Cultural Revolutions

A Consummate Politician

Bill Clinton, many conservatives believe, is a smooth political operator. Shifty, unprincipled, and generally odious he may be, they say, but Clinton is a "consummate politician" and a master salesman.

Mr. Clinton's performance in Moscow during the first weekend in June did not confirm this view. He did not sell the National Missile Defense (NMD) initiative to President Vladimir Putin. The following day, addressing the Russian parliament—the first ranking Western leader to do so—he misjudged his audience badly.

Assuming his audience's ignorance of his own legal problems, Mr. Clinton said that "a strong state should use its strength to reinforce the rule of law, protect the powerless against the powerful, [and] defend democratic freedoms. . . . The answer to law without order is not order without law." Fie warned the Duma against amassing power "for its own sake" and defended America's deeply unpopular plan for a missile defense shield. He then proceeded to lecture Russian lawmakers on the initiatives they needed to take in order to become America's full-fledged partner, from tax reforms and uniform legal codes to the environment. He said that Russia's journey to full and democratic membership of the global economy would be "one of the most important I witness in my lifetime," but he made it clear that such membership can happen only on his own terms....

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