Policing the Shrewd Despots

A world policeman's lot is not a happy one. Or, as the old adage said: Pity the poor superpower.

In its first term, the Clinton administration was rightly criticized for dealing toughly with Britain, France, Germany, Japan, and China while wooing North Korea and moving tardily or weakly against Serbia's Milosevic and Iraq's Saddam Hussein.

President Clinton now is getting on swimmingly with the new leaders of Britain, France, and Germany (except for quarrels over whose bananas to eat). US relations with China and Japan are reasonably good. But neither the US nor Europe is any more adroit at dealing with pariahs Milosevic (ethnic cleansing) and Hussein (biologic and chemical superweapons).

(In the Mideast Mr. Clinton is also having trouble holding Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu to the land-for-peace deal he signed just last month. That further thwarts plans for an orderly, productive Mideast with rising living standards, low military costs, and dependable oil flows.)

Overall, it's a frustrating picture, like some stubborn checkers game in which opponents' pieces challenge, back off, then challenge again.

But are matters as bad as they seem? Not if Clinton and his European friends show some coordinated resolve.

The policeman will have to keep his cruise missiles and planes in the Gulf. The US and the EU powers must cooperate on moves to stop smugglers from breaking the Iraq weapons component embargo. But they must also be sure humanitarian distributions to Iraqi citizens further improves.

Much the same applies to former Yugoslavia. The threat of air strikes must become more credible. Sanctions should be tightened to motivate Milosevic to keep his promises.

Like it or not, policemen have to police. Carefully, resolutely done, that makes the world safer. Ultimately it will also help citizens in the nations now ruled by wily manipulators.

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