob Dole in tow. But the Dayton accords, cobbled together by Richard Holbrooke to help Clinton's re-election, simply institutionalized ethnic cleansing, which continues in slightly less bloody form to this day. And the U.S. policy of rearming the Croats and the Muslims against the Serbs has only made it certain that the triple ethnic fascisms will tear each other's throats out if the U.N. forces--including 8,500 Americans--withdraw.

In the Middle East, it's a similar shambles. The U.S. attempt to blockade both Iran and Iraq--motivated by a desire to protect the corrupt oil sheikdoms--is not working. Or, as Carter-era National Security Adviser Zbigniev Brzezinski's bon mot has it, "Our policy of dual containment to isolate two countries has been a smashing success--the only problem is that the two countries are the United States and Israel." The Oslo peace process that brought Israel and the Palestinians to the negotiating table is a dead letter, killed by Benjamin Netanyahu's revanchist settlement policy, which the U.S. refuses to restrain.

American voters may not care much about all this. But they will care when the continuing Asian financial crisis sends the U.S. economy into the toilet, as ballooning trade deficits threaten to do. Clinton policy has always slavishly followed the dictates of the International Monetary Fund--and therein lies trouble for Al Gore in 2000. Phony populists of the right are already targeting the IMF in an attempt to co-opt legitimate taxpayer anger at the binge of failed bailouts of Mexico, Indonesia, and now South Korea. Jack Kemp and Pat Buchanan recently held a kiss-and-make-up meeting because of their common opposition to the IMF, and Ohio's John Kasich is making an anti-IMF crusade the centerpiece of his presidential effort.

As conservative columnist Paul Craig Roberts puts it, the IMF is part of the real problem--"the close relationships between government, financial institutions, and businesses in the Asian economies. Unless the cozy relationship between elites is broken apart, the IMF bailouts will simply perpetuate control of Asian economies by self-dealing insiders." Those words could easily have been penned by left critics of the multinationals like Rolling Stone's William Greider (whose latest book, One World, Ready or Not: The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism is a brilliant and readable layman's guide to the origins of the current crisis).

This by no means exhaustive list not only shatters the foreign-policy pretensions of Clinton's press conference. It means that for much of the world, 1998 will be the year of living dangerously.

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