Foreign Policy Flubs and Snubs

March 24, 1995

Three days after President Clinton disclosed that he is snubbing Britain yet visiting Russia to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the allied victory over Nazi Germany, he got a two-fold response yesterday that bellowed volumes about his tin ear in world affairs. Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev declared after "candid" talks with Secretary of State Warren Christopher that the American-Russian "honeymoon is over." In Britain, Prince Charles said, "American English is very corrupting" and pleaded for the primacy of "proper English."

Just why Mr. Clinton could not include a stopover in London on his European trip is a matter we will leave to Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill as they twirl in their graves. Granted FDR was far more solicitous of Uncle Joe Stalin than was the foresighted Churchill. But FDR had forged a personal bond with the British leader that carried the Anglo-American "special relationship" through many a crisis.

No more. Perhaps Mr. Clinton is trying to demonstrate that his year at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar did not turn him into an Anglophile. Perhaps he is irritated that Prime Minister John Major obstructed U.S. interventionism in Bosnia. Or perhaps his sole interest is in the Irish-American vote, which explains his choice of IRA terrorist Gerry Adams as his St. Patrick's Day co-celebrant.

Whatever his rationale, the president has precious little to show for his style of diplomacy. The Times of London has declared that Mr. Clinton's snub toward Britain over V-J Day observances "threatens to plunge already frosty relations. . . to a new low." The Irish situation has not demonstrably improved.

And Mr. Clinton's effusive gesture to Russian President Boris Yeltsin carried only one demand: That military equipment such as the kind of tanks now pulverizing Chechnya not be rumbling on the streets of Moscow during the "Victory in Europe" parade May 9. Meanwhile the Russians remain intransigent in escalating the war in Chechnya, in selling nuclear reactors and other sensitive items to Iran and in hindering NATO efforts to extend the Atlantic Alliance's sway eastward.

Clinton spokesmen rightly say it is in the U.S. national interest to support the shaky Yeltsin regime and encourage democratization in a land troubled by fascist reaction. But by creating an impression that Moscow can affront Washington with impunity, the administration plays right into the hands of isolationists and ultra-nationalists in the Republican-controlled Congress who seem quite willing to exacerbate big-power tensions.

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