Nixon Is Right On Target

Think what you may of Richard Nixon, the fallen President has it right about U.S. aid to the former Soviet republics. Nixon says the Bush Administration has offered "pathetically inadequate" support for Moscow's historic but painful metamorphosis. In terms of U.S. national interest, the replacement of the Soviet empire by fledgling democracies and a market economy is the best news since the end of World War II. Bush's response? Some farm credits and a few Air Force planeloads of G.I. rations.

Substantial help is needed. The first order of business should be stabilizing the ruble (BW -- Dec. 16). To do that, Boris Yeltsin has to stop printing money. Once the presses have stopped rolling, the West can establish the $5 billion to $6 billion ruble-stabilization fund that he wants. Washington's share of this fund could come to about $1 billion, less than what the U.S. will spend this year on nuclear-weapons research. A similar fund worth $1 billion helped when Poland underwent economic shock therapy in 1990. The Polish zloty strengthened and became convertible without a cent being withdrawn from the fund.

Treasury Secretary Nicholas F. Brady rightly insists that monetary restraint by Moscow is a precondition for such a fund. Coupled with a true monetary policy and budgetary discipline, the fund could quickly prop up the ruble's value. On Jan. 2, Yeltsin embarked on a radical program: Prices have been freed, and state properties have been sold. There are big risks, but the stores have more goods and the ruble has shown signs of firming.

The West could help in other ways. Recognizing the strategic importance of an Unevil Empire, Bush could put together a multinational effort to deal with aid. That way, he could tap the resources of the Saudis and the Japanese -- not to mention the Germans, who have so far helped the former Soviet states the most. The initiative could help with the ruble fund, ease Russia's trade imbalance, facilitate rescheduling its $84 billion foreign debt, and provide training.

Foreign policy is supposed to be George Bush's strong suit. He should be taking charge like a statesman, seizing this rare moment in history. Instead, he is allowing a small-bore isolationist like Pat Buchanan to set his agenda. The Democratic contenders, too, need to address the issue. All of them would do well to listen to Richard Nixon.

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