WASHINGTON — He could not be faulted for trying, but President Clinton basically struck out in his peacemaking efforts in a wide arena from South Asia to the Middle East. His latest trip offered a dramatic illustration of what a complicated world America inhabits 10 years after the end of the cold war.
In cold war days, the United States tilted toward Pakistan in its conflicts with India for the simple reason that India was "non-aligned" and Pakistan was an enthusiastic anti-Soviet ally and staging area for American support to the insurgents in Afghanistan. In those days, the US deplored but didn't do much about Pakistan's nuclear weapons program.
Now, unable to ease tensions over Kashmir or to rein in nuclear proliferation in what Clinton calls "the most dangerous place in the world today," the US tilts toward India. India, the world's biggest democracy, and on its way to becoming the world's most populous country, is hurtling into the computer age. Pakistan, ruled by a general who will set no date for elections, consorts with Afghan terrorists who've turned from fighting Russians to bombing Americans.
The president also struck out with President Hafez al-Assad of Syria, over whom he thought he could exercise some influence now that Assad has no Soviet Union to lean on. Desperately in need of Western aid, Assad seems to be acting counterproductively in his recalcitrance.
But, who knows under what constraints Assad is operating at home?
Russia has not turned out to be the partner that the US hoped for when the Soviet Union collapsed. Newly elected President Vladimir Putin has announced that his first foreign trip will be to China, with whom Russia shares concerns about something called "hegemony" (read: American power).
Gone are the good old days when President Nixon could play Communist China against the Communist Soviet Union. In the twilight of his term, Clinton must find it frustrating to see the post-cold-war era yielding so little peacemaking harvest for his legacy.
I can better understand what Kremlin adviser Georgi Arbatov meant when he told me 10 years ago, "We are retiring from the cold war and what will you do for an enemy?"
And what Lawrence Eagleburger, secretary of state in the Bush administration, meant when he said, "One of these days, we will be nostalgic for the cold war."
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society