- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 27, 2000

Rep. Christopher Cox, California Republican and chairman of the House Policy Committee, and members of the Speaker's Advisory Group on Russia have just published a most devastating report on Russia's road to corruption, in which the Clinton-Gore administration is found guilty of failing the Russian people and exporting government instead of free enterprise to Russia. They strengthened the central government with inappropriate and misunderstood policies toward a post-Cold War Russia.
Despite the fact it is a Republican partisan report, all of the indictment can be found in the American press and media over the past eight years, as the footnotes to the report demonstrate. The report also had the benefit of an advisory group that includes Democrats, Republicans, Russian and American diplomats, scholars and experts. It is impeccable scholarly and policy analysis of the Clinton-Gore foreign policy toward Russia.
The major indictees are Vice President Al Gore, Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, and then Deputy Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers. Under this troika, according to the report, "By focusing on strengthening the finances of the Russian government and on transforming state-owned monopolies into private monopolies, instead of building the fundamentals of a free enterprise system, the Clinton administration ensured that billions in Western economic assistance to Russia would amount to mere temporizing."
The main culprit, of course, is President Clinton, who was unwilling to involve himself in foreign policy generally, and in critical issues of the U.S. policy toward Russia specifically. This administration forfeited a monumental historical opportunity to design an American post-Cold War policy that could usher Russia into the democratic Western world and into free enterprise.
Compare this with Harry Truman, who succeeded in helping design a policy that moved Germany from its Nazi ignominiousness into a Western democratic society and restored Germany as a part of European and Western civilization.
Mr. Clinton did not have the vision to do for Russia what Truman did for Germany. Truman did not leave the German-European Cold War policy to his vice president. Truman and his most senior advisers were responsible, as a commander-in-chief should be, for dealing with the most significant event after the utter defeat of Nazism.
For 50 years we waged a Cold War to bring an end to the Soviet Union. When the end came, President Clinton had no historical or intellectual understanding of the significance of turning Russia away from central government and authoritarianism. He delegated his leadership responsibility in this area to the vice president, which meant it actually went to chief Russian adviser, Strobe Talbott. "The structure of the policy-making troika left the rest of the government either unwilling or unable to critically assess the direction of the Clinton administration policy."
The Cox report lists other fundamental flaws of the Clinton administration Russian policy: A strong preference for strengthening Russia's central government; a close personal association with a few Russian officials who were among the main culprits of the corruption, especially with the corrupt former Prime Minister of Russia Viktor Chernomyrdin, who amassed more than $5 billion during the manipulation of privatization of energy after the collapse of the Soviet Union; a narrow focus on the Russian executive branch at the expense of the emerging democratic forces outside the Kremlin; "an arrogance toward Russia's nascent democratic constituencies that led to attempts at democratic ends through decidedly non-democratic means"; and, above all, in light of increasing corruption and mounting evidence of the failure of their policies, the troika was unwilling to recognize their monumental errors and continued to support a failing policy.
Mr. Clinton effectively delegated the management of U.S.-Russian relations to Mr. Gore in April 1993 with the establishment of the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission, the function and structure of which "offered a perfect blueprint for the eventual failure of the entire Clinton administration policy toward Russia. By superseding normal policy-making and well-established intra- and intergovernmental channels of communication, the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission would come to impede the information flow to decision-makers in Washington … distracted Russian government officials from what should have been their main focus: constructing the essential elements of a free enterprise." The most critical indictment, next to the absence of the president, is the report's finding that the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission "contributed to a deliberately uninformed U.S. policy toward Russia."
The report faults the administration for failure to establish basic legal elements of free enterprise that would have replaced communism and could have prevented the conditions that helped organized crime to flourish. "Privatization" of government entities in Russia should have taken place under an independent legal system, not connected with the Kremlin. Courts, business law, the enforcement of property rights, should have been part of a system independent of central authority. This would have brought an end to the oligarcical economy, and to the corrupt financial moguls that were part of the Yeltsin court, which was supported by the troika.
According to the report, President Clinton compared Mr. Yeltsin to Abraham Lincoln. What an oxymoron. The administration encouraged disregard for the legislative branch of the Yeltsin administration, and thus played a part in undermining the growth of pluralistic, democratic government in Russia.
In the area of weapons proliferation, the failure of the Clinton administration's economic strategy for Russia was found to have a profound effect on America's national security interests. The one industry in which Russia enjoyed a true comparative advantage in the global market, according to the report, "was its military hardware, weaponry, and related technology." This critical non-privatized industry became a source for corruption and for selling weapons to rogue states like Iran, Iraq, Korea and elsewhere. It could have generated hard currency and put hundreds of thousands of unemployed Russians back to work. Instead, it became involved in organized crime.
The Cox committee's recommendations include: "A stable, secure, democratic and prosperous Russia is a vital American interest"; a legal foundation for a free enterprise economy. They recommend rethinking the economic strategies the Clinton administration adopted. An end must come to "unconditional subsidies to the Russian central government." And an end to concealing failures in U.S.-Russian relations, which have been "a hallmark of U.S.- Russia policy during the 1990s." Stop misleading the American people on U.S.-Russia policy. "President Clinton failed to make the reconstruction of Russia at the end of the Cold War his priority… . The president must lead."

Amos Perlmutter is a professor of political science and sociology at American University and editor of the Journal of Strategic Studies.

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