As spectacles go, the Clinton Administration's mishandling of the search for a head of the new World Trade Organization is one for the record books. Here's a painful example of how an economic superpower should not--repeat not--conduct diplomacy in the post-cold-war world.
This was ugly. After a yearlong effort to get Congress to approve U.S. membership in a new world trading body, the Clintonites squandered all hope of getting the organization off on the right foot. First, the White House pushed former Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari as WTO head, because it rightfully wanted a promarket rather than a more statist individual heading the critical trading organization. But the Administration stuck with Salinas long after it became clear he bore some responsibility for Mexico's economic crisis. Then came the arrest of Salinas' brother in connection with a political killing. To one and all, Salinas' candidacy was dead, yet the Clintonites remained steadfast for weeks. Salinas finally had the decency to pull out of the race.
Did the U.S. then gracefully accept the European alternative? Fat chance. American officials instead turned with a vengeance on Europe's choice, Renato Ruggiero of Italy. The Clintonites announced a worldwide search for an alternative, even as the State Dept. hinted that it might accept Ruggiero in the end. U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor declared the former Italian trade minister unacceptable. White House trade policy coordinator W. Bowman Cutter labeled him a "protectionist." Allegations that Ruggiero funneled economic intelligence to Fiat were leaked to the press.
Then, the U.S. changed its mind and Kantor caved. Ruggiero will now get the post, but with a four-year term limit and a commitment from the European Union that the next WTO leader won't be a European. The Clintonites showed again that they have a problem understanding what true global leadership means.