It's Yeltsin's Fight, Not Ours

CARL T. ROWAN

March 24, 1993|By CARL T. ROWAN

Washington. -- President Clinton is being urged to press Bori Yeltsin's gun to his own temple and play an American version of Russian roulette by risking everything on Mr. Yeltsin's regaining dominance. Mr. Clinton would be a fool to do it.

It is said that the U.S. has no one it can back but Mr. Yeltsin, and that if he falls so will the hope of democracy in Russia. Worse still, it is said, the ouster of Mr. Yeltsin would mean a return to power by the Communist Party and a resumption of the Cold War. The fact is that Mr. Yeltsin is by no means the only powerful politician in Russia who believes in democratic politics and economic reforms. If that were so, dreams of a lasting democratic revolution in Russia would be absolutely baseless.

The U.S. bids to destroy whatever moral claim it has as the world advocate of democracy when it connives with Mr. Yeltsin and gives advance approval of his desperate lurch into ''temporary'' dictatorship.

Mr. Clinton has been told that the U.S. must, as the New York Times urges, go ''to the barricades with Mr. Yeltsin.'' Not just because of the communist threat, but the danger of civil war, the frightening possibility that Soviet military and security forces will split into hostile camps, creating the possibility of a nuclear disaster.

If the danger of these developments is real, the Clinton administration cannot stop it by giving an all-or-nothing embrace to Mr. Yeltsin, or by suddenly handing him $700 million in foreign TTC aid. A Clinton journey to Moscow, especially in the midst of efforts to impeach Mr. Yeltsin, would probably only intensify the chaos in Russia.

The U.S. has been burdened, since the so-called ''fall of communism,'' by grandiose notions about its power to change everything almost everywhere. We Americans cannot guarantee democracy in Chicago, Mississippi or Somalia; what makes us think we can install it in Russia?

The Russian empire survived without democracy for a thousand years before Mr. Yeltsin was elected president with 57 percent of the vote in 1991. His poll backing has fallen to 30 percent. He is in trouble with more than the old Communists. People who voted for him say he has delivered more corruption in the name of reform, fraud in the name of ''privatization,'' and economic-political ruthlessness that makes the Mafia look like a Bible-study group.

President Clinton should be wary of advisers who may not know the difference between giving Mr. Yeltsin the mouth-to-mouth breath of life and laying on him the kiss of death -- with the U.S. getting poisoned in the process.

Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.

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