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Western Press Review: Papers Ponder 'Howard's End'

  • Mark Baker

Prague, 19 February 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Newspapers today ponder the legacy of former U.S. presidential candidate Howard Dean. Dean, who until a month ago had been widely expected to win the nomination of the Democratic Party to face President George W. Bush in November, withdrew yesterday after failing to win even one nominating primary.


"The New York Times," in an editorial, says that, in the end, Dean failed for a variety of reasons -- including his overly energetic and often angry campaign speeches, which turned off many voters. "As it turned out, Dr. Dean's signature issue of unequivocal opposition to the Iraq war could not carry him to victory. Primary voters had mixed views about that and, no less significantly, about his relentlessly feisty style on the stump."

"The New York Times," however, praises Dean -- through his strong opposition to the Iraq war -- for energizing the Democratic Party and injecting fresh interest into the campaign. "The principal survivors now left in the primary arena gained immeasurably from Dr. Dean's combative lead. He transplanted a spine into the presidential campaign."


The London-based "Financial Times" similarly credits Dean with giving the Democratic Party new hope of beating a president that until a few months ago seemed invincible.

"It is probably true that [Dean's] own background as a relatively obscure small state governor and his personality, which seemed a little too temperamental for most Americans, would always have rendered him unelectable as a presidential candidate. But the energy and dynamism his campaign brought, his policies and his searing critiques of the Democratic Party have transformed the party's debate and fortunes this year."

The "Financial Times" goes further and says the sudden rise of John Kerry -- the Democratic Party's probable nominee -- could not have been possible without Dean. "Without Mr. Dean, it is hard to see how Mr. Kerry would have evolved from the uninspiring Washington politician he was a year ago to the standard-bearer of Democratic opposition he is today. Mr. Dean's ambitions may not have matched his own abilities as a candidate. But for the Democrats, 'Deanism' without Dean may have been just what the doctor ordered."


"The Wall Street Journal" today picks up a similar theme, but says -- on the contrary -- Dean's legacy may prove to be negative. In an editorial titled "Dean, the Dream," the right-of-center newspaper agrees that Dean energized the Democrats, but more importantly, it says, Dean pulled the party further to the political left.

The daily cites Dean's position against the Iraq war and his opposition to income tax cuts favored by George W. Bush: "On the war on terror, [Dean] almost single-handedly pulled his party to the anti-war left. Mr. Dean was the first candidate to call for repealing all of the Bush tax cuts. Soon every Democrat was for raising taxes in some substantial way."

The paper says this move may backfire if voters perceive the party as too left-wing and reject it in November. "We can't help but wonder if all of this liberal anger and intensity won't boomerang in the end. The Dean movement has clearly erased all of the New Democratic moderation that Bill Clinton made famous in the 1990s. On trade, taxes, education and values, the Dean-Kerry Democrats are [now] to the left of [former President Bill Clinton]."


Writing in the British newspaper "The Guardian," a frequent observer of Eastern European politics, Timothy Garton Ash, comments on yesterday's meeting in Berlin of the leaders of France, Germany, and Great Britain. The meeting -- called to discuss EU policy -- was widely criticized for being elitist, an attempt by the EU's three biggest members to determine the fate of a union that will soon have 25 member states.

Nevertheless, Garton Ash argues, the troika was positive, not negative. "It's a very good thing that the leaders of Europe's three biggest countries got together. Between them, they account for more than half the GDP and defense spending of the whole enlarged EU of 25 member states. If they are at loggerheads, Europe goes nowhere -- as we saw over Iraq."

Garton Ash acknowledges that the new EU is too large to be effectively governed by two or three member states, but he says the opposite -- 25 states trying to reach full agreement -- is unrealistic. "The new, enlarged Europe won't work at all if everything depends on the conclusions of 25 heads of state sitting round that vast new table in the Council of Ministers building in Brussels.... What remains is what has driven the European project forward for 50 years: strategic cooperation between national governments."


The "Financial Times" takes a more humorous look at the meeting, in a commentary called "Mess, What Mess?" Writer Hugh Williamson says the three leaders -- Britain's Tony Blair, France's Jacques Chirac, and host Gerhard Schroeder -- appeared to go out of their way to minimize the importance of the meeting. They did this, presumably, to avoid offending the other EU members who were not invited.

"To an innocent observer, the mood in Gerhard Schroeder's chancellery on Wednesday afternoon appeared more a cozy fireside chat than a European summit.... The three leaders appeared determined to play up the informality of their gathering, and play down the threat it posed to anyone else."

But in the end, the paper concludes, the meeting probably did not achieve much. Williamson says, despite the good cheer, the three men are very different. "But the leaders were their usual divergent selves when it came to highlighting the priorities. While Tony [Blair] made his usual effort to square the circle between the need for both social justice and market liberalization, Jacques [Chirac] was brimming over with grand EU-wide economic projects and greater European solidarity to beat off international competitors."

The paper appears to be asking, "What was the point?"


An editorial in Britain's "The Guardian" today is critical of the U.S. administration's policy in Iran. The paper looks at the recent scrap between conservatives and reformists in the country over tomorrow's parliamentary elections.

The conservative Guardians Council has banned many reformers from taking part in the vote -- leading some deputies in the reformist camp to call for a boycott. The result of the vote, the paper says, is likely to be a weakened reform movement, more social discord, and ultimately an even sterner clampdown on reformist elements.

"The [deputies] may yet pay a price for their timidity. A feared post-election backlash, with more arrests, show trials and newspaper closures, could in turn rouse the Iranian street from its present state of disillusioned torpor."

The paper says at least part of the blame falls on the Bush administration's tough policy of isolating the country, while at the same time calling for wider democracy in the Middle East. The paper says Iranian President Mohammad Khatami's tentative engagement with the United States and the West has brought relatively few tangible rewards, even though most Iranians back the policy.

"The Guardian" concludes: "Alive to these threats, and exploiting them, anti-Western mullahs seem to be circling the wagons. Thus has George Bush's grandiose bid to democratize the Middle East helped produce in Iran the exact opposite: a democratic derailment."


The Bush administration comes in for further criticism from "The Washington Post" for its policy in Haiti. Some 50 people have died in the country in recent weeks in gang-led attacks aimed at ousting President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

The paper compares the situation in Haiti with last year's violence in Liberia as signaling yet again the U.S. administration's reluctance to intervene on humanitarian grounds. "Once again a poor nation with strong ties to the United States is in desperate trouble -- and once again, the response of the Bush administration is to backpedal away, foreswear all responsibility and leave any rescue to others."

Last summer, the paper points out, Bush refused to commit even a few hundred U.S. troops on the ground to help end a bloody crisis in Liberia. Now he and his administration stand by as Haiti plunges into anarchy.

The paper says France and the United Nations have begun exploring the possible deployment of police or peacekeepers -- which the paper says is probably the only way to stop the killing. But Secretary of State Colin Powell has made clear that there is no enthusiasm within the Bush administration for sending in military or police forces to put down the violence.

The paper says the United States has "intervened repeatedly in Haitian affairs during its 200-year history," but this time appears to be uninterested in stopping violence.


"The Washington Times" sees Haiti differently. It supports a UN- or French-led international force but appears to oppose a U.S. military or peacekeeping operation.

The paper recalls the situation in Haiti in 1991 when a coup brought anarchy to the country. Then U.S. President Bill Clinton dispatched U.S. troops to return the Marxist-leaning president to power.

The paper says the fact "that things have gotten progressively more corrupt and thuggish under his leadership warns against further intervention on his behalf."