As the US election season approaches, the White House is gearing
up an aggressive "accentuate the positive" campaign on its foreign
Yet doing so will require some difficult tradeoffs. The White
House is trying to play down the behavior of some important allies
in order to support political leaders it considers essential to
The delicate dance it is carrying out will be evident when
Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres visits Washington today. The
White House can underscore its special regard for Mr. Peres, who
next month faces an important national election of his own.
It can also point to the US-brokered accord in Lebanon last
Friday, under which Israel and Hizbullah guerrillas agreed not to
attack civilians as part of their ongoing war. But the limited
agreement won't stifle the criticism the Clinton administration has
come under for not condemning Israel's latest bombing campaign in
The White House practiced a similar diplomacy of silence earlier
this month in Moscow with another key ally.
With Russian President Boris Yeltsin facing a tough election in
May against an orthodox Communist who worries just about everyone
in Washington, President Clinton seemed even to approve Russia's
brutal 16-month campaign against Chechnya, comparing the war to
America's Civil War.
Peres and Mr. Yeltsin are crucial players in US hopes for
stability and peace, who both face elections that could jeopardize
Yet foreign policy experts say White House optimism, as well as
its diplomacy of silence, relates as much to the president's own
election strategy, and a White House desire to keep alive a recent
series of perceived successes in places like the Middle East,
Haiti, and Bosnia.
"For Clinton, the election is bottom line," says one senior
Washington analyst. "He will bring up Haiti and Bosnia and say,
'You may not like what we are doing there. But we are doing
On Friday, State Department spokesman Glyn Davies gave reporters
a taste of election season affirmation, using superlatives like "a
triumph of American diplomacy" to characterize the Lebanon accord
achieved by US Secretary of State Warren Christopher.
Earlier in the year Canadian Ambassador James Blanchard set a
similar tone, referring to Mr. Clinton's approach as a foreign
policy "where the extraordinary has become commonplace."
Even some GOP strategists admit the White House has improved on
what seemed early in Clinton's tenure to be a chaotic foreign
policy, characterized by the president's own lack of interest in
the subject. …