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Report That Could Shoot Its Authors in the Foot

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It used to be that foreign affairs and national security were taboo topics for partisan potshots.á Not this year; instead of stopping at the water's edge, politics in Washington is plunging off the deep end. This Wednesday, the House Republican leadership's Policy Committee will produce a 209-page report pillorying the Clinton administration for its handling of Russia. The main target? Al Gore, who gets two chapters all to himself — one concerning the bilateral commission he chaired with former Russian prime minister and Gazprom magnate Viktor Chernomyrdin, the other on the "barnyard epithet" Gore reportedly scrawled across a CIA report alleging Chernomyrdin's corrupt activities. These are part of a broader pattern of administration errors that have brought warm U.S.-Russian relations in 1992 to a frosty atmosphere now, the report alleges.

Rep. Samuel Gejdenson, top Democrat on the House International Relations committee, fumes that the Republican-only exercise "is a completely partisan hatchet job." And even moderate Republicans from the International Relations ăommittee say they were kept at arm's length because the report's authors, under the leadership of California representative Christopher Cox, "get nervous when you try to inject some truth into the proceedings." Gore's foreign policy advisor, Leon Fuerth, declined to speak with TIME about the report, his staff complaining they had no access to it.

They didn't miss much. The document suffers from incomplete source materials presented with evident bias. It blames the administration for souring U.S.-Russian relations by pursuing NATO expansion and National Missile Defense, both of which Republicans support even more fervently than Democrats. It repeatedly mentions Russia's objections to unilateral U.S. action but then criticizes the administration for pursuing consensus-building with Moscow and others. Those contradictions, combined with breathless, vituperative language, obscure valid points, like the administration's studious disregard for Russian atrocities in Chechnya and its failure to achieve any new arms control agreements with the Russians over eight years.

So, what of politics stopping at the water's edge? Cox shrugs off charges the report is partisan — "Of course it is!" he crows. But reports like this one are more likely to damage their authors' reputations than the electoral chances of their intended targets.