Since this is Clinton whose public passions notoriously tend toward the convenient and since he is on the record as a vociferous promoter of free trade, the hand-wringing over labor and environmental raises the question: Are the President's concerns genuine or merely politically expedient? "A lot of Clinton's concern is genuine," says Dowell. "As the mayor of Seattle noted, many Clinton administration officials were protesters themselves not so long ago." And, says Dowell, he is wise to acknowledge the misgivings harbored by many of the protesters. "Clinton accomplished something critical in his speech," says Dowell. "He made it clear that he understands that economic success is not equally distributed among the nations, and that he is more than willing to address that problem." Now he needs only to convince representatives from the 134 other WTO member countries and thousands of angry protesters that he not only understands the problems facing international trade, but that he also has some kind of solution.
President Clinton must be in agony; he seems to be feeling pretty much everybody's pain at the riot-riven World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle. Everybody, from labor activists to environmentalists to gung-ho advocates of free trade, got an empathetic nod from Clinton in a speech he delivered Wednesday. "The general consensus is that he gave a very deft speech," says TIME correspondent William Dowell. "He skillfully assuaged all sides, on most of the hot issues." Notably, the President is pushing the WTO to open its doors to public scrutiny and accept peaceful protests as integral aspects of its existence. He's fervently opposed to trade barriers, but he also wants to ensure a degree of job protection for American workers. He wants to keep U.S. policy toward sea turtles intact throughout the world, but balks when European countries move to protect their own policies banning the importation of genetically engineered food.