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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Why the Vote For Boris Is Bill's Problem

President Bill Clinton loved that story about President Boris Yeltsin going into the polling booth Sunday and grumbling that his wife probably wasn't going to vote for him. and then Mrs. Yeltsin called out that indeed she was.


The Russian referendum presents Clinton with two immediate problems. The first is Bosnia. In the last week, Republican leader Senator Bob Dole and Democratic leader Senator George Mitchell have both called for air strikes against the Serbs.


So Clinton's domestic excuse for inactivity is shredding. Now his Russian excuse -- "Don't make things tougher for Yeltsin" -- has gone too. Only the reluctance of the Europeans to intervene remains to give Clinton some political cover for watching and waiting as Bosnia dies.


The other problem is the new Russian situation created by the referendum. Boris Yeltsin won the approval rating he needed, which is good for Clinton, but not the sweeping political mandate Yeltsin wanted to dissolve parliament and call new elections. This is bad for Clinton because it seems to presage more gridlock in Moscow, and continued political instability. This will make it all the harder to deliver that financial stability in Russia that the West's G-7 nations want to see before they plunge another $40 billion into the ruble's black hole.


And these two related foreign policy issues of Bosnia and Russia, which will dominate the rest of Clinton's summer, see him supporting policies which are opposed by clear majorities of the American opinion polls. Clinton's own approval ratings are down to well under 60 percent -- a record low for any president this early in his term.


The American voters are still broadly unconcerned with foreign policy. In January and again this month, the Harris polls asked people to say "which are the two most important issues for the government to address". The results are fascinating. Health care got 31 percent in January, and 35 percent now. The federal deficit got 19 percent in January, and 26 percent now. The economy got 26 percent in January and again now. Jobs got 19 percent in January and 20 percent now.


Foreign policy got 6 percent in January, and 3 percent now. Bosnia got 1 percent in January and again now. Americans support the idea of U. N. intervention, with some American troops, to enforce a peace settlement in Yugoslavia. But they are heavily against U. S. intervention alone.


So a bit like Yeltsin, Clinton faces a leadership challenge He must decide whether to act, and how strongly to act, in the face of a most equivocal mandate from his voters. No wonder Clinton sympathizes with Yeltsin, going into vote and not even sure whether his wife is with him. It may have been Bori's little joke, but behind it lies Bill's and Bori's big dilemma.