- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 20, 2000

As a writer, one hesitates to admit that a picture can be worth a thousand words. And yet. The photo of Vice President Gore grasping former Russian Prime Minister Victor Chernomyrdin in a passionate embrace on Sept. 24, 1997, is a sight you simply do not forget. It shows Mr. Gore as veritable Casanova, staring deeply into the eyes of Mr. Chernomyrdin, who is positively beaming back at him. If this is not quite as icky as the famous photo of Richard Nixon and Leonid Brezhnev kissing, it is definitely up there. This picture richly deserves a place in the history books.
Does the photo suggest that Mr. Gore's performance as romantic lead at the Democratic National Convention was a similar political ploy? Perhaps. What is obviously true is that with images like this floating around, Mr. Gore will have some difficulty running away from his record as a chief architect of American policy towards Russia in the two Clinton administrations. It is not a legacy to boast much about, one would think.
The visual reminder of Mr. Gore's vaunted expertise in foreign policy comes courtesy of a new congressional report, published today by the Speaker's Advisory Group on Russia, chaired by Rep. Chris Cox. The title of the some 200-page report, does not leave much doubt about its conclusions "Russia's Road to Corruption: How the Clinton Administration Exported Government Instead of Free Enterprise and Failed the Russian People." As Russia veers back towards authoritarianism, an examination of the failures of the past eight years is highly timely.
The speaker's advisory group was put together in April, as the Clinton-Yeltsin era had drawn to a close. Russia at the time was getting ready to elect a new president, and it was a good time to take stock. The group included the chairmen of six standing congressional committees and four subcommittees, all the relevant congressional bodies for Russia policy oversight and funding, from foreign relations to appropriations to intelligence. Interviews were conducted with the major policy staff of the executive branches here and in Russia, including the new Russian Duma, which was elected in December.
Interestingly enough, says Mr. Cox, "the one person who refused to talk to us, who had jurisdiction over U.S.-Russia policy, was Strobe Talbot." Mr. Talbot is of course the president's special coordinator for Russia policy and a fairly important person in all of this. "His unwillingness to engage Congress shows complete disdain," says Mr. Cox, and stands in contrast with the cooperation provided by Treasury Secretary Larry Summers and Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Pickering.
Presented here is a twofold indictment, charging the Clinton administration with initial indifference on Russia, followed by incompetent and misguided policies. The result is a disaster. Where 71 percent of the Russian people in 1991 had a favorable opinion of the United States, a mere 37 percent now say they do. Whereas Russia in 1993 stated that a partnership, even an alliance, with the United States was its objective, the Russian president today talks about a strategic partnership with China.
The Clinton administration actually inherited a pretty successful Bush policy on Russia. By January 1993, Russia had participated in Operation Desert Storm against Iraq, a former client state. The START II arms reduction treaty had been negotiated. Presidents Yeltsin and Bush had agreed on changes to the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty to allow the construction of national missile defense. These were major achievements.
By contrast, the Clinton National Security Council did not hold its first meeting on Russia until 1996. When we did give advice, it was the wrong kind, seeking to strengthen the hand of the central government with international loans, where decentralization should have been the aim. "Their economic advice was disastrous," says Mr. Cox. "It resulted in a complete collapse of the Russian economy. August 1998, should not be seen as a singularity."
If you like big government, Mr. Gore is your man. The "U.S.-Russia Financial Commission," also known as the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission, was set up in 1993 when Mr. Clinton handed the responsibility for our Russia policy over to the vice president and it was a bureaucrat's dream. Headed by Gore foreign policy guru Leon Fuerth, the U.S. delegation from a single meeting in Moscow would balloon to 700 people by 1999. Its primary goal was more meetings. "Not since the days of the Soviet Union had the unrelenting issuance of government paperwork been viewed as a prime measure of achievement," says the Cox report drily.
The one document that was of no interest whatsoever to Mr. Gore was the classified CIA report on the corruption of Mr. Chernomyrdin himself. According to Russian sources, the former prime minister has accumulated more than $1 billion in private assets from the privatization of Soviet state enterprises, among other things. Mr. Gore remained unperturbed by this information and returned the report to the CIA with "BULL****" scrawled all over it.
All of which should make for some excellent questions in the presidential debates. The Bush team would be well-advised to send for a copy of the Cox report on Russia. There is plenty of ammunition here.
E-mail: helle.bering@washtimes.com.

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