Summer of Discontent

A majority of Americans tell pollsters that they distrust their president's morality but like how he's governing.

Pollsters are not the only political sensors to register this split. Some White House advisers tell confidants it influences the public face of policymaking. The problem with this jekyll-hyde public report card is that it begins to affect the way global decisions are judged.

Already this summer Americans have had to ask themselves if Clinton's policy on China might have been influenced by China-derived campaign donations. And now we have a calculated leak alleging that Secretary of State Albright in effect ordered the cancellation of a surprise UN inspection of Iraqi weapons-production sites. The reason, it was further alleged, was to avoid another US-Iraq military showdown at a delicate time.

This is, indeed a delicate time. In Washington that means l'affaire Lewinsky. But elsewhere major progress dangles in jeopardy.

Promising Northern Ireland peace momentum is threatened by Ulster's worst-ever bomb explosion. US global leadership is shaken by the attacks on its embassies in East Africa and threats to its officials in Congo. Repeated attempts to lend Boris Yeltsin a hand (and $22 billion) to pull Russia out of its chronic financial crises need an aura of confidence and momentum to make them work. And, as global stock markets indicate, that confidence has wavered badly for lack of concerted leadership.

By any measure - economic power, military power, long proof of democratic success - the US is the logical source of that leadership. And that's President Clinton's job.

The world hasn't spun out of control. Japan is still wealthy. China has made huge progress since 1978. Russia, for all its troubles, is better off than it was 10 years ago. Latin American economies, by and large, are much improved over their state in the '70s and '80s. Europe's economies have begun to rebound as Thatcherism softened by Blairism reverses the stagnation of Euro-welfare states. The wounded Asian tigers have more skilled workers, more modern factories than a generation ago.

In short, the sky is not falling. But the leader most able to reverse this summer's global discontent must emerge from l'affaire Lewinsky to do so. We have urged since last winter that he fulfill his promise to present the facts (even if now later rather than sooner) to the people who so paradoxically distrust but rely on him.

Beyond the Starr grand jury there sits the grander jury of the American people. Their confidence in the president's honesty must be repaired. Without that, their confidence in his governing is at risk.

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