How Clinton Is Seeking Salvation As A Statesman

It wasn't the stuff of Nobel Peace Prizes, but it was a welcome breakthrough. On Sept. 28, a beaming President Clinton embraced Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat after 90 minutes in the Oval Office. They had agreed on the framework for a further Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank--with hopes of completing a peace deal at Camp David in mid-October.

Just the kind of turnaround that the battered President needs. With his domestic agenda a casualty of the Lewinsky scandal and with Republican gains in Congress in the November elections likely, Clinton needs the global stage to salvage his Presidency. Surprisingly, the chances of a comeback look promising.

It's not just the Mideast talks that are back on track. Already, Clinton's role in forging peace between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland has earned him accolades in Europe. And he has earned plaudits from South Africa's President Nelson Mandela for his efforts to help Africa. His get-tough policy in Kosovo wins bipartisan support at home. And with the Sept. 27 election victory of Gerhard Schroder in Germany, Europe is now stacked with center-left leaders--from Britain's Tony Blair to France's Lionel Jospin--who can work with Clinton.

SMALL CARROT. Clinton won praise from CEOs in his first term for making trade and international economics a cornerstone of foreign policy. Now the crisis in Asia and Latin America offers him a chance to pull the global economy out of its slide. That plays to Clinton's strength in economics. He will press leaders of the world's industrialized countries for coordination in stanching the crisis. Officials hint he may fight at the U.N. to send troops to end the bloodshed in Kosovo.

Can a President in such deep trouble at home continue to bask in the diplomatic limelight? There are still hurdles. Clinton hoped to visit India and Pakistan this fall to reduce tensions between them. After detonating nuclear blasts, both countries agreed to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty eventually. One high-level Indian aide says India has no intention of signing quickly. Besides, he says, a visit by a diminished President isn't much of a carrot. So, on Sept. 29, the White House abruptly postponed the trip.

Some analysts fear that Clinton's problems are an open invitation to global troublemakers to test U.S. resolve. Administration overtures for a thaw in relations with Iran have been largely rebuffed by Tehran. In August, Baghdad ended cooperation with U.N. weapons inspectors, and North Korea shot a rocket over Japan claiming it was a missile launch. "They're taking us for a ride," says Peter W. Rodman, a national security expert at the Nixon Center, a conservative Washington think tank.

Then there's Congress, which could be emboldened to wrest control of foreign policy. Already, isolationist lawmakers are trying to stymie U.S. pledges to pay arrears of U.N. dues and to shore up the International Monetary Fund. And Congress has voted to transfer authority for reviewing satellite export licenses to the State Dept. from the Commerce Dept. Further GOP Senate gains in the election could lead to passage of a measure mandating deployment of a national missile defense system--a decision the White House wants to delay until 2000.

Still, Clinton retains a trump card as Commander-in-Chief. When the Administration struck sites in Sudan and Afghanistan in retaliation for terrorist attacks, the GOP leadership stood by him. For Clinton, looking for problems to solve overseas may be the best way to project Presidential stature at home.

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