As if to prove Richard Nixon's assertion that administration aid to the former Soviet Union is "pathetically inadequate," President Bush is holding back on U.S. pledges to increase its stake in the International Monetary Fund. This profile in indecision can be directly traced to isolationist Pat Buchanan's repeated attacks on an agency that for almost half a century has been an instrument of U.S. global economic leadership. The conservative challenger for the Republican presidential nomination has Mr. Bush scared stiff.
The president, to be sure, gives lip service to his 1990 promise of $12.2 billion as the U.S. share of an agreement to increase IMF lending capacity by 50 percent. He dutifully sends his secretary of state and his treasury secretary to testify. He writes pro forma letters to congressional committees.
But the truth is that the president is running for cover -- an unseemly spectacle observed by a cluck-clucking world diplomatic community. The IMF is due to meet in Washington in late April, supposedly to nail down a $6 billion stabilization fund commitment by the Group of Seven industrial democracies and then to implement the 1990 replenishment decision. This package is essential to the transition from communism to capitalism.
But because the agreement cannot come into effect without U.S. support, there is a danger the nations of the new Commonwealth of Independent States will get neither the funds needed to stabilize the ruble nor some $4 billion in follow-up IMF loans to develop free-market economies.
By not taking on Mr. Buchanan and Republicans in Congress who are against foreign aid, the president, sotto voce, gives his Democratic critics a free ticket on an issue where they find themselves agreeing even with Nemesis Nixon.
The current fight recalls a time when Democrats backed an hTC administration foreign aid bill only to find themselves under attack from their Republican colleagues. They will not go out on a limb again unless the Republicans -- and especially the president -- climb out with them. Actually, many Democrats on Capitol Hill are as luke-warm on foreign aid as the Republicans, but they can flail away with impunity at Mr. Bush's cop-out.
Politics aside, what we have here is the issue of the U.S. role in Mr Bush's vaunted "new world order." The Pentagon can devise all the one-superpower military scenarios it wishes. But if the United States fails to exert world economic leadership -- if it even risks losing its veto power in the IMF -- this country will rue such a course long after the current election is history.