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Western Press Review: Assessing Candidate Bush; Russia; Serbia

  • Joel Blocker

Prague, 3 August 2000 (RFE/RL) -- As Republican Party presidential nominee George W. Bush prepares to deliver his key acceptance speech tonight (0400, Aug 4, Prague time), much of Western press commentary continues to assess his candidacy. There are also comments today on Russia and Serbia.


Britain's Daily Telegraph examines "the world of George W. Bush" and finds it not likely, in its words, "that the next American administration will be in any way 'isolationist.'" The paper's editorial says: "The [Republican Party platform's] foreign policy section was supervised by [noted internationalists who do not] believe that the purity of the republic is assured by staying out of entangling alliances."

"The platform is militantly pro-free trade," the editorial says. "[It] supports the spread of democracy in Latin America, backs the Iraqi National Congress -- the most impressive of opposition groups to Saddam Hussein -- has a Middle East policy [that includes] the moral and legal obligation to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and seeks the arrest and trial of [Yugoslav President] Slobodan Milosevic. [Some] in Europe," the paper concludes, "may question the judiciousness of some -- or even all of these moves -- but they are certainly not a sign of Republican [Party] America turning its back on the world."


But Los Angeles Times foreign-policy analyst Jim Mann says that "Europe views Bush with some trepidation." Writing from Berlin, Mann argues that some West European officials worry that a Bush victory in the November election would, in the commentator's words, "return America's relations with the rest of the world to the path blazed during his father's presidency [1989 to 1993]."

However, he adds, "the problem with [this] is that America's allies, like the Germans, do not entirely agree." He says, "few people accept the suggestion that a new Bush administration could or should bring American foreign policy back to the glory days [of his father's 1991 Gulf War coalition that expelled the Iraqis from Kuwait]."

Mann allows that "Germans speak with considerable admiration of the stellar foreign-policy team George W. Bush has assembled. Some worry that Vice President [Al] Gore [Bush's likely Democratic Party] opponent has not managed to put together anything comparable. At the same time," he says, "Germans say they have been worried for several years now by the Republican Congress' penchant for assertions of unilateral American power. [And] many fret that, if the Republicans take the White House again, they might accelerate this trend toward American unilateralism."

Mann sums up: "It's clear in Berlin that the Europeans, despite their admiration for the last Bush administration, see the idea of Bush the Second as an uncertain blessing."


The Washington Post also finds Bush's foreign policy team impressive. In an editorial, it writes: "George W. Bush has surrounded himself with responsible internationalists, who feature prominently at this week's convention. On Monday night [former U.S. military chief of staff] Colin Powell, a likely secretary of state in a Bush administration, delivered a big speech. Tuesday featured Condoleezza Rice, a probable national security adviser. Wednesday [brought] Dick Cheney, Mr. Bush's running mate and a former defense secretary. " Mr. Bush," the paper acknowledges, "has not merely recognized foreign policy's importance. He has resisted the temptation to make campaign promises that might come back to haunt him."

The editorial, however, goes on to say that "avoiding errors [is] not the same as putting forward a convincing strategy." It notes that the Republican platform declares that the "arrogance, inconsistency and unreliability of the [current Democratic] administration's diplomacy have undermined American alliances, alienated friends and emboldened our adversaries." But the Post then comments: "The administration has at times harmed U.S. interests by making threats that it was unprepared to back up and with other fecklessness, but arrogance has emanated mainly from congressional Republicans, who think nothing of refusing to pay the country's debts to the United Nations or of nixing international efforts like the Kyoto climate treaty."

The paper worries about the Republicans' lack of concern for what it calls "soft" foreign-policy issues. It asks: "Is Mr. Bush really indifferent to the prospect that India, China and Russia may soon have rates of HIV infection approaching Africa's? Does he have a plan to combat global warming? Would he promote democracy?" It concludes: "The new Republican commitment to internationalism and U.S. leadership abroad is a welcome departure from the narrow-minded carping of the party's congressional leaders, but it is only a first step."


A commentary in Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung by Marc Hujer assesses nominee Bush's economic ideas -- and financial support. It says that none of Bush's economic notions "can be described as being hostile to business and industry -- least of all his social-reform proposals -- which probably explains why Big Business has been digging so deep into its corporate pockets for campaign contributions."

Writing from Washington, Hujer continues: "Major corporations have been backing the Texas governor and son of former president George Bush with nearly unprecedented largesse. Bush's political war-chest," the commentator says, "is bulging with $93 million, most of it from investment banks, law firms and the real-estate industry, followed by the health and oil industries. All have donated well over $1 million each to Bush's campaign fund -- and Bush's campaign platform has plans that address almost all of their special interests."

Hujer offers as his chief example Bush's planned Social Security reform, which, he says, pleases many U.S. businessmen. "Bush," he says, "has promised to funnel a sixth of new Social Security contributions into private investment funds or insurance companies. That means," Hujer argues, "that those companies would enjoy $80 billion worth of new, government-guaranteed and taxpayer-funded business every year. With those dollar-signs twinkling in their corporate eyes," he sums up, "no wonder the investment banks led Bush's donor parade with $5.9 million worth of campaign donations."


Britain's Financial Times carries an editorial today titled "Power in Russia," which focuses both on President Vladimir Putin and on the country's huge electrical company, known as UES. The paper writes: "If [Mr.] Putin is serious about attracting foreign capital to Russia, he must ensure adequate protection for shareholders' rights. And he should begin at UES, the giant electricity utility, which is one of the few Russian stocks to have won a significant following among portfolio investors."

The editorial notes that "minority shareholders in UES have protested to the Kremlin about restructuring plans put forward by Anatoly Chubais, the company's ambitious chief executive." It says that "the shareholders fear assets could be sold at low prices to reward Mr. Chubais' political allies. To protect their interests, [they] have asked the Kremlin, which owns 53 percent of UES, to support resolutions which would require Mr. Chubais to win two-thirds of support for his proposals."

The editorial argues that, "in comparison with the public battles Mr. Putin has started with Russia's business oligarchs -- such as Boris Berezovsky -- the fight at UES may seem tame. But it is important," it says. "UES is one of Russia's biggest companies, supplying services to every corner of the country. Ensuring that it is run in a transparent way would serve as a powerful example to others."

The Financial Times editorial sums up: "Mr. Putin has publicly pledged to promote fair and open markets and to limit the political influence of business moguls. But his actions so far are hard to read. His attacks on oligarchs could be the start of a campaign for greater transparency or they could be an arbitrary settling of scores. It is too early to say. But," it concludes, "clear support for UES's minority shareholders would be a strong sign that Mr. Putin is seriously interested in creating a level playing field in business."


In Denmark, the Politiken daily writes of what it calls the Serbian opposition's "dilemma" in the face of early presidential elections called last week by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. "If," it says, "the opposition participates in the presidential election, it will indirectly sanction Milosevic's authoritarianism and abuse of power. If it boycotts it, it will serve the leadership to Milosevic on a silver platter."

The editorial goes on: "The opposition coalition had promised to come up with a presidential candidate of its own, but has so far failed to do so. That's primarily because Vuk Draskovic, one of its leaders, will not put forward anyone but himself. Being the largest opposition party, Draskovic's organization will be impossible to ignore if Milosevic is to be replaced."

The paper then argues: "The West must unequivocally encourage the Serbian opposition and the Montenegrins to oppose Milosevic at the election even though he has not given them a fair chance to conduct an election campaign. The Serbian opposition will not be able to remove Milosevic on its own," it continues. "But it does stand a chance in cooperation with both the Montenegrins and the West. For its part," the paper concludes, "the West must accept the consequences of its policy of isolating Yugoslavia, which," it says, "has in fact strengthened rather than weakened Milosevic."

(Anthony Georgieff in Copenhagen contributed to this report.)