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Western Press Review: Bush's First Cabinet-Level Appointments

  • Jolyon Naegele

Prague, 18 December 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Press commentators on both sides of the Atlantic focus their attention on U.S. President-elect George W. Bush's appointments over the weekend of Colin Powell as secretary of state and Condoleezza Rice as national security adviser. WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:

Jacob Heilbrunn, commenting in the Wold Street Journal, writes: "With Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice slated to become secretary of state and national security adviser respectively, Mr. Bush effectively immunized himself against charges of inexperience during the campaign. As he prepares to assume the presidency, however, there are grounds for concern.

The need for unanimity during the campaign masked the divide, but the suppressed splits between realists and neo-conservatives are now emerging. If Mr. Bush relies exclusively on his father's old team to staff his administration, he risks ignoring a more important presidential legacy -- Ronald Reagan's."

The Wall Street Journal Europe continues: "Already the Bush team is making overtures to Russia about carrying out deep cuts in nuclear arsenals and, at the same time, making it clear that the new administration will move ahead with missile defense. Attempts to get Europe to contribute more to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and warnings against setting up a separate European defense force are also sound. By all accounts, Mr. Bush himself has been diligently working on national security issues.

Mr. Bush should listen to Reaganite advisers such as Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle as well. Mr. Wolfowitz has always been skeptical of engagement with China, and has been a staunch proponent of defending Taiwan. He has argued for bombing the Serbs and wants to step up military pressure against Saddam, including aiding the Iraqi opposition. But don't count on it." The Wall Street Journal Europe concludes, "The word is that Mr. Wolfowitz may be shunted aside to director of the Central Intelligence Agency rather than be offered a major cabinet post like Defense." NEW YORK TIMES:

Jane Perlez, analyzing Powell in the New York Times, asks rhetorically: "Is Gen. Colin Powell planning to tear up eight years of foreign policy and head off in a distinctly new direction? Or is he adjusting the course just slightly, with a few tweaks here and there, adding the luster of new management and a greater ring of authority?"

She writes: "In his opening gambit, General Powell, the secretary of state-designate, gave a sense both of continuity and a break with the Clinton administration. There were two parts to General Powell's re-entry to the public stage:"

"First," Perlez continues, "General Powell gave what appeared to be prepared remarks that dwelled on the benefits of the blaze of democracy and free-market economies around the world since the end of the cold war. In tones not unlike those of President Clinton and his national security team, General Powell struck an unrelentingly optimistic note. Sounding like a convert to globalization, he stressed that unimaginable 'opportunities' awaited the United States because of the triumph of democracy."

But in the second portion of his presentation, the New York Times notes, "General Powell gave a vision quite distinct from that of the Clinton administration on specific issues that have the potential to blow up into crises. Most strikingly, General Powell said the new Bush administration would forge ahead with a national missile-defense program, stating the pledge so forcefully that he made it sound as though a cut in offensive weapons and the building of a defensive system was a given. 'We're going to go forward,' he said, plainly.

He did not hide behind words like 'assessment' or 'review,' saying rather that time would be spent discussing the plans with allies and those countries that 'don't yet understand our thinking with respect to national missile defense.'"

The New York Times notes Powell said it was time that the world understood it was possible to "move in the direction where we can take away the currency associated with strategic offensive weapons and the blackmail that is inherent in some regime having that kind of a weapon and thinking they can hold us hostage."


Across the Atlantic, Adrian Zielcke writing in the Stuttgarter Zeitung comments: "apparently Bush does not need any gray mice, any faceless politicians, around him to look big. The new Secretary of State Colin Powell is a real American hero, just as the designated president says. In contrast to his predecessor Madeleine Albright, he is not marked by the Second World War, but rather by the American defeat in Vietnam and by the Gulf War which he won. A cautious, sober, dispassionate pragmatist instead of Albright, who has constantly banked everything on morals. Powell also stands for the U.S. never withdrawing but rather remaining present worldwide."

The Stuttgarter Zeitung continues: "Bush came up with another professional who is above all criticism. Condoleezza Rice is a proven expert on Russia and disarmament. She advised George W. Bush's father when he negotiated German reunification with Gorbachev. The appointment of the two foreign policy specialists is not only supposed to make an impression abroad but also in the U.S. This is the first time there is a black National Security adviser, the first time an Afro-American is U.S. Secretary of State. Blacks generally vote for the Democrats. But Powell has already called on his fellow Republicans to open themselves up to minorities. Bush is on the right path."

LE FIGARO: In France, the conservative daily Le Figaro praises Bush's appointments: "With the allocation of foreign policy to Gulf War general Colin Powell and the appointment of Condoleezza Rica, a renowned expert on Russia, George Bush has issued a significant message that should be understood as a program. At the diplomatic level, [the appointments] mean there will be no big changes. The continuity that was already visible as Bush senior handed over his post to the Democrats, will now be confirmed. But paradoxically, these appointments are particularly important in view of domestic politics." Le Figaro concludes: "The two blacks, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, show that personal talent can overcome racial discrimination, that though banned nevertheless continues to be all-present."


And the regional Orleans-based daily La nouvelle Republique de Centre-Ouest comments: "The loudly heralded appointments of two Afro-Americans as foreign policy chief and national security adviser is a sign of internal harmony. Governor Bush is apparently a man of the center. He has cleverly understood in his conservative Texan sphere of influence the need to show more openness. At any rate it will not be easy to continue pushing this conciliatory line in view of the mentality of the hard-line wing of the Republican party."

Also highlighted in today's European press is the ongoing attempt to resurrect the Middle East Peace process.


A commentary in the German Sueddeutsche Zeitung sets the tone: "He [Clinton] doesn't give up. With the persistence of an oriental bazaar trader, Bill Clinton invites the Israelis and Palestinians into his shop: 'Just take a look at the wonderful things I have to offer. You'll be satisfied.' He's been trying to lure them in for a whole year. Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat wrinkle their noses -- apparently both are too busy and have little time to spare. 'But looking won't cost you anything' - and so the Israeli Prime Minister and the Palestinian President are letting themselves be invited yet again by Clinton." But, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung concludes, "it is questionable whether they are going to find anything in this shop that is more to their taste than the same old goods on display." CORRIERE DELLA SERA:

The Milan daily Corriere della Sera is more optimistic: "The Israelis and Palestinians appear to be serious. Their two delegations are to begin their first contacts with the American mediators in the next few days. This is the first step in the direction of a summit meeting between Barak and Arafat. And once again, it is the White House, that is giving the decisive impulse for the dialogue, in which it is preparing a new negotiations package, a so-called 'Clinton document' or else a 'Camp David plus.' Barak, who has bound his own political survival to the negotiations, is keeping open a direct communications channel with the old [Clinton] U.S. administration, but at the same time," Corriere della Sera concludes, he has also opened a channel with the next administration." LA VANGUARDIA:

In Spain, the Barcelona daily la Vanguardia see pragmatism at the heart of the renewed diplomatic initiative: "Neither Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Barak nor Palestinian President Yasser Arafat has much to lose. An accord with the Palestinians could improve [Barak's] election chances. Arafat must assume that every accord with Israel will run up against criticism in his own camp. But he also knows that the wave of violence is not bringing anyone forward.

Major progress in the peace process has always been achieved over the last 25 years when in the U.S. a Democrat was residing in the White House. The Republicans appear to ascribe the Middle East less significance." Nevertheless, la Vanguardia concludes, "one should not place too much hope in the new talks."