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Western Press Review: World Economy, Russia, Clinton At The Crossroads

  • Joel Blocker

Prague, 22 September 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentators are focusing much of their attention on international economic problems as well as on those of Russia. And President Bill Clinton's ongoing problems over the Monica Lewinsky affair continue to attract comment both in the U.S. and West European press.

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: We have to show that liberalization is on track

In a commentary for the International Herald Tribune today, the Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Renato Ruggiero, says: "As global policy-makers come to grips with financial and economic turmoil that has shaken much of the world, a sense of collective economic responsibility is called for more urgently than at any other time in the postwar period." He writes further: "For the global trading system, this means generating fresh impetus to trade liberalization and renewing efforts to bring countries outside the system, including Russia and China, into the WTO as soon as possible."

Ruggiero's commentary continues: "The financial crisis of the late 1920s became a full-blown economic crisis when governments closed their borders to foreign-made goods and services. Today, with 25 percent of global output being exported, a return to the dark days of protectionism is inconceivable."

"But," Ruggiero adds, "merely holding the line against protectionism is insufficient. We have to show that liberalization is on track. The continued smooth functioning of the trading system is necessary for economic recovery in Asia and for buttressing the economies of Latin America."

FINANCIAL TIMES: The only option is to accept there is no lender of last resort

The International Monetary Fund (IMF), a major pillar of global economic organization, is the subject of editorials in both Britain's Financial Times and the Washington Post. In an editorial today, the FT says that the IMF "has had only limited success in fighting the growing crisis in emerging markets." The paper writes: "This raises the serious question of whether the international financial architecture, designed for another age, can cope with capital movements on an unprecedented scale."

The FT continues: "The IMF has taken on the responsibility for the macro- economic and financial health of emerging world markets. This is a role it can perform only imperfectly. The present crisis has exposed instabilities to which the Group of Seven (leading industrial nations) must respond....(But) no G-7 government wants to commit funds on (an unprecedented) scale. Few legislators would permit it."

"This being so," the FT concludes, "the only (workable) option is to accept there is no lender of last resort and reform the financial architecture accordingly. What is needed is an internationally accepted mechanism for dealing with rescheduling, default and bankruptcy. The IMF would give up its role of fireman, and take up a new role as policeman."

WASHINGTON POST: What seems clever today will have been revealed as foolhardy beyond measure

The Washington Post says "the (recent) refusal of the (U.S.) House of Representative to fully fund the IMF is reckless." The paper writes: "The IMF is essentially the world's lender of last resort, the only institution to which threatened economies can turn in distress. Is coffers are dangerously low, reducing the help it can offer and the credibility of the offers it does make."

The WP goes on: "To say that Congress should approve IMF funding is not to endorse everything the IMF has done or to belittle congressional concerns with the way it operates. A good case can be made that the IMF mishandled the initial stages of the Asian crisis, perhaps aggravating an already dangerous situation. Critics of the IMF's Russia policy likewise can make a credible case. The IMF...has operated with too much secrecy, and it may well be that given the changes in the global economy new institutions are needed to foster economic stability."

"But," the paper concludes, "new institutions cannot be created immediately....Yet the financial risks are immediate or close to it.....Now the House is playing politics.... But if South American economies tip into recession in the meantime, taking with them crucial markets for U.S. exporters, what seems clever today will have been revealed as foolhardy beyond measure."

WALL STREET JOURNAL: IMF and other aid organizations were reckless in their lending practices to Russia

Addressing Russia's economic problems today, the Wall Street Journal Europe today suggests the country is "sliding backward." In an editorial, the paper writes: "Strip aside (new Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov's) language designed to pacify pensioners and IMF envoys and what you have in Russia (today) is the making of an even bigger financial and political (disarray). The Central Bank had already printed nearly 1,000 million rubles ($66 million at present nominal value) to prop up the country's insolvent banking sector."

The WSJ says flatly, "this plan will flop," explaining: "It may temporarily inject liquidity into the banks, but it cannot turn them into normal banks....Most Russians will understand that their banks are on borrowed time and avoid doing business through them whenever possible."

The editorial continues: "The rest of the government's grab-bag of socialist elixirs --the introduction of price controls, nationalization for some Russian industries, more industrial policy-- is equally depressing. It goes without saying that any move by the IMF to subsidize such reckless economic policy ought to be grounds for disbanding the organization as irrelevant and out of touch. Indeed, there is mounting evidence, and credible accusation, that the IMF and other aid organizations were reckless in their lending practices to Russia."

WASHINGTON POST: The work in the trenches has just begun

The IHT today also carries a Washington Post commentary on Russia's economic woes by Michael McFaul, a political science professor at California's Stanford University, which argues that "Russia is still redeemable." McFaul writes: "From both the Right and the Left, critics of U.S. policy toward Russia have had a heyday in recent weeks asserting that the Clinton Administration got Russia wrong. The refrains are by now familiar: 'Clinton became too close to Yeltsin.' 'The IMF was naive.' 'The West funded crony capitalism.'...etc. The policy conclusion from these observations is that the U.S. neither can nor should do anything more to aid Russia but instead should reconstruct a firewall around this basket case of a country and try once again to contain the Russian threat to markets and democracy around the world."

McFaul says that "this is a premature conclusion for several reasons. First," he writes, "the argument assumes that we can ignore Russia. We cannot. As Russia's economic crisis continues to worsen, the prospect of real tyrants coming to power in Moscow increases....Second," he notes, "the call to abandon and contain Russia assumes that 'reform' in Russia is dead forever. In fact, even in the middle of this latest economic crisis, Russian leaders and the Russian people have not yet rejected markets and democracy...."

"A third and final assumption," McFaul adds, "is that the West can do nothing to change the course of reform/collapse within Russia.....This assumption also is flawed. While weakened and marginalized as a consequence of both events in Moscow and Washington, the United States --and especially non-governmental American organizations and actors-- still can play a role in helping Russia remain committed to markets and democracy."

McFaul concludes: "It is only seven years since the Soviet collapse, and Russia's revolution has by no means ended. The days of presidential summits may be over, but the work in the trenches has just begun"

As U.S. President Bill Clinton was addressing the United Nations General Assembly yesterday, a four-hour-long videotape of his testimony to a grand jury about the Monica Lewinsky affair was being televised around the world. That coincidence evokes considerable commentary in the Western press today.

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: The tape will do unavoidable damage to Mr. Clinton's image

In a news analysis for the International Herald Tribune, entitled "A United Europe in Disgust Over the TV Testimony," correspondent Joseph Fitchett writes: "The release of the videotape...prompted a rare degree of unanimity among Europeans, most of whom reacted with revulsion against the public humiliation being inflicted on the leader of a major democracy." He goes on: "'It makes me want to throw up,' Chancellor Helmut Kohl said over the weekend,(specifying) he was using the word deliberately to convey his nausea at the thought of millions of people tracking the details of Mr. Clinton's private life."

The analysis continues: "In Europe, such extensive public exposure of details about a leader's personal business --especially his sex life-- is almost unthinkable. Political tradition as well as legal systems afford greater protection for the dignity of elected officials and for the private lives of prominent people, even those in the public eye....The prestige of the White House in European eyes made it a shock for viewers watching a continent away as the image appeared of Mr. Clinton in the box, virtually in the role of defendant."

Fitchett also says: "In practice, however, the tape will do unavoidable damage to Mr. Clinton's image and international stature....European government officials...said privately that the visual impact on viewers will work to Mr. Clinton's detriment, especially among people who did not assimilate the mass of details contained in the massive written writings of the Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr."

NEW YORK TIMES: On acceptable terms we can afford to be a nation of forgivers

In the U.S. itself, the view was very different. In an editorial today, the New York Times writes: "The four-hour tape of his August 17 grand jury testimony will not destroy Clinton straight-away, and as an exercise in boil-lancing, it may help him...The Republican Congress may have voted to broadcast the tape as a hostile partisan act, but the event has served a healthy civic purpose. The Clinton Presidency has become such a mess that the public needs to review as much of the evidence as possible in order to respond intelligently to congressional demands for resignation or impeachment." "After seeing the tape," the NYT continues, "we continue to favor, for the time being, a negotiated settlement involving censure by Congress, provided that Clinton abandons, publicly and without qualification, the central contention of his four-hour marathon in legal evasion. That contention, of course, is that he did not lie under oath about having a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky. Clearly he did."

The editorial goes on: "Analyzed as Clinton biography, what we saw was a haunted man contemplating a blasted presidency and an irretrievably diminished reputation. Analyzed from the citizens' point of view, what we now face is a nation contemplating the grandeur of the presidency in contrast to an attractive but documentably dysfunctional personality....Seeing him lie on tape," the NYT concludes, "reminds us that on acceptable terms we can afford to be a nation of forgivers. But we must not become a nation of enablers (that is, those making it possible for lies to take place)."

COX NEWS SERVICE: We place ourselves in a hypocritical position

Jay Bookman addresses his a commentary for the U.S.' Cox News Service today to his "fellow Democrats." He writes: "Just between us, it's time to let Clinton go....(His) video testimony proved that he committed perjury and probably suborned perjury from his secretary, Bettie Currie. It also proved that independent counsel Kenneth Starr has an unhealthy interest in the sex lives of other people. But we already knew all that."

Bookman goes on: "Here (is) a man in power who had used a young intern like a soulless receptacle, who had reduced his secretary to little more than a procuress, who had clearly pressured that secretary to lie under oath and who had weakened the presidency to conceal a lie. To support Clinton despite all that requires us to repudiate what we once claimed to believe about the way men and women should treat each other in the workplace."

He concludes his plea to Democrats: "By continuing to support Clinton, we place ourselves in the hypocritical position of demanding a higher standard of behavior from our enemies than we do from our friends. Someday, believe it or not, this is all going to end. And I'm afraid that on that glorious day, we'll look back and realize that the price we paid to save Clinton just wasn't worth it."