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Western Press Review: U.S. Economic And Foreign Policy, The Middle East, And Terrorism

  • Don Hill

Prague, 20 May 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Commentators in the Western press today continue to worry over U.S. foreign policy under President George W. Bush and over developments in the Middle East, Iraq, and the war on terrorism. They also are increasingly turning their attention to the faltering world economy.


"The Wall Street Journal Europe" blames U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow for exacerbating what the newspaper says had been a "peaceful drifting down" of the dollar.

In an editorial, it says: "At first Mr. Snow said that although a weaker dollar was good for exports, he was -- don't mistake him -- in favor of a strong dollar. The dollar responded by dropping like a stone against the euro.

"Over the weekend, Mr. Snow 'clarified' his remarks with the Zen-like observation that the dollar's strength was not a function of its value against other currencies, but depended on the confidence that Americans had in it and its resistance to being counterfeited. The dollar responded on Monday [yesterday] by sinking to its lowest level in more than four years against the euro."

The editorial concluded: "A dramatic sell-off in the dollar would force up interest rates and trounce the stock market -- slowing economic growth even further. Someone in the White House should tell Mr. Snow that he is playing with fire."


An "International Herald Tribune" editorial also views darkly the economic state of the United States but places the first onus on the White House itself. It says, "The tax-cutting frenzy inspired by President George W. Bush this year has produced a predictable result -- two misguided, poorly timed tax bills from the House and Senate that will not provide the short-term stimulus the United States needs but will almost surely cause economic problems in the future."

The newspaper says: "Meanwhile, more than a million Americans have exhausted all their state and federal unemployment benefits, a number that will grow by another 700,000 this summer. In addition, 2.1 million workers will soon exhaust their state benefits. All these people need help from Congress. Such help would not only compensate in some small measure for these unfortunate tax bills but would give the economy a quicker, more certain shot in the arm."


Warren Buffet, widely recognized as one of the foremost U.S. gurus of capitalism, also denounces the Bush government's proposed tax cuts -- especially cuts in taxes on income generated by stock-market investments -- that is, dividends paid on shares in corporations.

Buffet, chief executive officer of Berkshire Hathaway Incorporated, is also a director of The Washington Post Company. He writes, "The [U.S.] Senate voted last week to supply major aid to the rich in their pursuit of even greater wealth."

Buffet, who accurately numbers himself among "the rich," says: "When you listen to tax-cut rhetoric, remember that giving one class of taxpayer a break requires -- now or down the line -- that an equivalent burden be imposed on other parties. In other words, if I get a break, someone else pays. Government can't deliver a free lunch to the country as a whole. It can, however, determine who pays for lunch. And last week, the Senate handed the bill to the wrong party.

"Supporters of making [stock] dividends tax-free like to paint critics as promoters of class warfare. The fact is, however, that their proposal promotes class welfare. For my class."


Another internationally known guru of free-market economics, Jeffrey Sachs, now a professor at Columbia University, joins Laurence J. Kotlikoff, the chairman of the Boston University Department of Economics, in sounding an alarm for the U.S. economy.

The authors, writing in "The Boston Globe," say this: "Our government is going broke. The feds face bills that are far beyond our capacity to pay -- by $44 trillion to be precise. The longer we ignore them, the bigger they get. Yet President Bush is working overtime to deepen our fiscal trap. This [immense] figure is not ours. Nor is it some other academics' calculation. It was produced last fall by economists and budget analysts at the U.S. Treasury, the Federal Reserve, the Office of Management and Budget and the Congressional Budget Office. The study was ordered by then Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neil and was slated to appear in the president's budget, released in February."

The writers conclude: "The stakes are now too high for more political games and flaky economic theories. Democrats and Republicans alike need to send our leaders a firm message: Deal responsibly with the coming generational obligations. If we don't, we can look forward to massive cuts in future Social Security and Medicare benefits, tax hikes, high inflation, and bitter political strife. Putting aside the president's latest tax cut would be an excellent start on the road to responsibility."


Roger Bootle, a managing director of Capital Economics, a London-based consultancy, writes today in "The Wall Street Journal Europe":

"For the first time in over four years, the euro traded above its initial value of 1.17 dollars yesterday. This milestone is unlikely to be received with much celebration within the euro-zone, however. Indeed, with every tick up in the euro's value, it becomes increasingly evident that the euro-zone's central bankers are failing to respond to the clear economic needs of the region.

"This stubbornness now seems destined to condemn the area to a further sustained period of underperformance compared with the United States. The current slow U.S. growth is understandable: after a burst of excessive growth at the end of the 1990s, it is no surprise that the United States should now look to growth in the rest of the world to haul up its own struggling economy. Remarkably though, the euro-zone finds itself in the same position."


Three major newspapers today urge the United States to return to the path of international cooperation and away from the uncharted wilderness of unilateral action.

Britain's "The Guardian" says U.S. policy is turning Iran from a part-time ally against terrorism to a full-time adversary. The newspaper says, "Growing U.S. pressure on Iran takes many forms, much of it questionable, and some of it deeply hypocritical."

The editorial says, "Pressure is applied through burgeoning U.S. collaboration with the Iraq-based, Iranian opposition Mujahedeen; and by intimidation of Iranian allies like Syria and Lebanon."

It concludes: "Mr. Bush says he wants to promote democracy in the Middle East. But in Iran, his bluster and interference have compromised the already weakened reformists in their ongoing battles with hard-line mullahs who point with fury -- and fear -- to events in Iraq. And yet there is another way -- dialogue. The two countries have interests in common, if they would only see it. A platform for bilateral talks has been established under UN auspices in Geneva. Both sides should make better use of it."


"The New York Times" editorializes: "This is not what the White House wanted as President Bush starts pointing toward next year's election campaign. Iraq is in a state of near anarchy. The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is escalating again, and Islamic terrorists are on the attack in the Middle East. Just at the moment when Mr. Bush would like the nation to think of him as a statesman, everything seems to be going the wrong way in one of the world's most combustible regions. Mr. Bush has himself to blame in part."

The newspaper says: "The United States must pursue the international teamwork against terrorism that President Bush initiated after September 11. Unfortunately, the American decision to go to war in Iraq decreased the desire of other nations to cooperate. Those damaged relations now urgently need to be rebuilt. Saluting cheering troops and campaigning for tax cuts may be good politics for Mr. Bush as he runs for a second term, but the president has a lot of work ahead in the Middle East before he can lay claim to the title of statesman."


An editorial in "The Washington Post" says: "A grim and familiar series of events has played out in the Middle East during the past several weeks. An attempt to restart the Arab-Israeli peace process began with encouraging rhetoric and the tabling of a new plan, only to quickly bog down through the inaction of a weak Palestinian leadership, foot-dragging by a hawkish Israeli government and ineffective diplomacy by the United States."

The newspaper editorializes: "Mr. Bush can't solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by himself. Ultimately, only Israelis and Palestinians can do that, and it may be that they still are not ready to make the necessary compromises."

The newspaper says: "Mr. Bush should also contact Arab leaders, such as Egypt's Hosni Mubarak and Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah, and press them to intervene forcefully and publicly to help [Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud] Abbas. It may be that none of this would work. But if Mr. Bush does not make the effort, he will be blamed for another Israeli-Palestinian breakdown -- and for failing to keep his own word."


The "Financial Times" says in an editorial that the time has come for President Bush to tell Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to choose peace.

It says: "The Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers met at the weekend, the highest-level discussions between the two embattled peoples since the second intifada began two-and-one-half years ago. Right on cue, Islamist suicide bombers struck, killing nine Israelis -- and at least four more yesterday evening. Israel's ultranationalist government reacted equally predictably. Ariel Sharon, prime minister, said all terrorism must stop before Israel began moving along the 'road map', the international peace plan intended to give secure borders to Israel and an independent state to the Palestinians.

"The Bush administration now faces a hard choice. It can dutifully echo Mr. Sharon, as it has done since this hard-line champion of Greater Israel came to power just over two years ago. Or it can state forthrightly that this peace process -- unlike the ultimately abortive Oslo accords of the 1990s -- is not subject to veto by extremists on either side. If Washington is serious, that means the road map it has underwritten cannot be negotiable and that both sides have to move along it simultaneously, irrespective of the bumps they will hit on the way. But how serious is Mr. Bush -- let alone Mr. Sharon?"


Following last week's bombings in Saudi Arabia and Morocco, commentators from two European newspapers reach opposite conclusions.

Amir Taheri writes in Britain's "The Times," "The spate of suicide bombings belies the reality of a decline in terror activity."

He writes: "The attacks in Morocco and Saudi Arabia, despite their dramatic and devastating impact, may well be the last gasps of the monster of international Islamist terrorism. The hard facts speak for themselves. Acts of international terrorism fell by almost half from 2001 to 2002 -- to the lowest figure since 1969.

"Most centers for the study of global terrorism report unprecedented calm. Their analysis is backed by the latest annual U.S. State Department report and an interim study, to be submitted next month to the G-8 summit in [the eastern French spa town of Evian]. There were 199 'acts of global terrorism' in 2002. There were no acts of terror in the United States, the United Kingdom, or Australia, designated as special targets by Al-Qaeda."

Taheri says: "There are still many terrorists out there, plotting attacks. Americans may still have to keep their duct tape handy. But this should not prevent us from acknowledging what is a spectacular victory over the monster of global terror."


Rolf Paasch writes in the "Frankfurter Rundschau" of what he calls "a return to powerlessness in the face of terror." He says, "The latest attacks in Saudi Arabia and Morocco have demonstrated that the Western antiterror war has utterly failed."

Paasch continues: "The war in Afghanistan destroyed the Al-Qaeda bases, but the conflict in Iraq provided the Islamist terrorists time to invent themselves anew. The now decentralized network has replied to the Western antiterrorist war. This belies all the so-called successes in the antiterror campaigns."

The writer says, "The vast operational range of [the Al-Qaeda] movement from Morocco to Malaysia leaves military action against such terror helpless, belated, and counterproductive." He says the West is reacting to a phenomenon that neither the politicians nor the Pentagon can comprehend.

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)