Now, For Clinton's Next European Trick...

By many measures, President Clinton's first trip to Europe was a hit. The jittery European allies warmed to his youthful vigor and his assurances that he was not going to ditch them in favor of faster-growing Asian markets. "Everybody was impressed by the strong leadership and personal conviction of the American President," says NATO Secretary-General Manfred W rner.

But Clinton is kidding himself if he thinks that having uttered the right buzzwords in Europe, he can go home and be strictly a domestic President. In the uneasy aftermath of the cold war, the former Soviet Union and its onetime satellites are a jumble of flash points, and Western Europe is more volatile than it has been in decades. Despite sharp troop cuts in Europe, only the U.S., it seems, has the credibility to make big decisions on shaping a new political and economic order.

Indeed, before the trip, the Western Europeans were clamoring for U.S. leadership, while Eastern Europeans were almost begging the West for protection from their own ethnic quarrels and a more assertive Moscow. Clinton's arrival on the Continent almost magically calmed everyone and got them acting like adults again. Now, Clinton aides say he'll be spending more time on Europe in the future. At least two more visits are scheduled for 1994--a good thing, since getting the deals that were struck on the trip to work will require continued high-level U.S. commitment and attention.

TRICKY STEP. Already, Ukraine is waffling on the promise it gave Clinton to scrap its nuclear weapons. More important, Clinton is going to have continuing problems striking a balance between Eastern Europe and Russia. His invitation to such former Soviet satellites as Poland and Czechoslovakia to begin participating in joint NATO exercises could open a huge Pandora's box. True, it was a nice try at soothing Eastern European fears of Moscow without stirring up Russian paranoia of a new anti-Moscow alliance. But the ultranationalist Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky will still use any NATO presence near the Russian borders to whip up anti-Western feeling in his battle to displace President Boris N. Yeltsin. And some analysts wonder whether this "partnership for peace" Clinton sold the Europeans could turn into a dangerous first step toward committing NATO to defending Eastern Europe.

Indeed, there could be a price down the road for many of the pledges Clinton used to please his audiences. The U.S. is now on the hook to keep about 100,000 U.S. troops in Europe indefinitely--vs. the 50,000 to 75,000 expected before. Clinton also committed U.S. sea-lift, airlift, and intelligence units assigned to NATO to Europe-only peacekeeping missions. And he edged perilously closer to entanglement in Bosnia by backing Anglo-French calls to plan air strikes there. All this is occurring against a background of political flux in Western Europe, where growing public discontent is jeopardizing many leaders, including Germany's Helmut Kohl.

Of course, with such gestures as a visit to a Kmart in Prague, the indomitable Clinton did also try to get across his now well-known message that economics should get more consideration in foreign policy. He chided the Western Europeans for shortsightedly closing their markets to Eastern European products. While previous Presidents tended to assess the situation in Europe in terms of numbers of troops, tanks, and planes, Clinton says that economic growth in Russia and Eastern Europe is the key to beefing up democracy and security. It's a grand vision. After this trip, Europeans are going to be looking to Clinton to make it work.

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