Sorry, folks. The world is not going to give the United States and its politicians a pass.
What experts have been saying for months now has become evident even to people like me. The respite from international responsibilities - and issues - that began when the Cold War ended is just about over. We are due to rediscover - for what must be the 20th time - that whatever our wishes, the world is a dangerous place which puts inexorable demands on this nation and its leaders.
To be sure, there have been challenges aplenty since the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union imploded. Kuwait, Bosnia, Somalia and Haiti all have clamored for attention.
But now the stakes are getting much higher. Almost unknown to the American people, the president has pledged that up to 20,000 U.S. troops will go into the war-torn republics of the former Yugoslavia to help the U.N. peacekeeping forces withdraw. That pledge could be called before this month is out.
The mess in Bosnia and Croatia is a reminder that the NATO alliance has been unable to fulfill its security mission in Eastern Europe. NATO also is snarled in a debate over whether to expand its membership to the borders of Russia. Meanwhile, France and the United States are quarreling over spy charges. Old problems remain in the Middle East and Persian Gulf. The New York Times headlines: “U.S. Says Evidence Shows Baghdad Is Rebuilding its Plants to Make Chemical Arms.” The Washington Post reports the United States is at loggerheads with Russia over a proposed Russian sale of a nuclear reactor to Iran.
But all of this pales when compared with what is happening in two nations that are absolutely vital to the interests of the United States and are headed for leadership crises that could test - or crack - the regimes with which we are linked.
Start with the nation closest to us - Mexico.
The United States, wisely and inescapably, given our common border, has made a huge investment in the economic and political development of Mexico, symbolized by the 1993 approval of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which will create a virtual free trade zone in all of North America. But the collapse of the Mexican peso and the unraveling of the Mexican ruling party threaten to reverse the progress that has been made in Mexico in recent years.
Under the best scenario, if the $20 billion U.S. loan guarantee to Mexico works, the conditions placed on that bailout virtually guarantee a severe recession in Mexico, with a likely impact on emigration to the United States - a sore point on this side of the border.
Moreover, it will add to the political strains facing the government of President Ernesto Zedillo, who has ordered the arrest of his predecessor’s brother for allegedly planning the assassination last year of a rival political leader. The New York Times’ Tom Friedman wrote last week that “Mexican politics today is a spooky Spanish version of Oliver Stone’s ‘JFK.”’
Friedman also wrote that the flight of capital from Mexico - which was supposed to be stopped by the U.S. and international loan guarantees - has continued unabated. The United States easily could face a chaotic situation on its southern border within months.
The situation looks no brighter in Russia - the second nation whose internal problems easily could become a nightmare for us.
Boris Yeltsin may or may not be able to control his drinking, but clearly he no longer is capable of maintaining order in the Kremlin or the country. And this is the man we count on to safeguard the second-largest hoard of nuclear weapons in the world.
After the murder of Vladislav Listyev, the country’s most popular and influential television commentator, by the Russian Mafia, the Russian Security Council said, “The lack of tangible results from the battle against organized crime is discrediting state powers … and, as a result, threatening the security of Russia.”
The following day, The Washington Post reported that Yeltsin’s chief of staff, Sergei Filatov, “has described an atmosphere of paranoia and hostility inside the Kremlin,” with hard-liners, led by Yeltsin bodyguard Alexander Korzhakov, exerting ever-greater influence.
In the face of all this - and continuing problems with international drug trafficking, terrorism and nuclear proliferation - it is astonishing to see members of Congress talking of this country retrenching on its international obligations or to hear politicians and pundits express the view that domestic issues surely will dominate the 1996 elections.
What world are they living in?