Foreign successes lift Clinton's rating

IT MAY not make much difference on election day, but as he basks in unaccustomed plaudits for his foreign policy, President Bill Clinton has decided that his - and his party's interests - will be better served as a peace-maker on the banks of the River Jordan than as an unwelcome campaigner for Democratic candidates at home.

Undeterred by yesterday's horrific bus bombing in Tel Aviv - which Mr Clinton called 'an outrage against the conscience of the world' - Mr Clinton will go ahead with his visit to the Middle East next week.

With less then a fortnight before the 8 November mid- term elections, US television viewers will see their President, not stumping and fund- raising in Iowa and Michigan as he had orginally planned, but attending the signing of the Israel-Jordan peace treaty in Eilat; visiting the troops in Kuwait; and conducting high-profile summitry in Tel Aviv, Cairo, Amman, and perhaps even Damascus.

Like so many of his predecessors when they ran into trouble at home, this President too - who came to office vowing to focus 'like a laser' on domestic problems - is seeking comfort and prestige in foreign affairs, the very field where he was held to be an incompetent, weak-kneed novice.

Be it a case of a tighter White House organisation, new-found presidential skills of diplomacy, or sheer luck, in the past two months Mr Clinton has rung up a notable string of foreign policy successes: from the ouster of the Haitian military regime and the backing-down of Saddam Hussein over Kuwait, to the Middle East, North Korea, Cuba, and, even indirectly, Northern Ireland.

Temporarily, at least, everything is suddenly going right. Even the polls suggest that Americans are starting to take notice. While an angry electorate refuses to give Democrats credit for a robust economy and falling unemployment, Mr Clinton's foreign policy approval has jumped to 47 per cent, according to a CBS poll this week, the best since February. Although still a feeble 44 per cent, Mr Clinton's general approval is also 2 per cent higher than a month ago.

Several of the latest achievements are precarious, not least the North Korean deal where Washington has made some risky concessions to curb Pyongyang's nuclear programme. Nor will they gain many votes on 8 November.

But at least they are unlikely to lose any.

The White House is portraying the trip as the action of a statesman, rather than a political expedient. But it is certainly preferable to repeats of Mr Clinton's recent forays to Detroit, where he was shunned by virtually every Democratic candidate in the state of Michigan, or to Florida where an embarrassing handful of people came to see him at a rally for Hugh Rodham, the brother of the Hillary Clinton.

But a compulsive campaigner cannot be denied. Before leaving for the Middle East, the President is making a near coast-to-coast swing from California to Ohio.