Leading Article: The American president can still make a difference

WHAT DOES one say about today's meeting of Presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin - two discredited leaders propping each other up as they desperately seek to get to the finishing line of the Millennium?

The White House must be wishing that it had never pencilled in the summit for 1 September as a means of bringing Clinton back on the world stage after his holiday. Even Moscow is embarrassed by having some 400 US journalists and half the State Department descend on it for a meeting that can now only show just how far they have slipped from superstar status.

The last time an oversexed President met an over imbibing President was when JF Kennedy met with Nikita Kruschev for an ill-fated embrace which was to lead directly to Cuba and Moscow's miscalculation of the new American President's resolve. This time, no one really expects any results. Those days are gone because political leaders no longer have very much real power over global affairs. The markets, and underlying forces, have taken over and just at the moment they are making things very difficult indeed in Russia.

The country is not in the position to do what the Hong Kong authorities have been spending nearly $10bn trying to do: sustain the currency and squeeze the speculators. Nor would anyone advise them to do so.The IMF has no funds for further aid. Nor would the US Congress sanction the Federal Government to increase its assistance.

Powerlessness need not mean futility, however. The right words at this time can help. And no one should doubt President Clinton's ability to deliver them. He understands better than any leader since Churchill and Roosevelt how much politics is the art of tone. The world and the markets, never mind the Russians, do need an air of reassurance at this time; a feeling that while the problems are Russia's and theirs to solve, they will not spread or bring down the rest of the world with it.

For a start, Russia, while a pygmy in economic reality, remains a superpower in ballistic capability. For the Europeans, who no longer have to fear the threat of short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, this may not have much reality. But for the Americans it does. There is sense in propping up Yeltsin's personal position so long as he remains head of the armed services and he can now be kept above the domestic morass around him.

The economic ramifications of the present crisis are more difficult to control. But again fine words can butter some parsnips. Markets cannot be reversed, but given the right nudge they can be stilled and even occasionally turned. Finance without barriers allows problems in one part to move very rapidly to others through the medium of currency swaps, futures and the "exotic" financial instruments that have been developed at such a hectic pace in the last few years. But that very fact gives the total system a depth and breadth with which to cope.

The need at this moment is to still any further waves of concern. And here American leadership can make a difference. As the largest economy in the world, its continued growth is of vital importance to the rest of the world. As the headquarters of global finance, the decision of its institutions set the pace elsewhere.

Now is the time for Western central banks to start easing up on interest rates and the US Federal reserve could start the process in its meeting this month. In the same way, US banks could do an enormous amount of good, or bad, in their negotiations over the financing of Brazil and Argentina.

No one is saying that, with a wave of his hand, Clinton can make Russia's political problems or the world's financial crisis disappear. But he can help influence events if the timing is right On that score he still remains a master.

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tv 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there