30th August 1998
Politics in command
By Mervyn de Silva
Rouble Trouble: Russia joins 3rd World
Bravo, Bill Clinton bravo.... a declaration worthy of a President .... not quite as self-assured as John F. Kennedy, who had an eye for the ladies too..... the confessional ceremonies over, the leader of the sole superpower, and popularly elected President twice, was quite ready for the journey to Moscow, and a face-to-face with President Boris Yeltsin, an elected President and equally beleaguered in his White House.
And for reasons not all that different. If a GOP dominated Senate has trained its guns on the young, good-looking Democrat in the White House, the Russian leader in what the press in Moscow calls 'the White House' is under fire from a Duma which has ultra-nationalists that believe President Yeltsin has presided over the liquidation of the Russian empire. And Communists attack him in Parliament over a rouble that is quite worthless.
In debates that sound more like exchanges in a Third World Parliament. Yeltsin and his top economic advisers are accused of surrendering to IMF and World Banks dictates!
Did President Boris Yeltsin have other, less painful options? He had to do something about the big banks, or face " a systemic meltdown" observes Andrew Crawford, who heads the emerging Europe Debt Research Department of Nomura International in London.
In simpler words, President Yeltsin had to approve a 34%, yes 34%, drop of the rouble! How like a "developing Asian or African country." Except for the army and the nuclear arsenal.
The official American assessment was outlined by none other than Robert Rubin, the US Treasury Secretary: "We believe it is critically important that the Russian authorities move quickly to take actions to restore confidence, including the adoption of a careful and co-operative approach in dealing with its creditors and the full implementation of the measures outlined in the Russian stabilisation programme agreed with the IMF.
But let's listen to the IMF chief, the Managing Director himself. The Yeltsin administration has implemented part of the plan. Despite this, confidence in the financial markets has not been re-established and as a result Russia has continued to lose reserves, and asset prices have fallen sharply. The message is clear enough.... more of the same, a larger dose, more frequently.
What of the politics? Again the Third World analogy holds at stake says David Hoffman reporting to the Washington Post is not only the path of the rouble but also the course of the country and who will lead it after President Yeltsin.
As the Chinese would say "Politics in command," although Deng Hsiao-ping did re-structure the Chinese economy, introducing carefully and cautiously "market economics" but back to President Bill Clinton.
President Clinton has been sued by a childhood friend Dolly Kyle Browing. She says that they had an on-and-off affair. The charge is "tortuous interference." She has also sued The New York Times which is quite proud of its motto - all the news that's fit to print. In no other country does the media assume so large and often decisive role.
The charges, says the Washington Post the leading rival of the Times, based in New York are serious.
And so an already embattled two-term President cannot possibly avoid the cameras and the men with the tape-recorders and note books. Even poor Hillary Rodman Clinton has been a victim of the reporters and the cameramen (camerawomen too).
They have failed however to undermine Mrs. Clinton's loyalty whatever the disagreements, and the rows, some in the open. And thus the fate of President Bill Clinton will soon be part of an American tragedy.
In no country at least no politically important country does the private life of a leading politician or eminent professional have so direct often disastrous effect than the US and it is not possible for any student of this superpower, to grasp the dynamics of American politics and foreign policy - most certainly foreign policy-making, without studying the media. Not all foreign correspondents based in Washington or New York believe that Clinton is kaput.
Nor has every newspaper or columnist passed sentence. If anything, he has won over many foreign correspondents, New York or Washington based. Though parallel with Ronald Reagan cannot be seriously sustained the parallel is quite popular.
"In January 1992, on his presidential campaign Bill Clinton often mentioned Ronald Reagan rather than John F. Kennedy. He recalled how Reagan had found out how easily public opinion could change.
He had denied to the American electorate and the media that he had traded arms for the American hostages in Iran.
When cornered by a persistent press, he slipped out with a convoluted apology.
Yes, Mr. Clinton firmly believes History is on his side, but then time not the weekly, will probably provide the final answer.
As for Yeltsin, he is likely to reduce Russia to a second-rate power, the massive arsenal notwithstanding.
What then will happen to Non-Alignment? It takes two to tango. The NAM conference in South Africa may provide some answers.
Many Americans think that President Clinton needs therapy!
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