An Asian Perspective on the Clinton Affair

For the most ridiculous of reasons, the prospect of strong U.S. presidential leadership seems remote at this point. And whatever the truth about Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, the global consequences of a vacuum in American leadership could be severe and sudden.The most obvious cause for concern is the Asian financial crisis. There is no indication yet that this has bottomed out, and the effects could spread.For example, the Chinese financial system depends on Asia's rapid growth. Recent efforts at reform cannot take hold in time to avert a fallout from the current crisis which is, at heart, a crisis of confidence. Financiers do not believe that the affected governments and markets can handle the situation. For a brief time, Clinton's intervention brought relief. But now the sex scandal threatens to erode confidence all over again.What would happen if the financial crisis spread to China and the United States lacked presidential leadership? Making the case for a bailout of China would be a hard sell for any president at this time. Bridging the gap between the realities of global interdependence and existing national divisions requires the persuasive powers -- and the faith in internationalism -- that Clifton indeed has.Obtaining funding for the IMF is a prime example of the need for leadership. Although a majority of Americans is opposed to increasing U.S. contributions to the IMF, it remains -- despite its many errors -- the world's only insurance against a vicious cycle. The IMF was originally intended to avert a 1930s style collapse among the world's major trading partners. It evolved into an institution designed to keep developing countries on the capitalist path, and then into a disciplinarian for failed economies.With the current crisis in Asia, the IMF is returning to its original role.From an international perspective, the most relevant divisions in U.S. politics do not fall along party lines. We have Bill Clinton, Bob Dole and Newt Gingrich as economic globalists and Jesse Jackson, Pat Buchanan, and Ross Perot as economic nationalists. The confusion this creates makes the need for presidential leadership even stronger.Domestic and global politics were more neatly aligned at the time of Watergate. Even so, a rise in oil prices triggered a powerful recession in the United States -- a recession that marked the beginning of a decline in US wages and incomes that has yet to be turned around. Although Clinton has failed to deliver on his 1992 promise to improve the lives of most Americans, the formulas proposed by economic nationalists offer a still worse fate.Some scholars contend that the main cause of the Great Depression was that no power exercised leadership to restore financial confidence in the early 1930s. The traditional leader, Britain, was unable and the United States was not yet willing.Today, if a leadership vacuum leaves the United States unable to cope with the Asian crisis, then at the very least the world will have lost an historic opportunity for building a global economy with prosperity for many, and for moving beyond the world of warring states.PNS commentator Sanjoy Banerjee is a professor of international relations at San Francisco State University.

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