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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

For Clinton, Aftershocks Of a Summit

In political terms, President Clinton can count himself lucky that he came home last week to the disasters of the Los Angeles earthquake and the abrupt withdrawal of his nominee for defense secretary, Admiral Bobby Ray Inman.


These blows all served to distract attention from the body blows dealt to Clinton's Russian policies by the departure of Yegor Gaidar from President Boris Yeltsin's government.


Clinton's strategy is pinned to the support not simply of Boris Yeltsin the politician, but to Boris Yeltsin the embodiment of reform. The symbolic effect of Gaidar's departure is grim, and was followed immediately by the row over the former finance minister, Boris Fyodorov, the other economic reformer whose name carries great weight in the West. This is bad not just for reform in Russia but also for Clinton's own credibility.


In any other week in Washington, this crisis for Russian reform would have dominated the headlines and the White House and State Department briefings. And even with parts of Los Angeles in ruins and all the other domestic news of the week, the next shock from Russia managed to shoulder its way through the all the media noise.


Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev's reported speech to a gathering of Russian ambassadors, suggesting that some Russian troops should remain in former Soviet republics "because it would be dangerous to create a vacuum" inspired a sharp response from the State Department.


"We are very concerned about these remarks. They are inconsistent with what President Clinton heard from President Yeltsin," said the State Department. "We have told the Russian government repeatedly that we expect prompt withdrawal of all Russian troops from Estonia and Latvia."


The question now is what will the Clinton administration do about it, given that its national security team remains in disarray with Inman's refusal to take the secretary of defense job. The disarray goes even deeper than it might appear. The person who recommended Inman for the job was Strobe Talbott, Clinton's old friend and Russian expert who has now been nominated to be deputy Secretary of State.


From his time as a Time magazine journalist on arms control and security policy, Strobe Talbott had found Inman to be an impressive official and a useful source, and had suggested that he would be just the man to stop the Republican sniping at President Clinton's foreign and defense policies.


Although Inman is not a registered Republican, he acknowledged voting for George Bush rather than Clinton. But it was other Republicans whom Inman blames for his decision to withdraw.


He accused Republican Senate leader Robert Dole and the New York Times columnist William Safire, formerly an aide in president Richard Nixon's Republican White House, of conspiring against him. Safire had been critical of Inman in his columns, and Inman feared that Senator Dole would organize hostile questioning during his confirmation hearing before the Senate.


Whether or not this was true, it meant that Inman's assumed advantage of blunting Republican criticism had already evaporated. And that in turn means that Bill Clinton is facing the collapse of his Russian policies with a big hole in his cabinet, a nervously restive defense establishment, and a Republican opposition which has apparently abandoned the traditional bipartisanship in foreign policy.