August 31, 1998
President Clinton left Washington on Monday for his summit meeting in Moscow with Russian President Yeltsin. But among ordinary Russians facing their own political and economic problems there’s little hope the summit will produce many results. Following a background report by Special Correspondent Simon Marks, Jim Lehrer and guests discuss the upcoming summit.
JIM LEHRER: Now how three American foreign affairs columnists view the summit and President Clinton's ability to conduct foreign policy right now: Jim Hoagland of the Washington Post; Fareed Zakaria, managing editor of Foreign Affairs Magazine, contributing editor of Newsweek; and Trudy Rubin of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Jim Hoagland, what expectations should there be about this summit?
JIM HOAGLAND, Washington Post: Well, fear. It's a survival summit. Bill Clinton is endangered in his presidency, Boris Yeltsin even more so. I think the high stakes here are simply getting through the summit with a credible performance by both men. Clinton calls himself the comeback kid. He's going to be tested, I think, over the next two days, because he goes without any real resources to put into the Russian situation. There's no new money going to be coming from Congress or even from the IMF until there is a Russian government in place, until Boris Yeltsin makes it clear that he has the ability to survive over the next month or two, or the rest of his term, up to the year 2000. So I think it's going to be an occasion for Clinton to tell the Russian people that they have to pull themselves back from the brink, that they have to do it largely on their own, and if they do, they will find the West willing to help them in the future. But they've got to make those steps first. And I think Clinton can deliver that message fairly effectively.
JIM LEHRER: Trudy Rubin, what do you think would constitute success? Would you agree with Jim, that it's mostly a summit of words, rather than of deeds?
TRUDY RUBIN, Philadelphia Inquirer: Yes, I would. First of all, I do agree that the President was right to go. I think not to go would sort of be delivering an obituary for Russia. And I think that Russia is still too important for us to basically say hands off, we're not even going to try. I do think this is a summit of words. I think that it's very important, is that the President, who is going to be meeting with different heads of factions in the duma, who control whether Russia is going to have a prime minister, convey to them that there is not going to be any more western money coming in unless a new responsible government is constituted that can be ensured that that money goes where it is supposed to go. That's a message that has to be made clear, I think, because even though the Communists may say they want to roll things back, the whole Russian economy has become dependent on aid from outside. It was right to give it when there was a reformist government but now no more. And one last thing, I think that Mr. Clinton has to talk about the importance of Russia continuing to hold elections if they're going to change leaders.
JIM LEHRER: Do you think it matters to the people who run Russia, as well as the folks down the street, like the ones that Simon Marks just interviewed about what President Clinton says? Does it matter what President Clinton says?
TRUDY RUBIN: I don't think it does matter to the people on the street. I think it may matter to some of the leaders, and I think that in a sense this is almost an intelligence mission for President Clinton to find out for himself whether Boris Yeltsin has much life left in him, whether Victor Chernomyrdin is able to rise to the occasion, assuming he gets appointed, and whether anyone in the duma has a clue about what to do to get the economy back on the road.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Zakaria, do you see it as an intelligence mission?
FAREED ZAKARIA, Foreign Affairs: Not exactly. I think that the President can do one or two very important things. The first is to talk to the Russian people and to talk to them about the importance of the reforms they're conducting, to talk to them about the nature of capitalism, about how it does have a cyclical nature, how it does have these kinds of swings, and how incomplete the reforms have been. I think the second mission is to convey to the Russian government how important it is to keep on track. So I think that this is actually a perfect time for the President to be going, because this is when they need, if you will, the stiffening of their spine. President Clinton should say to Boris Yeltsin what Margaret Thatcher is reported to have said to George Bush. This is no time to go wobbly, Boris.
JIM LEHRER: But let's say he says that. Is Boris in a position not to go wobbly?
FAREED ZAKARIA: Sure. The Russian president actually has enormous powers on paper. Now, obviously they are being contested by the duma and by the Communists in the duma. But Yeltsin is still somebody not to be ruled out. He has enormous powers on paper. He can dissolve the parliament, which parliament is not going to want it done. No member of parliament wants to run for re-election. And so he has at least that threat which he can use against them. And finally I think the Russians know or many Russian leaders know there isn't really salvation in nationalizing industries, in re-imposing capital controls on their currencies in toto. So while there is a great temptation to do some of these things, there is an annoying realization that this cannot be the path to salvation.
JIM LEHRER: So, Jim Hoagland, no matter what President Clinton's problems are back home-and they are very real-he still speaks with some power when he goes to Russia and he talks to the people and he talks to Boris Yeltsin and the duma?
JIM HOAGLAND: I think he does. One should never underestimate the power of the American presidency. One should never underestimate the particular abilities of this President. He is a man who can give quite a commanding speech on these kinds of topics, on the topics of globalization, on the world economy. I think he does have both the ability and the need to emphasize that, in fact, what the Russians did was not to adopt the American style of capitalism. This is not a failure of the capitalist model. They never really chose to push all the way with their reforms to the point where you had a functioning self-sustaining capitalist model. And I think that Clinton will be able to deliver that message with some effect.
JIM LEHRER: But the folks on the street maybe, and, of course, some folks on the duma believe it is the failure of capitalism.
JIM HOAGLAND: There's going to be that argument made, and that's precisely why it's important that Bill Clinton go and make the counter argument and make it with some force. What we see here going on right now over the next couple of days, Jim, is a political negotiation inside Russia. Political negotiations have very short history in the Russia. They tend to-in their politics either rule or be ruled and not to negotiate with their adversaries. Communists have rejected Chernomyrdin today. Yeltsin still does have the power of disillusion that I think he will use if they continue to reject Chernomyrdin. I think it's in everybody's interest in that political system to come up now with a viable compromise that points towards some immediate political stability. The final act of this is political instability that reflects the economic problems they've gone through over the past year.
JIM LEHRER: And President Clinton could in some way influence that?
JIM HOAGLAND: I think he can. I think he can point toward the way out of this particular crisis. I think he can lend support to Yeltsin. He's in desperate need of it, and I think he should do that. JIM LEHRER: Trudy Rubin, the general thing about President Clinton, Senator Lott, we reported in the News Summary awhile ago, questioned-raised the same question today that others have raised since the President's August 17th speech where he admitted he had this affair with Monica Lewinsky, and this, will President Clinton's problems in that area make it difficult for him to have strong leadership in international relations, as well as domestic? What do you think about that?
TRUDY RUBIN: I think that people have to recognize that this is an extremely different view of this from overseas. From overseas in most countries people just cannot understand what America is doing. I've been on the phone with Russian colleagues and experts to Moscow all week, and everybody says the same thing to me. First, are you nuts when the world is in such economic difficulties? And then they say and how can you have all those details about sex on television? So basically, people overseas are looking for the United States President to be able to act as a leader. In times of economic crisis the U.S. is the oasis of stability. I think that what undercuts Clinton's ability is the cacophony back home, and especially if there is another investigation into the vice president and then there's no certainty about the presidency up till the year 2000 whatsoever, so that I think there's a self-fulfilling prophecy here. If you say that President Clinton can't be a leader abroad, in effect, it is being made so here, and it can be unmade so, if the investigation comes to a speedier end.
JIM LEHRER: Now, Mr. Zakaria, the President not only has the Lewinsky problem in his suitcase. He now carries a Dow Jones Industrial Average drop today of 513 points and a 1000 point drop just in the last six days. What does that do to his ability to say to the Russians, hey, do it our way, and let's get squared away?
FAREED ZAKARIA: Well, the power of the American president fundamentally derives from America. So I do think that the Lewinsky business will not have as big an impact. The Dow Jones probably has some impact, but still, America towers above the rest of the world on so many dimensions of power, military, economic, political, cultural, that I don't think that'll be the problem. There is one problem, though, that the President has, which is self-inflicted, which is in my opinion an absence of policy. The President is very good about talking about globalization. He's very good about extolling the virtues of reform, but these economic reforms and free markets do not flourish in the absence of political stability, in the absence of political structures. And that's where we have not been very good in integrating Russia into the western world. We cannot expect that somehow Russia would be able to find their way entirely on their own. The principle policy the Clinton administration has had toward Russia for the last two years, after all, Jim, has been NATO expansion, a policy specifically designed to exclude Russia from the western world. And so when you don't give it the kind of political structures upon which globalization, free markets, free trade rest. Naturally, when the downturns hit, they are much more vicious.
JIM LEHRER: A real policy problem, that's the main problem, Jim?
JIM HOAGLAND: I think that's a very important point, that Bill Clinton certainly can lead, but the problem is that Bill Clinton tends to lead in bursts. He tends to concentrate on a problem, and then move on and not really follow up on it, particularly in foreign policy. We've seen that again and again. We've seen it in Iraq. We've seen it in the Middle East; we've seen it in Russia. And that's what's going to happen. There's also the temptation here, in fact, to lead too much, that Clinton will try to distract attention from his problems. He'll have to show that he's not paralyzed and will undertake too many initiatives overseas, will undertake too many trips abroad. We get into the irony of this President, who was elected to be laser-like, concentrating on the economy, and not to be a foreign policy President, will look to foreign policy as salvation. And I think he's smart enough to realize it won't work. It didn't work for Richard Nixon in 1974, when he went off to the Middle East. He went off to Moscow. Watergate's still got him. The American public is wise enough to distinguish between domestic foolishness and law-breaking and wrongdoing, and the real needs of the country overseas, and that will happen again. But I think Mr. Clinton has to avoid that temptation and, indeed, should be thinking seriously about delegating to his national security aides, defense secretary, secretary of state, a little more of the initiative, a little more of the power.
JIM LEHRER: How do you see that, Trudy Rubin?
TRUDY RUBIN: I think that there's a different kind of leadership necessary at this moment, an international economic leadership. It's very hard for the American public to understand what this crisis is all about, but I think President Clinton would be both capable of explaining it and also of providing some leadership on the international scene. The world economy is changing in ways that financial leaders are unable to cope with. The question of currency flows, which is undercutting developing economies, there has been a conventional wisdom that there can be nothing done to regulate those, but clearly the system that was developed after World War II to deal with international financial matters is out of date, and I think that what President Clinton has to do is to provide some leadership in the G-7 to confront these issues head on, because I believe that if developing countries, which have done things right, and Russia, of course, has done a lot of things wrong, but there are countries that have done things right, and their economies are in the tank. Currencies, huge amounts, can be moved at the flick of a button by a 27-year-old investment manager. I think the question of how to develop a new international economic architecture must be developed, and that is an area where President Clinton, if he can find the focus, I think must provide the leadership for the industrial nations of their leaders.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Zakaria, would you say amen to that?
FAREED ZAKARIA: I would, indeed. I think that what we've been doing for the last seven or eight years is living off the capital of the Cold War. There has been stability for the last seven or eight years, and it has been some kind of shadow or follow-on effect of the Cold War. We now have to construct a post Cold War world that is stable in its own right and that uses new institutions and new policies to stabilize it. Right now what we do is take NATO and we expand it. We take the IMF and we give it a little more money. We change its mission entirely, we tell the World Bank stop funding dams, start funding something else. It's all entirely ad hoc. And there has been a hope I think both on the right and the left oddly that somehow globalization and free market economics will stabilize matters and democracy will bring us to a kind of a high, a nirvana. And, in fact, all this rests on power. It rested on British power in the late 19th century. It has rested on a weird kind of bipolar power for the last forty or fifty years, and we now have to come up with a truly stable system for the 21st century.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Well, we'll leave it there. Thank you all three very much.