- The Washington Times - Friday, September 22, 2000

Vice President Gore has been in charge of U.S. Russia policy since 1993 and he has much to answer for. That is the conclusion reached in a congressional report released Wednesday. The guidance that the Clinton-Gore administration gave Russia was so myopic that "80 percent of Russians believe economic advice was given to keep the country down," so Rep. Christopher Cox, who chaired the Special Advisory Committee that published the report, told editors of The Washington Times this week. Since Mr. Gore was "alpha-male" of White House Russia policy, he should be held chiefly responsible for the misguided policy.

The report reiterates many of the Russia-related criticisms leveled at Mr. Gore in the past. But the report is Congress' first in-depth attempt to evaluate White House policy towards Russia. Rather than strive to fortify democratic institutions in Russia, the report finds, the administration propped up and created alliances with corrupt politicians. Amazingly, Mr. Gore willfully ignored CIA reports that then-Prime Minister Victor Chernomyrdin was involved in public corruption schemes. The White House also failed to reach out to Russian legislators and politicians in the regions, thereby further strengthening the Kremlin's centralized power.

Democratic lawmakers have failed to level a substantive defense of the Gore policy, claiming only that the report was released for political reasons. Rep. Sam Gejdenson, Connecticut Democrat, claimed the report was a "hatchet job" and "an election year gimmick." Democrats would be wise to avoid any discussion of election year gimmicks. If a well-reasoned critique of an administration's foreign policy can be criticized on those grounds, then perhaps Congress itself is little more than a gimmick. Furthermore, the congressional report makes clear the hatchet was clearly in Mr. Gore's hands.

The White House said this week that its successes in Russia included the dismantling of 5,000 nuclear weapons from former Soviet republics, the privatization of state enterprises, and a 65 percent turnout in the last Russian election. But nuclear disarmament was well under way during the Bush administration, under the START II arms reduction treaty. And the administration would do well to keep quiet about privatization in Russia, which amounted to a bonanza of cheap public assets for Kremlin cronies and handsome kickbacks for the officials doling them out. Mr. Chernomyrdin himself reportedly made out with about $1 billion in this privatization party. Furthermore, evidence of fraud, which emerged this week, has tainted the last presidential election.

Clearly, the White House will have to come up with a better gimmick for its defense. Perhaps it's time to bring out the earth tones.

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