Prague, 7 November 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Several Western media outlets today take a look at the significance of the 5 November midterm elections in the United States, in which the Republican Party of President George W. Bush gained a majority in both legislative houses. Other issues addressed today include the U.S.-backed resolution on Iraq, now under review by the United Nations Security Council, as well as Western disengagement in Kosovo and a potential AIDS explosion in Eurasia. THE WASHINGTON POST:
Glenn Frankel writes in "The Washington Post" that this week's elections in the United States have generated mixed reactions in capitals around the world. Now that the Republican Party of President George W. Bush holds a majority in both legislative houses, some fear there will be fewer checks on his administration's plans for war against Iraq and its policy on Israel and the Mideast. Frankel cites an aide to German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder as expressing concern that the U.S. election results will reaffirm American positions that many in Europe oppose, and infuse the administration with greater determination.
But Frankel writes that other European officials view the election as "a purely internal American affair, with little relevance to foreign affairs in general and Iraq specifically." They expect President Bush to pursue his own policies in Iraq, regardless of the election results. British Prime Minister Tony Blair's government has expressed the view that the Republican victory did not mean war in Iraq was inevitable.
But "others were less sanguine," Frankel writes. He says several of Europe's politicians and business officials expressed concern that Bush's newly unfettered administration would now be even less accommodating toward European opinion or sensibilities.
Britain's daily "The Independent" expresses concern over the election victories of Republicans in the U.S., saying there is "no cause for wider celebration. Suddenly all sorts of measures that could have been blocked in Congress can be pursued by the White House. As well as his tax cuts for the wealthy, [U.S. President] Bush can hope to see his conservative slate of judges for the Supreme Court approved and legislation to allow drilling for oil in Alaska's wildlife refuge. He might try to relax business regulation, although in the light of Enron and other scandals that remains problematic. And his so-called Homeland Security program will continue to assault the civil liberties of American citizens."
But the paper says, "Most dangerous of all [is] what these elections mean for Mr. Bush's foreign policy." Although few opposition Democrats would oppose the president at a time of war, their resounding defeat at the polls "will undoubtedly embolden Mr. Bush as he pushes the United Nations towards backing his plans for a war on Iraq." "The Independent" says the "incalculable damage that such a conflict would do to peace throughout the world [represents] the true scale, and the real price," of the Democratic Party's "failure."
The U.S. midterm elections also spurred strong reactions in the German press. Uwe Schmitt in "Die Welt" is not alone in viewing the election results as, above all, a great triumph for President George W. Bush. Only two years ago, Bush lost the 2002 presidential election by half a million popular votes, says Schmitt, although he won in the electoral college, which actually determines the president. "Now," she says, "the president has won these elections without even standing as a candidate."
It is now evident that he is the most popular president since John F. Kennedy and has broken a 60-year-long record of the president's party losing in midterm elections, thanks to his prestige.
Schmitt predicts that Bush's triumph will be strongly reflected in Washington's foreign policy. His personality "will be felt in the UN, NATO, Washington, Baghdad and Pyongyang," she says.
As for the Democratic Party, Schmitt writes, "the American political opposition must suffer through Bush's war, for which he now has a clear mandate from the people, in order to regain political strength."
In Britain's "The Guardian," Ewen MacAskill and Oliver Burkeman say adoption by the United Nations Security Council of the U.S.-drafted resolution on Iraq "will set in motion a detailed timetable that could take the world to war within months." The U.S. resolution enumerates "stringent conditions for Iraq," adding that "in spite of two months of tortuous negotiation, there are lots of grey areas, lots of ambiguities, lots of scope for confusion."
The key question "is over the warning to Iraq 'that it will face serious consequences' if there is a material breach of the resolution." The authors say the problem "is one of interpretation, especially as there is much deliberate ambiguity in the text. The key ambiguity surrounds what would qualify as an Iraqi obstruction of the inspections process and whose responsibility it would be to make the judgment."
If Iraq hinders new weapons inspections, "the way is now open for a U.S.-led war, with legitimacy conferred by the UN without a further resolution."
Writers MacAskill and Burkeman remark that "opinion is divided" within the U.S., at the UN, in Europe, and in the Arab world "as to whether this resolution will lead to peace, the eventual lifting of sanctions and the return of Iraq to the international fold, or whether it simply offers a menu of excuses for war."
An article in the international edition of "Newsweek" magazine says the impending AIDS epidemic in Russia, India, and China is "a phenomenon potentially more destabilizing than any act of terrorism has ever been."
The future of the Eurasian region may be comparable to sub-Saharan Africa today, the magazine says. As of last year, 28 million of the world's 40 million HIV-positive people were located in sub-Saharan Africa. "The world's reaction to this cataclysm has been mild because the region is of marginal political and economic importance," the article says. But Eurasia "holds five-eighths of the world's population, and its combined GNP [Gross National Product] exceeds that of the United States."
The economic consequences of an epidemic "include the cost of caring, for years, for sufferers from this debilitating, incapacitating disease. The epidemic will alter the context of all major economic decisions, from spending on education to direct private investment. The net effect could approximate cutting off afflicted countries from globalization, which means from the great commercial engine of wealth creation that supports lifestyles essential to public-health improvements. For Russia, especially, this is a recipe for a radically reduced importance in world politics."
"Newsweek" says AIDS "has been a cruel new teacher of an old truth: life is regressive. That is, people -- and societies -- with serious problems are especially apt to acquire other, even more serious problems."
In Britain's "Financial Times," columnist Gerard Baker discusses the Republican Party's takeover of the legislature in U.S. elections this week. He says there is "real significance" in these election results that "carries an important message to the rest of the world." This was "the 11 September 2001 election," Baker says. The Republicans' success "underlines what has changed in the country in 14 months. Though, on the surface, U.S. political debate seems to have reverted to normal in the past year, the tectonic shifts beneath continue to reshape the landscape."
Americans "have rallied to their president, despite popular lassitude and inept economic policymaking, because there is a much bigger challenge to deal with. This not only favors incumbent presidents; it also helps conservatives -- traditionally most trusted on national security." This new "vulnerability and uncertainty in the U.S. are still hard for the rest of the world to understand, and largely explain the gulf between U.S. perceptions of threats and those of other countries. But the 2002 elections confirm their continuing potency."
Stefan Kornelius in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" also discusses the results of the American elections, as he points out the political swing to the right. The writer commends President George W. Bush by describing him as "a successful government chief in times of war, who combines charisma and single-mindedness, and commands a political image in whose shadow [deputies] can feel comfortable."
But Kornelius qualifies this statement by saying that Bush achieved such popularity due to "an accumulation of coincidental political events." Bush has profited from his antiterrorism campaign, and from stirring up patriotism at home. Moreover, the mass media have contributed considerably to "glorifying the president," he says.
There is no doubt that America is a conservative country, as these elections have demonstrated, he continues. Centrist politics are swinging ever more to the right. This, in Kornelius' view, will exert continuous pressure and responsibility on Bush.
Bush's triumphs cannot rely merely on his foreign policy. Even here he will meet with opposition, more so on the home front with his economic policies. Now that the president and his party are not having to contend with the opposition, he will have to reveal his true face more frequently and will also be forced to make unpopular decisions, says Kornelius. Then it will come to light that in the U.S., too, there are differences between great election triumphs and a great president.
Also in "Newsweek," Michael Meyer says Kosovo's success "as a model for nation-building [is] by no means assured." The ethnic violence between Serbs and Albanians "has all but disappeared," he says. Yet uncertainty hangs over Kosovo and over much of the Balkans, stemming "from the fact that the region's future lies increasingly in the hands of Europe -- and that the EU may not be up to the task."
Even before 11 September attacks, the United States had been disengaging from the region. The U.S. cut aid by 10 percent last year and will further curtail it next year; U.S. troops are also being withdrawn. Meyer cites Blerim Shala, publisher of a leading Kosovar newspaper, as saying the question is now whether Europe can step into the void. According to Shala, the great fear is that "the United States won't lead -- and the Europeans can't."
Like the U.S., Europe is preoccupied with its own problems -- enlargement, economic malaise, drafting an EU constitution. But Meyers says there is also the fact that "Europe's way of dealing with problems is not well suited to Balkan realities. Europe's entire raison d'etre is rooted in consensus and compromise and incrementalism," he writes. Faced with imponderables like determining Kosovo's final status, Europe tends toward avoidance, "to let time take its course." Meyer says rather than ensuring progress, Europe's management in the Balkans "may well retard it."
The "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" discusses in an editorial what it calls "the Cyprus Test." Greek-Turkish relations have been soured for years since Turkey invaded the northern part of the island 27 years ago, and subsequently occupied almost 40 percent of its territory. The former Ankara government added "salt to the wound" when it threatened to occupy the entire island if Greece (and Cyprus) joined the EU.
Now the Turkish suggestion that Cyprus be divided into two national groups -- much like Belgium -- is a signal for the EU and the UN that the new Turkish government "is prepared to negotiate and ready to find a solution. But this issue has immediately led to the "first power struggle" between the opposition and the newly elected Justice and Progress Party (AKP), which the opposition describes "as politically illiterate."
But AKP leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan has the "spirit of the age" on his side. The majority in Turkey desires an easing of tensions, at home and abroad. Cyprus and Turkey are bound by a common aim to join the EU. Now it is up to the military and the government in Turkey to show whether their pre-election intentions to join the EU were serious. All they have to do is to support Erdogan.
An editorial in France's daily "Le Monde" says that under normal circumstances, the Republican Party of U.S. President George W. Bush would have lost influence in the 5 November elections. Traditionally, it says, the president's party receives a bad score in midterm elections. Only three presidents -- Bush included -- have avoided this result.
"Le Monde" says that the questionably elected presidential candidate of 2000 is the winner in 2002, even if his margin is weak and in spite of a deteriorating economy. Perhaps it was inevitable that economic growth, "after a glorious decade, would display some signs of weakness." The Enron and WorldCom scandals also came close to tarnishing Bush's image, as the White House is often close to some questionable corporate leaders.
But the Bush party won the elections, and the paper says the 11 September attacks and the new American sense of vulnerability were major reasons for this victory. Economic and social issues were not in the foreground, but were eclipsed by national-security concerns. The opposition Democratic Party, "divided on Iraq [and] divided on lowering taxes, did not find an angle of attack: one does not criticize the president when the country is threatened," says "Le Monde."
(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)