Accessibility links

Western Press Review: The First 100 Days Of George W. Bush

  • Daisy Sindelar

Prague, 30 April 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Most commentators in today's Western press begin their review of U.S. President George W. Bush's first 100 days in office by criticizing the 100-day yardstick itself. The tradition, founded by Franklin Delano Roosevelt (U.S. president, 1932-44) -- who in a single 100-day period persuaded an emergency session of Congress to approve 16 major pieces of legislation -- is criticized by commentators as "impossible" and based only on the "particular logic that God gave us 10 fingers." Nonetheless, analysts weigh in with a wide range of appraisals of Bush's performance to date. Other comments look at NATO expansion and the possible U.S. withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty.


New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd writes of Bush's first 100 days: "It has been a strange start. Men customarily build their presidencies around their strengths. He has built his around his weaknesses. [His] advisers tried to make him look more impressive in his first forays into diplomacy by keeping the big world leaders at bay and letting him hang out with lesser leaders he could talk to in Spanish. So now [the U.S. has] a whole new alliance with Central and South American countries simply because [Bush] feels more comfortable at what [the newspaper] USA Today dubbed 'amigo diplomacy.'"

Dowd adds: "The ill-prepared president doesn't seem troubled by the state of his preparedness. There is no indication that he stays up late to make up the work. He isn't even aspiring to on-the-job training. The White House simply pretends that thoughtlessness is thoughtfulness, and that the president is governing when he is gaffe-ing. [And] he, [like his father], is surrounded by wealthy older men. And they have given his economic and environmental policies a strong corporate aroma."


An editorial in Britain's Times daily says Bush is to be commended for restoring "order and restraint" to the Oval Office. The paper says: "The most striking aspect of the Bush presidency thus far has been its managerial competence. [Bush] has surrounded himself with experienced figures and not the youthful enthusiasts who often attach themselves to election campaigns. He has chosen, wisely, to pursue a limited and therefore achievable agenda. [The] Bush Oval Office has the smack of a successful corporation."

The editorial continues: "[Bush] is also a president who is demonstrating a deep respect for the dignity of the post which he occupies. [Former U.S. President Bill] Clinton was a hyperactive individual who craved public attention to the extent that his presidency became an international soap opera. Mr. Bush has deliberately adopted a different style -- one which has restored restraint to the presidency. He has carefully rationed his appearances before the press and his fellow citizens. He has not aspired to monopolize the headlines or to devise an initiative to meet every event. He is plainly demanding high ethical standards from his subordinates." The paper concludes: "At a minimum, Mr. Bush has proved that it is possible for a president elected with fewer popular votes than his opponent, and whose party holds Congress by tiny margins, to be effective."


In a commentary published in today's Wall Street Journal Europe, the paper's editor, Robert Bartley, says: "Much has already been written about George W. Bush's 100 days, perhaps because it started with a disputed election. Despite that handicap, he's clearly off to a strong start, acting as a full president."

Bartley goes on to say that Bush's success as a conservative president may perhaps be best measured by considering the losses on the liberal side: "If only by the smallest of margins, Republicans control the presidency, both houses of Congress and the Supreme Court. [It's] far from clear that the Democrats are any longer a natural majority. Their presidential candidate could not win on the wave of an economic boom. An article [in the liberal American Prospect magazine] remarks that a majority of white, working-class men voted Republican.

He adds: "The Democratic minority can't do open battle against the Bush program -- it can only drag procedural heels. [In] most Cabinet departments the secretary sits alone, the second-level presidential appointees have not been confirmed. [Democrats now] are deliberately delaying strong appointees they are afraid to confront on their merits. [At] the first-100-day mark," he concludes, "the [political] left seems to be headed [deeper] into the wilderness."


Columnist Jim Hoagland writes in the Washington Post: "It has not been 100 days of soothing diplomacy or of smooth sailing. [But the Bush Administrations has] in 100 days firmly established [its] agenda for change as the focal point of world affairs. Like it or not, that is no small accomplishment."

Hoagland cites as major policy moves Bush's intention to withdraw the U.S. in six months from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and his "hard-edged" treatment of China over U.S. arms sales to Taiwan. He writes: "A well-balanced effort to redefine global strategic stability beyond the 1972 [ABM] treaty should be welcomed. [But] ABM withdrawal will add fuel to the argument abroad and at home over whether Mr. Bush's tough-mindedness could shade into hot-headedness or impulsiveness."

The commentator adds: "[Bush's] ringing declaration in a television interview of his willingness to do 'whatever it took' to defend Taiwan reversed years of U.S. official silence on that point. White House aides rushed to restore some ambiguity by saying that no change in policy was intended. So we cannot be sure exactly what Mr. Bush intended. But the ambiguity on Taiwan is now tilted in the direction of an active U.S. defense. China will have to live with and react to the confusion that Mr. Bush has created through words, rather than to the uncertainty that the silence of his predecessors was intended to produce. This is hardly a net loss for Washington."


A commentary in today's International Herald Tribune says the conclusion of Bush's nuclear-policy review, which will be detailed in a presidential statement tomorrow, will lend much-needed clarity to the U.S. stance on the ABM treaty. Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay of the Brookings Institution think-tank write: "The [Bush] administration has good reason to try to modify or even replace the ABM treaty. A limited national missile defense targeted against rogue states makes sense if it can be made to work. [But] a unilateral withdrawal would be a foreign policy disaster. Russia would respond by abandoning its commitment under the START-2 treaty to slash its nuclear forces and by suspending bilateral programs designed to secure and destroy its aging arsenal."

Moreover, the commentators say, for the United States' friends and allies, "unilateral withdrawal from the ABM treaty would be widely seen as definitive proof that the United States has become a rogue superpower that considers itself above the law. Alienating the allies in this fashion would complicate any efforts to build a missile defense."


An editorial in today's Washington Post says that the question of NATO's further expansion to the east will likely be high on Bush's agenda when he makes his first trip to Europe as president in six weeks' time. The paper writes: "Some worry that admission of the Baltic states will be too provocative to Russia. Others argue that Romania and Albania have not yet proved to be stable democracies. But," the paper adds, "such arguments risk becoming self-fulfilling prophecies. The Baltic states now are relatively free from Russian bullying, but if NATO decides to exclude them for fear of offending Moscow, President Vladimir Putin will surely conclude that he has been granted a license to restore suzerainty. And were Romania rejected by the West it would be more likely to take the road of its neighbor, Moldova, which has restored the Communist Party to power."

The editorial goes on: "Europe's uncertainty about the future of its relationship with the United States means that NATO expansion will never occur if the initiative is left to Europe. But if President George W. Bush makes NATO expansion a priority, it will surely move to the center of the trans-Atlantic relationship, offering a ready means to revitalize the alliance and ensure that democracy and American leadership define the future of Central and Eastern Europe."


An analysis in the Stratfor Commentary news forum sees future NATO expansion differently, saying: "Limited military benefit, substantial military liability and the associated cost of NATO membership make expansion into the Baltic region unlikely." It goes on: "Geographically, adding the Baltic states creates a vulnerable salient. Defending and reinforcing the region is difficult, because of the region's broad front, limited depth and restricted lines of communication. In the event of war, the Baltic states would need to be reinforced, as Russian forces would neutralize the Baltic states in their move to protect Kaliningrad and its port facilities. NATO would need to move reinforcements overland, because Kaliningrad would make air and sea re-supply difficult. The road networks, developed over years of Soviet rule, favor Moscow."

Stratfor Commentary adds: "[Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania] may view NATO membership much like membership in a gentleman's club. NATO membership, however, comes with a high price. [Although] Europe is helping the region with the transformation [to EU membership], the additional burden of NATO membership will place an additional strain on their economies."


Finally, Adrian Karatnycky, president of the pro-democracy monitoring group Freedom House, looks at last week's no-confidence vote and ouster of Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko. In a comment for the Wall Street Journal Europe, Karatnycky writes: "The removal of Yushchenko was not dictated by economic failure. A former head of the Central Bank, Mr. Yushchenko was the first effective head of government in the 10-year history of Ukrainian independence." He continues: "Though [Ukrainian President Leonid] Kuchma resented Mr. Yushchenko's popularity and mistrusted the prime minister's incorruptibility, it is unlikely the president orchestrated his removal, which further strains [Ukraine's] already poor relations with the European Union, the U.S. and the international financial institutions."

Karatnycky adds that, ironically, the chance for reform in Ukraine is improved by Yushchenko's ouster: "As prime minister, Mr. Yushchenko was careful not to engage in political infighting and was exceedingly careful not to link up with anti-Kuchma reformists. Now, freed from the political albatross of cooperation with the president, Mr. Yushchenko can use his popularity to forge a broad-based movement linking reformist parties with growing civic movements."