As November Nears, Clinton Touts Foreign Policy Acumen on Sensitive Matters, White House Pursues 'Diplomacy of Silence'

Article excerpt

As the US election season approaches, the White House is gearing up an aggressive "accentuate the positive" campaign on its foreign policy.

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 peace.

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 southern Lebanon. 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 that hope. 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 something.'" 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. …