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Western Press Review: Commentary Focuses On U.S. Politics, IMF

Prague, 9 March 2000 (RFE/RL) -- One of the phenomena of U.S. presidential politics is how much space commentators from the press of other Western nations devote to it. Tuesday's super grouping of 16 primary elections, which left Democrat Vice President Al Gore and Republican Texas Governor George W. Bush, Jr., the probable presidential nominees of their parties drew international commentary. Here's a sampling from today's press:

FINANCIAL TIMES: Americans take part in a curiously sadistic ritual

Writing in England's Financial Times, Gerard Baker sees the humor of the U.S. tribal custom from a perspective that most U.S. citizens cannot. He writes: "Every four years or so, Americans take part in a curiously sadistic ritual. It begins when a number of sane individuals in the two main political parties present themselves as candidates for president. Pretty soon a clear favorite emerges from the pack and, wrapped in a comforting mantle of inevitability, he is anointed as the nominee by pundits and party grandees alike."

The commentary continues: "For several months, [the favorite] is then pummeled and pounded, dragged through the snows of Iowa and New Hampshire, dumped in a quagmire of arcane disputes over ethanol subsidies, the social security trust fund and what illegal substances he may have used a generation ago. He is then locked in the sensory deprivation chamber of a campaign aircraft with 100 journalists and photographers on board that ricochets from coast to coast like a Ping-Pong ball.

Baker then says: "Just when it looks as though he cannot possibly survive, he is dusted off, hailed by his party as a conquering hero and sent out to do battle in the real contest against the candidate from the other party. The eventual winner is the one who has lost fewer vital body parts in the process. The presidential election contest of 2000, whose first stage ended on Tuesday night, has followed the ritual to the letter."

AFTENPOSTEN: Gore and Bush are serious candidates who would not entertain extremist views

Norway's Aftenposten says in an editorial: "The whole world should consider the emergence of Al Gore and George W. Bush as the front-runners in the U.S. presidential race as a positive development. Both Gore and Bush are serious candidates who would not entertain extremist views."

TIMES: Mr. Gore is a serious and experienced politician

Mr. Bush has a solid record

The Times of Britain editorializes: "Mr. Gore is a serious and experienced politician with no sign of the character flaws that have bedeviled President [Bill] Clinton. Mr. Bush has a solid record of accomplishment [as governor] in Texas and, while he has had few direct dealings with international matters, is surrounded by a capable team of advisers."

GUARDIAN: The Putin-Bush prospect is disturbing

Britain's Guardian daily publishes a commentary that -- like that of the Financial Times -- takes an unusual perspective. Writer Hugo Young muses on what would happen if Russia and the U.S. were led, respectively, by Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush. It would not be, in Young's view, a pretty sight. He writes: "[Putin] is the war candidate. He wouldn't have the slightest chance of being [Russia's] president but for Chechnya, and has pursued the conflict there with a vote-winning brutality that is the primitive equivalent of a chancellors' giveaway budget."

Young adds: "According to the Economist, Putin toasted Stalin at a recent banquet, and speaks fondly of [former KGB chief] Yuri Andropov. If he were an Austrian, [British Prime Minister Tony] Blair would not be flying to schmooze with him at the opera."

Of Bush, Young writes: "Unlike the Russian, George W. Bush was born and reared to rule. He has belonged to the governing class from the beginning. His pedigree is far superior. But his approach to the world is that of the rank amateur, whose experience may be even narrower than the other guy's." Young concludes: "If [Bush] wins, he will be starting a dialogue with someone groping with equal immaturity in the new era -- for each, surely his most vital task. The prospect is more disturbing than it is creatively exciting."

WASHINGTON POST: Troubling as the Pinhead Factor is, the sleaze factor is worse

Some U.S. commentary on the presidential race is equally harsh. In The Washington Post, Michael Kelly, editor of the weekly National Journal -- a U.S. public affairs magazine -- writes about what he calls the "Pinhead Factor." Kelly says: "It is manifest that George Bush ... is a pinhead." The writer continues: "Well, what of it? Seriously not-bright men have been elected president before. Yes," adds Kelly, "but Bush is not a pinhead in a vacuum. He will be running against Al Gore, who is in many ways unattractive but who is clearly smart."

Kelly also writes: "Bush is not going to get smarter between now and November (the election will be held Nov. 7). His one chance is that the relentlessly smarmy Gore embodies the promise of a perpetuation of the Clinton sleaze. In the end, the undecideds may decide that, troubling as the Pinhead Factor is, the sleaze factor is worse."

NEW YORK TIMES: There are some bold new ideas to consider

The New York Times, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung and Britain's Financial Times carry commentary today on the International Monetary Fund, or IMF. The New York Times says in an editorial: "More than half a century after their creation, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank could use some fresh thinking about their operations. Thanks to a [U.S.] congressional commission that unveiled its recommendations about the institutions [yesterday] there are some bold new ideas to consider."

The editorial says further: "One of the biggest and best ideas in the report is a call to cancel the crushing debt of the world's poorest countries." Its conclusion: "Congress is not expected to act on the report soon. But some politicians already are denouncing the commission, wrongly, for dismantling the IMF and the World Bank. The danger is that political squabbling will squander an opportunity for Democrats and Republicans to reach an important agreement."

FINANCIAL TIMES: The commission is infused with wishful thinking

The Financial Times publishes a commentary by economist Barry Eichengreen with an opposing view. It says: "The commission established by the U.S. Congress on reform of the international financial institutions is infused with wishful thinking. Its report longs for simpler times, when investors and countries were left to their own devices. The proposed contraction of the International Monetary Fund has radical implications. The fund would be compelled to follow [a] rule for lending in the last resort: lend only to solvent countries against good collateral and at penalty rates. With fewer IMF rescue loans to create moral hazard, the report argues, investors would lend more responsibly. This is unrealistic."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: It is now decisive for the reputation of the German government whether its new candidate comes through

The Sueddeutsche Zeitung's perspective is more parochial. Commentator Oliver Schumacher concentrates on the German government's stumbles in seeking to place a countryman at the head of the IMF. He writes: "It is now decisive for the reputation of the German government whether its new candidate [after the failure of Caio Koch-Weser -- say: , Horst Koehler, ex-chancellor Helmut Kohl's commissioner for world economic summits, comes through. If Koehler fails, Schroeder really would be facing a shambles because then German certainly could not afford to push forward with a second attempt without clear commitments from Paris, London or Washington." He adds: "The officials in Berlin declare that they have learned their lesson."

(Anthony Georgieff in Copenhagen contributed to this press review)