Accessibility links

Western Press Review: Commentators Take Long-Range View

  • Don Hill

Prague, 24 October 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Western commentators -- as though by negotiated consensus -- back away from specific world events today to seek a longer-range perspective.


Foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman, writing in The New York Times, reminds readers that the travails of the Middle East, which have dominated recent news, do not represent the entire world's situation. Friedman says this: "It is useful to remember that the very same week that 10.3 million Palestinians and Israelis fell back into conflict, America agreed to terms for 1.3 billion Chinese to enter the World Trade Organization, Slobodan Milosevic was ousted from power in Belgrade, President Clinton completed plans to visit Vietnam, the Number Two leader in North Korea came to the [U.S. president's] Oval Office and asked the president for 'normal relations,' and Jordan became the fourth country to reach a free-trade agreement with [the United States].

Friedman continues: "There is a dominant flow in the world today, and it is toward more integration, networking and the global economy. And there is a powerful undertow constantly pulling people back to struggles over who owns which olive tree -- wars over identity, culture, religion and politics. Both are happening at once," the commentary concludes, "and you need to keep both in perspective."


In the Frankfurter Rundschau, commentator Harald Maass considers the ramifications of yesterday's inconclusive EU-China summit. Writing from Beijing, Maass says: "Monday saw China announce its intention to adopt the terms of one of two United Nations human rights conventions before the year is out." He warns, however, that a Chinese promise does not necessarily translate into a Chinese action: "The authorities in Beijing signed two UN conventions on human rights in 1997 and 1999, respectively, but have indeed been hesitant to incorporate the terms of the agreements into Chinese law."

"Despite this week's assurances," Maass adds, "diplomats believe it may well be several years before the regime ratifies the second and politically more significant of the two conventions -- that dealing with political and civil rights. They likewise doubt if the ratification of the two conventions will lead to advances in human rights in China in the short term."

Both Britain's Guardian newspaper and the Washington Post carry comments that consider the impact on Europe of U.S. politics, specifically the presidential campaigns of Republican nominee George W. Bush and Democratic nominee Al Gore.


Commentator Hugo Young says in the Guardian that a Bush presidency "offers alarming possibilities" for Britain and for Prime Minister Tony Blair. Young writes: "It is now clear that Bush and his people regard 21st century Europe very differently from the view that prevailed in Washington in the second half of the 20th. They positively desire a greater distancing, especially of the American army."

Young goes on: "When Bush began to hint at this a few months ago, most of the foreign policy establishment here put it down to campaign talk. The protection of our boys from crazy foreign adventures made useful headlines. Actually we now know Bush has every intention of withdrawing American troops from the Balkans, as part of a philosophy which is working towards an end to interventionism anywhere on any grounds other than U.S. strategic interest."


In an editorial, the Washington Post says that the Bush campaign's expressed desire for what an aide called "a new division of labor" within NATO more likely would portend, in the editorial's words, "a division of NATO itself -- to the end of the alliance." The newspaper says that another way of putting it would be this: "You Europeans take all the risks while we hover safely above the fray."

The editorial continues: "No allies would long accept such a deal, nor should they be expected to. The proposal is particularly misguided given that European allies already are bearing the brunt of peacekeeping duties in the Balkans."

The paper adds: "For the United States, this is a win-win situation. Its policy is implemented, but the burden of implementation is widely shared. Under the proposal [by Bush national security advisor Condoleezza Rice], which was endorsed officially by Bush campaign headquarters, the United States would lose its ability to steer policy, risk the world's most successful alliance and very likely inherit a far larger burden once the Balkans erupted again."


In The New York Times, author Peter Maass describes how Yugoslavia's long-standing paranoia under the regime of Slobodan Milosevic has now transformed itself into paranoia about Milosevic. He says a student in Belgrade recently recounted to him a popular conspiracy theory: that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency -- or CIA -- had planted Milosevic in Yugoslavia in order to destroy Serbia. Maass reports that not only did the student believe the theory, but that many Serbs have been conditioned to believe such things. He comments: "[They] continue to possess a view of political reality that is imaginative in disturbing ways."

The writer says: "For 13 years under Mr. Milosevic's rule, Serbs were bombarded with massive doses of propaganda that portrayed Serbia as the innocent victim of an international conspiracy. There was always someone else to blame for their problems or their crimes -- and as the law student reminded me, many Serbs have even found someone to blame for Mr. Milosevic himself. Serbs are showing little interest these days in accepting guilt for the crimes in the Balkans in the 1990's."

They have good reason for their disinterest, Maass says. He writes: "A war-crimes trial [of Milosevic for Serb atrocities in Kosovo and, earlier, in Bosnia and Croatia] would implicate not just Mr. Milosevic or the front-line soldiers who served [in those places] but the ordinary people in Serbia who supported the wars. For now, most Serbs prefer to continue to believe, as Mr. Milosevic's broadcasts told them day after day, that their wars were defensive and that most atrocities were committed by the other sides."


In the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Wolfgang Koydl writes from Istanbul that Turkey and Greece, after a period of apparent rapprochement, are once again at a hostile standoff. The reason, he argues, is that the Turkish military has had enough of sweetness and light.

Koydl says: "Relations between Turkey and Greece have soured to an irreconcilable extent and are now dominated by all too familiar saber-rattling and teeth-baring. The cause of the relapse is likewise no surprise. The Turkish military hierarchy decided that the carry-on between the two sets of politicians, captains of industry and their peoples had gone far enough."

He writes further that the Turks used a joint NATO exercise in the Aegean Sea to offend the Greeks. The exercise had just begun when a Turkish officer forbade Greek fighter jets entry into Turkish airspace. Greece promptly quit the maneuvers. Koydl comments that the lesson to be learned is to beware of Turk words until you can assess their actions: "As regrettable as the present crisis may seem, there is a positive, informative aspect to the affair. When dealing with Turkey, it is imperative to distinguish between words and deeds. The former are the convenient but worthless currency of the country's politicians -- it is the generals who are left to act."


Commentator Andre Naef sees broad implications in a sudden surge of international traffic into North Korea. He notes in Switzerland's French-language daily La Tribune de Geneve that the latest guest in Pyongyang was the U.S. secretary of state, Madeleine Albright. Naef writes: "Everybody wants to pay a visit to the 'Hermit Kingdom' and North Korean leaders spend most of their time unrolling the red carpet for foreign guests. The last one: Madeleine Albright, who yesterday overwhelmed the 'Dear Leader' Kim Jong-li with amiability."

The writer continues: "All this diplomatic commotion is of course not unselfish and clearly owes more to concrete considerations of realpolitik than to any sudden humanization of the Dear Leader. One consequence," Naef says, "is that the Chinese and the Russians suddenly are making efforts to keep -- or to regain -- the privileged relationship they had toward the last Stalinist regime on the planet."

(RFE/RL's Aurora Gallego assisted in compiling this review.)