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Western Press Review: Views Of Bush; Putin; Iraq; Caucasus

  • Joel Blocker

Prague, 4 August 2000 (RFE/RL) -- With the U.S. Republican Party convention now concluded, Western press commentators are summarizing their views of Texas Governor George W. Bush's nomination for president and of the party's platform. There are comments as well on Russian President Vladimir Putin, the United Nations' sanctions against Iraq, and U.S. policy toward Azerbaijan and Georgia.


The U.S. daily Christian Science Monitor writes of "the Bush bounce" at the convention in the eastern city of Philadelphia. It says in an editorial: "The delegates -- and those relatively few Americans who tuned in [on television] this week -- leave Philadelphia with a much stronger impression of the man from Texas who would be president, but perhaps a less than concrete idea of what he would do if elected. The Republican convention," it finds, was "a superbly staged event, [much] bigger on image and character than specific policy content. That was done on purpose [and] it could prove politically astute."

The paper goes on: "George W. Bush already had high marks in the polls for likability, and the convention only bounced those ratings higher. But there's a long way to go," it warns. "Bush and [vice-presidential candidate Dick] Cheney will be pressed to explain how they plan to boost military spending, sharply cut taxes, sustain federal investments in areas like education, and keep the economy humming, all at the same time."

"The spotlight now shifts to Los Angeles, [where the Democratic Party convention begins in 10 days]," the editorial adds. "So far, comments from the [camp of the likely Democratic presidential candidate, Al Gore] -- including, notably, [President Bill Clinton] -- have essentially been that the [Republican show was all theater]. Check the record, they say -- Cheney's [right-wing] congressional votes of 15 years ago and the sad state of the poor in Texas." The editorial concludes: "Such negativity won't be enough. The Democrats will have to come up with their own positive thrust."


New York Times foreign-affairs columnist Thomas Friedman analyzes how nominee Bush has managed to cover over his alleged ignorance of the details of foreign affairs. Friedman writes in a commentary: "Mr. Bush has overcome his global gap through two strategies. First, by cloaking himself in the A-team of Republican foreign policy wise men. Mr. Bush has [former defense secretary] Dick Cheney as his nanny, [former military chief of staff] Colin Powell riding shotgun [that is, protecting him] and [former national security adviser] Brent Scowcroft, [and former secretaries of state] George Shultz and Henry Kissinger all advising from the back seat."

Friedman goes on: "Mr. Bush has also deftly blunted Mr. Gore's attacks [on his foreign-policy views] by separating himself from the true isolationists among Congressional Republicans. There is a hard core of Republicans in Congress whose motto on foreign policy could be summed up as 'Stupid and proud of it' or 'Dumb as we wanna.' This is the crowd that favors everything from nonpayment of UN dues to further cuts in foreign aid to outright isolationism." "But," adds the commentator, "when Mr. Bush forcefully repudiated Republican Congressional efforts to fix a September 2001 deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Kosovo, it was the sort of adult, commander-in-chief-style move that nullifies Mr. Gore's charge that Mr. Bush's global gaps will be filled by 'the right-wing, partisan isolationism of the Republican Congressional leadership.'"


In a commentary for the British daily Guardian, Martin Woollacott says that "Clinton's foreign forays were dubious, [but] Bush would be worse." He writes: "Ten years ago, it was reasonable to look forward to a degree of nuclear disarmament sufficient to keep proliferation in check, to a resolution of Middle Eastern conflicts, to progress in Africa, to democratic evolution in Russia and, more broadly, to a consensus among the better-off and more powerful states that would make all international problems easier to deal with than they had been. No doubt these hopes underestimated the obdurate nature of these problems," he continues. "[But] there is no question that the efforts that were made, by the United States under President Clinton and by other countries, were very flawed."

Woollacott argues further: "It is in foreign policy that a [Bush administration] is most to be feared. [It] would not regard Clinton's failures abroad as a reason to try again but, in general, as a reason not to try at all." He adds: "Under the Republicans, the [United States] would be much less ready to engage, to take risks and to make sacrifices than it has been under Clinton -- and since it has been very imperfectly ready to do so under the Democrats, that is saying something." He concludes on a dire note: "The awful festival of humbug just concluded in Philadelphia bodes ill for America and the world."


The Danish daily Politiken writes: "That the Republican Party is more liberal than it was four years ago is a good reason to rejoice. Some of its members do subscribe to Christian fundamentalist ideas, many more call themselves moderate, but the extremist and bigoted attitudes that have dominated the outer reaches of the American right wing have become almost invisible."

Still, the paper's editorial says, "while Bush did a lot to promote his image as a 'conservative with a human face,' neither his own past nor his political platform suggest the expression is anything but a slogan. The Republican convention, which was primarily a public-relations exercise, failed to conceal the fact that George W. Bush continues to represent rich, self-contained, white Americans." WASHINGTON POST:

Turning to other comments today, the Washington Post writes of what it calls "Putin-ocracy in Russia." Its editorial says: "In the continuing struggle between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his country's big-business 'oligarchy,' Mr. Putin has announced a truce -- of sorts. [Putin,] who once pledged to 'eliminate the oligarchs as a class,' has, at least for now, achieved something potentially far more useful to him -- their domestication."

But the paper notes: "One big businessman remains conspicuously unable to fit into Mr. Putin's protean concept of the state's interests. Vladimir Gusinsky, who owns Russia's leading independent television channel, NTV -- as well as a newspaper and a popular radio station -- was not included in the Kremlin meeting [between Putin and 21 oligarchs last week]." Gusinsky's company, Media-MOST," it adds, now "finds itself under new pressure: Gazprom, the natural gas giant that is 38 percent state-owned and chaired by a close friend of Mr. Putin, is demanding that Media-MOST repay a debt by surrendering to Gazprom a controlling share in the company."

The paper says that "Mr. Gusinsky is seeking foreign investors to stave off Gazprom's grab. Just as urgently," it goes on, "the Putin government is trying to thwart him. And to this picture add mounting evidence of renewed domestic spying by the post-Soviet incarnation of Mr. Putin's old outfit, the KGB -- as well as Mr. Putin's assumption of powers once held by regional governors.

"[It appears that] all that's left," the editorial concludes, "is to come up with the right designation for the new state Mr. Putin is constructing. Is it a modern, corporatist version of the old patrimonial autocracy? A Russian remake of Chilean General Augusto Pinochet's authoritarian capitalism? Market-Leninism? One thing's clear: It's looking less and less like a liberal democracy."


The Irish Times today discusses the United Nations' continuing sanctions against Saddam Hussein's Iraq. The paper says that the 10 years since Saddam's invasion of Kuwait -- which led to his troops' expulsion in the Gulf War six months later -- "have been disastrous for the Iraqi people and their culture and for the country's socio-economic development. Much of that disaster must be laid at the door of Saddam Hussein and his oppressive regime," its editorial goes on. "Their attacks on the country's Kurdish and Shiah minorities and their ruthless dealings with opponents have continued unabated. Their failure to cooperate with UN arms inspections closed off opportunities to reopen international relations." In what the editorial calls a "paradox," it finds that "the regime's acceptability to the Iraqi population has been sustained by the effectiveness of the economic sanctions deployed against Iraq by the UN, led most determinedly by the U.S. and Britain. These are unprecedented in their impact on the civilian population and have resulted in shameful rates of child mortality and disintegration of the country's standards of living. A broken population," it says, "is unable to resist the regime and unwilling to do so when it can plead justifiably that a whole people is being targeted."

The paper sees "an opportunity in coming weeks and months for the UN to deploy a new arms inspection team and for the Iraqi leadership to respond constructively to it. That," it says, "would make the task of the increasing numbers of states which favor a relaxation of the sanctions to argue their case easier and more convincing. If the Iraqi people are to confront the regime," the editorial sums up, "they must be given the chance to do so through recovering their self-confidence by rebuilding their infrastructure and resources."


Finally, in a news analysis for the Wall Street Journal Europe, analyst Vladimir Socor accuses the U.S. State Department of having recently made a bad error by publicly accusing (in a report titled "Patterns of Global Terrorism," issued on July 11) Azerbaijan of being "a logistic hub for international mujaheddin with ties to terrorist groups -- some of whom supported the Chechen insurgency in Russian." That description, he says, "bears no relation to the facts, and indeed contradicts previous U.S. assertions. Even now," he adds, "it's a mystery how an official [U.S.] document ended up sounding like those Moscow mass media stories [about the Chechen conflict] inspired by Russia's army generals and intelligence chiefs."

"Until recently," Socor recalls, "the official U.S. response [to Moscow's allegations that Azerbaijan was aiding the Chechen separatists] was to treat them as pure propaganda. This year," he continues, "Moscow seemed to have all but forgotten about Azerbaijan, reserving its accusations of harboring terrorists -- still wholly unsubstantiated -- for Georgia." He goes on: "But the moment the U.S. report was issued, the old, discredited charges against Azerbaijan suddenly resurfaced in Moscow." Then, says Socor, "the governments in Baku and Tbilisi reacted indignantly, and the State Department moved to limit the damage its report has done."

Georgia, he says further, "still has reason for concern. Last week," he writes, "Russian troops reportedly destroyed a village on the Georgian side of their common border." The Moscow newspaper "Segodnya" reported on July 27 that Russian troops recently burned down the village of Pichnni "inadvertently" during combat practice. According to Socor, the daily reported: "The problem no longer exists because the village has disappeared."

(Anthony Georgieff in Copenhagen contributed to this report.)