Familiarity Breeds Little Contempt for Clinton Globally

Article excerpt

World leaders viewing President Clinton's commanding lead in the polls before tomorrow's election could well be singing a refrain from "My Fair Lady" on Broadway: "I've grown accustomed to your face."

Whether they like him or not, they have learned to live with his administration and know they must deal with whoever emerges as president of the world's largest economic and military power.

Most foreign leaders have gotten over their shock at the loss of experienced international diplomat George Bush in 1992 and the bumbling, mixed signals of the first two years of the Clinton administration, analysts say.

"In general, world leaders tend to prefer incumbents simply on the basis of `the devil you know is better than the one you don't,' " said Richard Haass, a former Bush administration National Security Council staffer now with the Brookings Institution, a Washington policy group.

"In much of the world, you won't have much reaction because his victory has been expected and been taken for granted," he said. "But also, the U.S. foreign policy presence is not that powerful. The Clinton administration has essentially lowered the profile of American foreign policy."

Mr. Haass said Arab leaders are unhappy with Mr. Clinton's tilt toward Israel. Britain is upset over U.S. interference in Northern Ireland and slowness in helping to end the war in Bosnia. Other countries worry about a lack of clarity, direction and vision.

"Other governments like us to be predictable. And they like us to be leading," said Mr. Haass.

Former Clinton administration NSC staffer Morton Halperin acknowledged that "many world leaders probably felt [Mr. Clinton] was not as informed about issues of concern to them as he might" have been back in 1992.

"But my feeling is world leaders relate to each other as politicians, not as foreign policy experts," he said.

"In fact, Clinton forged personal relationships with leaders of many of these countries because they are concerned with their own domestic political situations and the impact of foreign policy on their own political prospects.

"An American leader focused on his own political situation would not come as a surprise to a German chancellor, a Japanese prime minister or a British leader. It comes as a surprise to non-democratic leaders."

Mr. Halperin, now at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, said Mr. …