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Western Press Review: A Look At The U.S. Role In The World

  • Joel Blocker

Prague, 20 October 1997 (RFE/RL) - U.S. commentators and analysts have been examining their own country's role and importance in the world. They touch on the U.S.' relations with South America, China, the Middle East and France.

WASHINGTON POST: South America is determined to approach its northern neighbor on more equal terms

Analyzing President Bill Clinton's recent trip to South America correspondents John Harris and Anthony Faiola wrote yesterday that the "era of widespread anti-U.S. receding rapidly in the area." They write: "On a seven-day, six-stop tour...that ended Saturday, Clinton encountered a political culture in transition. The government leaders, business executives, students and journalists Clinton met in Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina plainly did not want the Yankee to go home, but they did insist that he explain himself and redefine U.S. relationships. At every turn, people wanted assurances that the United States is not threatened by the increasingly powerful economies in the nations Clinton visited. They were alert to any possible slight. And they made clear that South America is determined to approach its powerful northern neighbor on more equal terms."

The analysis continued: "At every turn Clinton paid deference to the new mood. He cooed over the economic and political progress South America has made. He insisted that the United States is pleased by the emergence of the South American trading bloc known as Mercosur. And he spoke a new language for a visiting U.S. president....Clinton last week kept repeating the word 'partners,' and virtually every time he offered a criticism, such as the disparities of wealth in South America, he took pains to emphasize that the U.S. is grappling with similar issues."

NEW YORK TIMES: Menem must learn to live in peace with a free press

Clinton was taken to task Saturday for being "too polite in Argentina," the last country he visited on his tour. In an editorial, the paper wrote that "Clinton erred by not using the new closeness (with Buenos Aires) to speak out more forcefully on behalf of Argentina's beleaguered journalists. More than 800 of them have been threatened or physically attacked during (Carlos) Menem's presidency. In one notorious case this year, a new photographer was brutally murdered while covering the story of a business tycoon with friends in high political places." The paper continued: "Clinton should have said that Argentina's new democracy cannot be secure so long as those responsible for informing the public run such risks. Even Clinton's tepid proposal for new protections under the human rights authority of the Organization of American States met an indifferent response. That fits a regrettable (Menem) pattern....If Menem wants a lasting friendship with the United States, he must learn to live in peace with a free press."

NEW YORK TIMES: Obsession with China is not healthy or smart

Also correspondent Barbara Crossette said yesterday that "listening to President Clinton's speeches in Latin America last week, audiences might have concluded that Washington's economic hopes and preoccupations lay to the South. But wait a week," she wrote in her analysis. "Next Sunday, Chinese President Jiang Zemin arrives in the United States for an official visit. And chances are that visions of a vast Chinese market with a bottomless appetite for consumer goods --or of a repressive and militaristic China-- will relegate every other place to the sidelines again ....Television sets and newspaper columns, seminar rooms and breakfast talk-fests are already resounding with opinions about a nation that seems, for good or evil, to loom over the next century like no other country in the world." Crossette went on: "But some economists --as well as politicians and foreign-policy experts-- think this obsession with China is not healthy or smart, not for foreign policy or even for trade and investment, especially when other areas of the world are also enjoying robust economic growth."

WASHINGTON POST: Both democracy and human rights are relative concepts and not absolute and general

In an interview with Steven Mufson and Robert Kaiser, President Jiang says that he hopes to raise Chinese-American relations "to a new level." The two journalists report that "Jiang urged Americans to tolerate China's political system and seek 'common ground despite differences.' He also said that China and the U.S. 'share the responsibility for preserving world peace and stability.'" Their account of the interview continues: "But nine days before his visit to the U.S. --one of his biggest tests as China's leader-- Jiang strayed little from the rhetorical formulations of the past, reasserting China's sovereignty over Tibet and Taiwan, and declaring that China must limit the scope of direct democratic participation in order to ensure stability and economic progress. 'The theory of relativity worked out by (scientist Albert) Einstein...I believe can also be applied to the political field,' Jiang said. 'Both democracy and human rights are relative concepts and not absolute and general.'"

LOS ANGELES TIMES: The U.S. no longer commands the unquestioned loyalty of the Arab countries it is protecting

In an analysis from Cairo yesterday correspondent John Daniszewski asked: "Is there a danger that the U.S., the dominant military power in the Persian Gulf, could be drawn into a conflict between the two neighboring powers (Iran and Iraq), historic enemies of each other and deeply hostile to the United States?" He answered: "That seemed to be the omen last week when the U.S. aircraft carrier Nimitz was rushed to the Persian Gulf as a reminder to Iran and Iraq that the United States would brook no more violations of (the United Nations-imposed) no-fly zone in Iraq south of the 33rd parallel." The analysis continued: "The incident recalled how only a decade ago, the United States was deeply enmeshed in Iran-Iraq hostilities, when the U.S. Navy was called upon to escort neutral ships through the gulf to ensure the free flow of oil to the world...And the incident has thrown a spotlight on the risks and dangers inherent in the seemingly open-ended U.S. commitment to serve as the Gulf's policeman."

Daniszewski believes that much has changed in the Middle East in the past 10 years. He wrote: 'The U.S. no longer commands the unquestioned loyalty of the Arab countries it is protecting. After the (no-fly zone ) incident earlier this month, some Arab commentators argued that the United States had manufactured the tensions for its own reasons: to keep its Arab partners in line, help boost U.S. arms sales and drum up support for further sanctions or even military action against Iraq and/or Iran." He explained: On the one hand, Arab public opinion has turned critical of the painful sanctions hurting the Iraqi people. On the other, Arab states increasingly are warming toward Iran, which has been working hard to repair relations partly so that the U.S. presence in the region will no longer be deemed necessary."

NEW YORK TIMES: The new tone on both sides appears closer to the nuanced reality

Roger Cohen today analyzes what he perceives as a new moderate tone in the traditionally abrasive U.S.-French relationship. He cites recent public remarks by the new U.S. Ambassador to Paris, European-born and French-educated Felix Rohatyn: "We have no monopoly on ideas," Rohatyn said. "We do not believe that what works for us is automatically the best approach for anyone else....There is no such thing as the American economic model." Cohen compares the Ambassador's tone to remarks made the day after Rohatyn's by French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine, "remarks even more surprising (than the Ambassador's). With disarming frankness, Vedrine declared: 'We are a country that has trouble facing up to the reality of the world.'....What was needed instead was a new realism, he said. And realism led France inexorably to the fact that there was one superpower: the United States. (Vedrine concluded:) 'France is not at the center of the world. But that is not a reason to despair. Let us try to have relations with the United States that are normal, calm, dispassionate and useful."

Cohen draws some conclusions from Rohatyn and Vedrine's moderation: The "new tone on both sides appears closer to the nuanced reality behind the (old mutual) caricatures. For it is not in fact so much the United States that is forcing France to reconsider its welfare state, but the pressures of a European integration of which France is a chief architect." Also, says Cohen, even though French Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin recently scorned what he saw as the U.S.' attempt to legislate to the world, "Jospin is as pragmatic as his foreign minister. He knows that without ideals and enemies, the French cannot function, and that a small dose of anti-Americanism is a useful camouflage for the changes that are inexorably bringing French society close to the American." Cohen concludes: "Rohatyn --and the Clinton Administration-- now seem equally aware of the need for camouflage: By questioning U.S. economic failings, and implicitly flattering the French, they may actually encourage (French) change faster than through confrontation."