President Clinton's Far East trip is already being skewered by some, but the judgment seems premature. Here are a few thoughts about the criticisms of the President:
CRITICISM--ISN'T IT THE ECONOMY, STUPID?: Yes, but even during times of economic turmoil, foreign policy is critical; in fact, foreign policy is a major aspect of domestic economic policy. This emphasis is by far the President's most original foreign policy nuance to date. Understandably, Clinton underscores it whenever he can.
CRITICISM--THE PRESIDENT WANTS TO USE FOREIGN ISSUES TO PAPER OVER DOMESTIC INACTION: Maybe, but certain world problems just won't wait. For instance, North Korea's threat to arm itself with nuclear weapons is profoundly worrisome. Clinton, while in South Korea, used very strong words in his warning to Pyongyang. He was right to do so. A nuclear-tipped North Korean could propel Japan to chuck its postwar prohibition against nuclear weapons.
CRITICISM--THE PRESIDENT WAS SNOOKERED BY THE JAPANESE: It's true that only 24 hours after the U.S. President and the Japanese Prime Minister announced a trade talks "breakthrough," both sides differed over what had been agreed to. And there is little in that accord's framework to suggest a fundamental change in the grinding dynamics of this bilateral trade relationship. Even so, the agreement does somewhat advance the bilateral trade talks, and it does give the negotiations a sorely needed sense of a timetable. With the Japanese, who are painfully difficult negotiators, every little bit helps.
The President is finding the American people a tough crowd to play to, but in part that's his own fault. During the campaign he promised almost everyone the moon and raised expectations so high that when people's emotions came back down to Earth, his popularity plummeted with them.
For his first go at this sort of thing, the new President demonstrated a sense of command and priorities even among more experienced world leaders. So the Asian trip almost certainly has to help him. In the long run, it might even help the United States.