- The Washington Times - Friday, March 3, 2000

President Clinton is partial to telling foreign leaders what they like to hear. The president's penchant for obliging his counterparts has in the past undermined U.S. leadership and credibility abroad. This week, it caused a strain in U.S.-German diplomatic relations that could have been avoided had the president shown some initial resolve.

Four months ago, as Michel Camdessus was ready to step down as the managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the German government began promoting Caio Koch-Weser to head up the financial institution. U.S. officials felt that Mr. Koch-Weser lacked the financial expertise needed to head the IMF. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers in particular believed that the German's prior experience at the World Bank equipped him well for poverty alleviation but failed to give him the monetary and fiscal experience he would need to lead the IMF.

When German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder called Mr. Clinton in early February, though, Mr. Clinton diplomatically said that he felt Mr. Koch-Weser didn't command wide support, but that "the United States had no objections to a German candidate per se," reported the New York Times on Thursday. Mr. Clinton's hope was that his European counterparts would do the dirty work of objecting to Mr. Koch-Weser's nomination. Even though other European countries questioned the German candidate's qualifications, Germany naturally cited Mr. Clinton's tacit approval of Mr. Koch-Weser in order to convince other European leaders to back Germany's choice.

Once it became clear that Europe would support Germany's candidate despite many reservations, it fell on the White House to express its genuine sentiments regarding Mr. Koch-Weser. Last week, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and other administration officials convinced National Security Adviser Samuel Berger that the United States had to object to Germany's IMF candidate, and Mr. Clinton finally called Mr. Schroeder to tell him that the United States didn't support Mr. Koch-Weser after all. By this point, however, Germany's support of Mr. Koch-Weser had become highly visible internationally and since Mr. Clinton didn't express this disapproval one month ago, the president's call naturally angered the Germans.

The White House's handling of the whole issue "really is a demonstration of how the United States lacks sensitivity towards its allies, and the response has been to unite the Europeans more than ever against American bullying," Mr. Schroeder's national security adviser Michael Steiner said. Had the White House acted with more acumen, it could have built a European consensus to counter Mr. Koch-Weser. Instead, the reverse is now the case.

This is most unfortunate, especially since Mr. Clinton should have recognized from the start that the United States has considerable interests in ensuring that the next IMF head is a strong one. The director of the IMF will need the strength of character and vision necessary to push through reform in the face of resistance. Mr. Clinton was right in objecting to Mr. Koch-Weser's candidacy, but he should have expressed that months ago.

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