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Western Press Review: Bush Responds To Critics, Using Trade To Combat Exploitation, And U.S.-Russian Relations

Prague, 9 February 2004 (RFE/RL) -- A review of commentary and analysis in the press today finds discussion of U.S. President George W. Bush's television interview last night on a weekly American interview program, strengthening trans-Atlantic ties with the Middle East, U.S.-Russian relations, and using global trade to combat exploitation in the developing world, among other issues.


A "New York Times" editorial today discusses U.S. President George W. Bush's appearance on "Meet the Press," a weekly television program that interviews politicians and officials on current affairs.

Much of the questioning focused on recent criticisms of his administration for inconsistencies in its claims regarding Iraq's weapons programs.

As the paper says, when voters choose a president, "their most profound consideration is whether a candidate can make the wisest possible decisions when it comes to war." At issue is not only whether it was the right decision to invade Iraq, but also what the U.S. president learned from the experience. And his television appearance last night was "far from reassuring."

Bush does not seem willing to address the "critical" question of whether invading Iraq would seem to be the right decision "if we knew then what we know now." Instead, he "repeatedly referred to Saddam Hussein as a dangerous madman, without defining the threat that even a madman, without any weapons of mass destruction, posed to the United States."

The paper says the "fuzziness and inconsistency of [Bush's] comments suggest he is still relying on his own moral absolutism, that in a dangerous world the critical thing is to act decisively," and worry about making the connections later.

As U.S. citizens head to the polls later this year to decide whether or not to re-elect Bush, the "NYT" says a nation needs a leader who responds appropriately to threats but does not overreact to the possibility of danger, and one who is "capable of distinguishing real threats from false alarms."


A "Financial Times" editorial says a new plan for NATO to "extend a new form of partnership" to the Middle East would also seek to bring the European Union and the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations together to provide crucial economic and political backing. The new framework is still "very ambitious but very vague," the paper says, and much remains to be done. However, the plan should not distract attention from establishing a lasting peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.

"That Europe and the U.S. need to join forces and demonstrate their constructive engagement is very clear," says the London-based daily. "Iraq has brought home the fact that U.S. military muscle and money alone cannot deliver peace and stability. European allies are needed to help make the peace. They need to find ways of doing more."

The "FT" continues: "Suspicion of U.S. intentions is widespread in the Arab world, while European ties are more positive. But the U.S. is the only country that can influence Israel in the peace process, whereas the Europeans have more clout with the Palestinians. The two can and should pool their resources."

The real test will be whether the United States and Europe can finally find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "That must remain the top priority, for failure to resolve that conflict will only undermine the finest-sounding plans for stabilizing the region."


A "New York Times" editorial today says a major shift is taking place within the U.S. administration in its treatment of Russia. On a recent trip to Moscow, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell criticized the Kremlin for not finding a balance of power between branches of the Russian government and spoke of his "concern" over the war in Chechnya.

Russian President Vladimir Putin "richly deserves criticism," the paper says. "Russia's behavior in Chechnya has been crude and cruel. At home, Putin has systematically imposed his will on the broadcast media, the parliament and the legal system. The assault on the Yukos oil company and its jailed director, Mikhail Khodorkovskii, has been a sad regression into Soviet ways."

But all the same, the paper says, Powell's comments "underscore the way American foreign policy seems to require pegging foreign leaders as friend or foe." And this polarized approach "generally leaves foreign leaders and citizens feeling patronized, miffed, puzzled or all of the above."

Russia "will always pose both an opportunity and a threat for Washington," says the paper. The Bush administration "needs to shed the melodrama, the 'good and evil' posturing. It serves no purpose, and creates a lot of irritation."


A "Wall Street Journal Europe" editorial today says there is "cause for concern" about the approach the U.S. administration is taking toward Iraqi elections. The U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority favors handing over power in June to a transitional body selected by caucuses held throughout Iraq.

But many Iraqis, including influential Shi'ite leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, favor holding more direct elections. And "The Wall Street Journal" says it, too, questions why direct elections cannot be held. The United States now finds itself "in the anomalous position of having liberated Iraq in the name of democracy but opposing elections." And this is "adding to Iraqi mistrust of American motives and may lead to more trouble down the road."

Like it or not, the paper says, "the success of any transition plan in Iraq depends on the assent of the Shi'ite majority. The Shi'ites have thus far welcomed American troops as liberators, but recent demonstrations have made it clear that unhappiness with the caucus proposal is hardly confined to their spiritual leader. Nor are their worries entirely unfounded. The caucus process is very difficult to understand and looks to many Shi'ites like a mechanism that would deny them the representation their numbers would justify."

Under the circumstances, there is a danger that any Iraqi leaders chosen by a caucus would lack legitimacy in the eyes of many. The "Journal" says the longer the United States puts Iraq's budding democrats on hold, the more time it allows for other leaders to emerge that might have "a very different vision" for the future of Iraq.


An editorial in the British "Independent" says, "Most of the time, we are only dimly aware that our prosperity and good fortune rests, at least in part, on the exploitation of others far away. [We] do not usually inquire too closely what happens at the end of the long production chains that lead from our supermarkets to developing countries thousands of miles away."

But a recent report by the Oxfam aid organization says globalization can be a force for good by raising global standards. Oxfam and others "have tried to focus their efforts on changing the rules under which global trade operates, rather than wasting them in the empty condemnation of 'globalization.'"

But the potential benefits from world trade "can only be mobilized through large international companies," says the paper. "Indeed, the anxiety of these companies to protect their reputation for reasonably ethical conduct is one of the strongest forces for raising labor standards in the developing world."

Government, too, has a responsibility to ensure that as much trade as possible is conducted by companies that care about their reputations. "That means trying to enforce ethical standards all the way down the production chain, but it also means changing an authoritarian attitude towards immigrants and asylum-seekers that creates a pool of labor within our own borders that is ripe for exploitation."

The rise of global trade has taken place in tandem with the globalization of information, and it is now "easier than ever before for consumers and regulators to know about the circumstances in which our goods have been produced." The "Independent" says, "We should use that knowledge for good."


An item in today's "Le Monde" says U.S. President George W. Bush appeared in a television interview on "Meet the Press" yesterday in order to stop his slide in the polls nine months ahead of his bid for re-election.

Criticized for having exaggerated intelligence that would have shown Saddam Hussein to be a threat, Bush insisted that the U.S. had no choice but to go to war. But his argument for war continues to evolve: Since no weapons of mass destruction have yet been found, Bush now emphasizes that Hussein had the ability to obtain them and, thus, he represented a danger to the United States. In this manner he justified the war and the deaths of the over 500 U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq, the paper said.

Bush additionally said he would be willing to collaborate with an independent commission looking into the intelligence failures ahead of the Iraq war, but did not specify whether or not he would testify. He did, however, insist that Central Intelligence Agency Director George Tenet would not be released from duty for the intelligence failures.


An item by Fabrice Rousselot in France's "Liberation" also says Bush continues to "retouch" his argument for launching a war in Iraq, insisting that because Saddam Hussein could have obtained weapons, he posed an urgent threat.

Three years into his administration, Bush decided to make his first appearance on the famous Sunday morning political talk shows. His appearance was not chosen at random, says Rousselot. In past days the administration had made it clear that Bush sought to express his views to the public. And on "Meet the Press" he chose to go on the offensive, vigorously defending the war in Iraq and his economic policies.

Two weeks after U.S. weapons inspector David Kay stated that U.S. intelligence services had been mistaken in the findings ahead of the war, Iraq continues to be the pivotal issue in the U.S. presidential campaign. More and more American citizens are expressing their doubts about the wisdom of going to war, says Rousselot. And recent polls have not had good news for the American president, whose popularity has declined.