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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bill Clinton: Facing a Crisis Of Leadership

When Russian President Boris Yeltsin arrives in Washington next month for his summit with Bill Clinton, he will enjoy an extraordinary reversal from their earlier meetings, when the Russian leader was the supplicant, in the embattled and much weaker role.


Perhaps "enjoy" is not the precise word. The dreadful predicament of the Clinton presidency, with its entire reform agenda at grave risk, is grim news for the rest of the world. And Boris Yeltsin will probably be the first of the other world leaders to realize just how serious this can be.


Quite simply, President Clinton is currently so weak that no promise or undertaking that he delivers can be taken seriously. After the defection of 58 members of his Democratic party in Congress on his crime bill last week, Clinton faces political castration, the immediate and devastating prospect of a failed, and indeed a humiliated presidency.


On the face of it, the prospect is unreal. The economy is in bounding with health, with sturdy growth, low inflation and unemployment at less than 6 percent. The nation is at peace, and no body bags are making their mournful way home. So Clinton's plight embodies a deeply personal rather than a political rejection.


The Clinton presidency is bleeding badly from a series of self-inflicted wounds, from the questions of character stemming from Whitewater, and the unprecedented sexual harassment suit brought against him, and from incompetent handling of Congress. Beset by new probes over the Arkansas embarrassments of Whitewater and his stewardship of U.S. foreign policy widely derided, Clinton now faces a Republican opposition which has tasted blood.


With 30 months of his term yet to serve, he is a president from whom power is ebbing visibly away. He has become a political figure who inspires little loyalty among Democrats, and even less fear among Republicans, because he has lost so much of that automatic deference and respect which is traditionally the president's due.


Bill Clinton was elected to be the first post-Cold War president, to repair the domestic damage done by decades of swollen military spending, to deliver universal medical coverage, to reform welfare and to end the years of deadlock between a Democratic Congress and a Republican White House. Clinton's squandering of that priceless asset of presidential respect endangers it all, and presents the Democrats with the grim prospect of a repeat of the Carter years, another failed Presidency.


For America's friends , in whose ranks President Yeltsin can now be included, this means a rudderless world, in which the last and lonely superpower is in poor shape to lead by authority or by example.


This goes far beyond the traditional issues of American economic support for Russian reform, and even beyond the White House's ability to prize open the markets of the rich West to Russian products and Russian economic growth. It means, as the wretched military junta of Haiti and the jackals around Bosnia have discovered, the prospect of international anarchy.


The crisis of the Clinton Presidency is not yet terminal. The Comeback Kid could yet recover his credibility, if he can somehow steer and bluster his crime bill and his health reforms through Congress. The stakes are extraordinarily high, as Clinton's old college friend and Labor Secretary Robert Reich said the other day -- "This is the turning point, for this presidency and for the country."