Prague, 18 May 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentators continue to focus attention on the Kosovo crisis, including its implications for U.S-Chinese relations and for the future of NATO. Meanwhile, several others look at the Israeli elections.
LOS ANGELES TIMES: The real loser would be Clinton
Writing in the "Los Angeles Times," Tom Plate says that a casualty of the recent NATO bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade may be prime minister Zhu Rongji, an influential politician who has staked his reputation on improved relations with the West.
Plate writes, "Prime Minister Zhu Rongji ... was under fire from anti-West, free-trade naysayers even before NATO's bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. And if the anti-Western political fallout from that attack continues to be felt inside China for some time to come, he could lose his room to maneuver and perhaps his job." The real loser in that scenario, Plate says, would be U.S. President Bill Clinton, "whose policy of engagement with China could find fewer takers in Beijing than ever, leaving a legacy of failure in U.S. relations with the world's most populous country."
Plate writes that Zhu may survive the bombing and its political fallout, but only if he gets support from two quarters: "For starters, [Zhu's] boss, President Jiang Zemin, must more openly stand by his man." Secondly, Plate argues that Clinton should press harder for China's entry into the World Trade Organization: "Mr. Clinton should start acting like the true leader of the Western world and less like a politician flummoxed and intimidated by every Republican maneuver from Capitol Hill."
Plates says that "wise, focused and determined U.S. foreign policy would have arranged [for China's admission into the WTO] some time ago. But President Clinton's international diplomacy has never looked much beyond the current challenge or crisis."
WASHINGTON POST: A motive may be to deflect attention away from human rights problems in China
The "Washington Post" argues in an editorial that U.S.-Sino ties are "troubled" by more than just the recent embassy bombing. The Post begins by speculating why Chinese newspapers continue to report the bombing as if it were a deliberate attempt by NATO "to interfere with and ruin China's development" -- this in spite of President Clinton's apology and vows by the United States to provide a full explanation. The Post says that it's always difficult to speculate on the motives in a dictatorship, but one explanation may be to deflect attention away from human rights problems in China and away from "China-related scandals in the United States, including alleged nuclear espionage and influence peddling."
The Post says that just last week, a fund-raiser for President Clinton's Democratic Party (Johnny Chung) testified that he received $300,000 from the chief of Chinese military intelligence to contribute to Clinton's re-election campaign in 1996. The Post says, "[this claim] remains uncorroborated but should not be dismissed lightly." The editorial asks, "what did the Chinese think they were buying, and were any of the goods delivered? Mr. Chung's story at least raises questions about the U.S.-Chinese relationship that Mr. Clinton now is struggling to revive."
Editorialists remind us, however, that strains in U.S.-Chinese relations may not be the only result of the war over Kosovo, nor even the most important. Some say cracks in the NATO alliance over the bombing campaign and the issue of whether to send ground forces bode poorly for the alliance as it stands today:
DAILY TELEGRAPH: NATO risks looking both inept and immoral
Britain's "Daily Telegraph" says Europe should take the lead where NATO seemingly fears to tread: "What began as a bloody little Balkan war now threatens to destroy NATO's credibility. The most powerful military bloc on earth, whose members account for half of our planet's economic activity, seems unable to overcome a country of fewer than 10 million people."
The paper renews its call for a ground war in Kosovo, saying only total victory can rescue the West's reputation and that an air campaign, pursued "half-heartedly," cannot deliver that victory. It writes: "By refusing to mount low-altitude bombing raids, NATO sends out the signal that it places less value on hundreds of civilian lives than on one airman's. To many observers ... NATO risks looking both inept and immoral."
The answer, the paper says, is for Europe to consider going it alone to drive back Yugoslav troops on the ground in Kosovo. The paper says the mechanics of any such operation would be difficult and that European troops would have to rely on U.S. logistical support from the air. "[But] such a division of responsibility -- European troops and American back-up -- would certainly be palatable in America, which has long argued that Europe should be able, in Madeleine Albright's phrase, 'to put out fires in its own backyard.'" The editorial finishes: "There is nothing to stop the European allies acting together through existing NATO structures ... The time has come to consider this option."
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: NATO's future may well end up looking very much like its past
Germany's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" ponders what will happen to NATO after Kosovo in light of ambitious plans made for the alliance at last month's 50th anniversary celebration. At the anniversary, officials approved documents calling for NATO increasingly to engage beyond its borders and to become more active in fighting terrorism, ethnic cleansing and organized crime.
Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger writes from Washington that this type of future is looking increasingly unlikely. He says, ironically, NATO's future may well end up looking very much like its past, with NATO primarily a collective defensive organization for its members and with any intervention outside of members' borders reserved only in sharply limited exceptional cases. He writes, "The tendency toward more intervention will noticeably recede because the political capital necessary for expansion will have been used up."
Turning to the general elections in Israel, western press commentators differ over the causes behind Ehud Barak's defeat of incumbent Benjamin Netanyahu in the race for prime minister.
DAILY TELEGRAPH: Netanyahu's delay in implementing the Oslo peace agreement has led to a dramatic fall in his party's fortunes
Britain's "Daily Telegraph" runs an editorial which asserts that the cause of the outcome was Netanyahu's failure to press forward with the Middle East peace process. The paper writes: "Mr. Netanyahu's delay in implementing the Oslo peace agreement, and failure to conclude negotiations with the Palestinians by the fixed date, some two weeks ago, has led to a dramatic fall in his [Likud] party's fortunes and his own outright rejection in a separate ballot for prime minister."
The paper argues that Netanyahu also failed in convincing Israeli voters that a victory for Barak would endanger the country's security.
The Daily Telegraph ends with a note of caution for those who believe that the election will inevitably lead to progress in the peace process. The paper says: "Israelis may yet find that Mr. Barak has a difficult task in securing a solution equally acceptable to them, the Palestinians and Syria. Representation for his own [Labor] party in the Knesset has fallen slightly, and his first priority, to assemble a lasting coalition from the [diverse] parties over which he can maintain control ... may yet prove elusive."
WALL STREET JOURNAL: Israeli media has painted Netanyahu as a liar and hatemonger
The "Wall Street Journal" today takes a very different view of the main cause behind Netanyahu's defeat. In an editorial, the paper argues that the incumbent had been unjustly vilified by the Israeli press and establishment.
The paper writes: "For three years now the Israeli media has waged a relentless and often unscrupulous war on [Netanyahu], painting him, without justification, as a liar and hatemonger. Israel's statist establishment has regarded this free-market outsider as a threat."
But the paper says Netanyahu also harmed himself in his reactions, writing that "he did not seem to realize that it is sometimes better to remain above the fray and let your political foot soldiers do the dirty work."
Turning to Barak, the WSJ calls him a "Mystery Man" best known for being Israel's "most decorated soldier ever." The paper says "his campaign strategy had been to prove he too will be a tough negotiator in dealing with [Palestinian Authority President] Yasser Arafat." The paper goes on: "brave fighters do not always make good political leaders". It says that "as for economics, Mr. Barak adopts the tired 'Third Way' rhetoric of [U.S. President] Bill Clinton and [British Prime Minister] Tony Blair.... But details of his plans seem non existent."
NEW YORK TIMES: Netanyahu's message wore thin
Joel Greenberg, writing in today's "New York Times", argues that personality had a lot to do with the vote outcome. He writes that many voters "felt that Netanyahu's style and statements had undermined good government and polarized Israelis." Greenberg also writes that "in the end, Netanyahu's message wore thin, no longer resonating with most Israelis."
LOS ANGELES TIMES: High fences make good neighbors
Writing in the "Los Angeles Times", Rebecca Trounson writes that Barak, "a warrior turned statesman in the model of his late mentor [and former prime minister] Yitzhak Rabin ... has promised to renew the negotiations with the Palestinians and resume troops withdrawals from the West Bank, which Netanyahu agreed to last year but then suspended."
Trounson adds that "like Rabin, Barak advocates a physical separation between Israel and the Palestinians rather than [former prime minister Shimon] Peres' vision of a 'new Middle East' marked by broad Arab-Israel cooperation." She notes that Barak has often used the line "'High fences make good neighbors.'"
WALL STREET JOURNAL: Slovak voters will be serving their own best interests to send Vladimir Meciar back into retirement
Today's "Wall Street Journal" also carries an editorial focusing on last weekend's first round of presidential elections in Slovakia.
The paper writes that "In a May 29 runoff, voters will have to choose between two candidates whose credentials fall somewhat short of ideal: Both Rudolf Schuster, a former diplomat and current mayor of Kosice, and former prime minister Vladimir Meciar are ex-Communist apparatchiks."
But the WSJ argues Schuster is "a model candidate compared to the wily Meciar, best known as Slovakia's [former] authoritarian premier...." The paper continues that "for his comeback, Mr. Meciar offered voters his standard fare of jingoism, campaigning on a strongly anti-NATO platform."
The paper continues: "Whether Mr. Meciar would prove as destructive as Slovak president as he was as prime minister is not clear. Slovakia's parliamentary system limits the president's powers. Nonetheless, the record of other presidents in the region suggest that the leadership style of the president means everything. Czech philosopher king Vaclav Havel has left a strong Western imprint on his country. [Alyaksandr Lukashenka], Belarus' autocratic president, has done just the opposite despite a constitution that would [win approval] with most defenders of democratic liberalism."
The WSJ concludes: "Slovak voters will be serving their own best interests if they again take the opportunity to send Vladimir Meciar back into retirement."