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Western Press Review: World Watches U.S. Presidential Electioneering

Prague, 2 August 2000 (RFE/RL) -- International commentary today in the Western press is a reminder that most of the people with a stake in the U.S. presidential elections this November don't have a vote. The world is watching Washington as the electioneering heightens -- and so is the press.


Writing in The Guardian, London, commentator Jonathan Freedland says that, during yesterday's Republican Party nominating convention, presumed nominee George W. Bush produced a foolishly obvious show of inclusiveness of people of color, however light. Freedland writes that Bush "wants to do for the Republicans what Tony Blair and Bill Clinton did for Labor and the Democrats: to ditch their old reputations for extremism and march towards the vote-rich center. For Blair and Clinton, that meant keeping a safe distance from policies or people associated with the old left. For George W., it means inclusion and diversity. Or, put another way, shoving white males into the background and showing off everyone else."

"The strategy," he continues, "is so blatant as to be almost comic. The three co-chairs of the convention just happen to be a black Oklahoman, a Hispanic Texan and a white single mother. The headline speaker on Monday was the former general and Gulf war hero, Colin Powell. Last night's prime-time hour kicked off with Condoleeza Rice, Bush's choice for national security adviser. She is black and a woman."

Freedland concludes: "How all this pans out is not merely an American tale. If Bush becomes president it will sound alarm bells for both Tony Blair and William Hague. (British Prime Minister Blair heads the Labor Party and Hague the Conservative Party.) For Blair it will signal an end to the third-way era [and] for Hague the worry is of a different order. If George W. proves that conservatives win only when they project an image -- whatever the reality -- of diversity and inclusion, then where does that leave the party [that] hounds asylum seekers?"


The New York Times editorializes that the Republican convention showed a return to the party's traditional concerns with defense policy and military strength. Says the New York Times: "The podium last night seemed like a kind of class reunion for the Gulf War. It was a tableau with certain pitfalls as well as advantages for [Texas] Governor Bush. Like the choice of former defense secretary Dick Cheney as his running mate, the evening reminded the audience that the war was the high point of Mr. Bush's father's term in the White House, without offering much of a suggestion about the policies of another Bush presidency."

The newspaper says that Condoleeza Rice's call in a convention speech for cultivating major allies "sounds good in principle, but Mr. Bush seems determined to embark on a risky missile defense system that major European allies regard as unworkable." The editorial says, "All that Americans learned last night was the importance of military strength. How that strength is to be used will have to be elucidated in the campaign to come."


Another U.S.-based newspaper takes the opposite view. The Wall Street Journal Europe editorializes that, "The new party platform should reassure Europeans. It says that reports of a new Republican Party are 'mostly bunk.'" But it adds that Bush really is giving the party a new impetus on immigration and internationalism. Bush has led, says the editorial, in diminishing hostility toward Mexican immigrants, on calls for more forthright leadership in crises like Kosovo, and in realism toward international institutions.

In the Wall Street Journal's words: "All of which ought to reassure Europeans that if Mr. Bush wins, America won't be withdrawing from the world. If his platform is any guide, Mr. Bush wants to lead it as firmly as other recent Republican presidents [have done]."


Sueddeutsche Zeitung commentator Klaus Brill, covering the convention in Philadelphia, writes approvingly of the likely appointment of Rice as national security adviser. He writes: "Apart from being a self-confident, versatile and elegant professor, Rice is Bush's chief foreign policy adviser and, as he puts it, 'a close friend,' clearly full of life and enthusiasm. The fact that she was among those granted an on-stage appearance at the Republican Party convention in Philadelphia during television's prime-time hours confirms the high esteem in which she is held by the candidates."

He writes, "Currently, Rice is working as part of a team of eight foreign policy advisers to Bush, which includes former government staff members such as Richard Perle and Robert Zoellick. The group calls itself 'The Vulcans,' a reference to the ancient Roman god Vulcanus, whose statue is one of the landmarks in Rice's hometown of Birmingham, [Alabama]."


From London, The Times asks in a headline, "Is George W. Bush Clinton's natural heir?" Under the headline, writer Tim Hames comments: "The central oddity of this election [is that Vice President Al] Gore appears to resemble the Republicans of 1996 far more than [does] the governor of Texas. He is thrashing around for a central theme." Hames writes, "Mr. Bush, on the other hand, is the Clinton clone in the contest. He is so effective that the president was reduced to protesting last week, 'That's the message, isn't it? Blur, blur, blur, blur all the distinctions.'"


A Washington Post article condemns the Bush campaign for what it calls, "Half a Foreign Policy." The Post says: "Mr. Bush has not merely recognized foreign policy's importance, [he also] has avoided blunders. Avoiding errors, however, is not the same as putting forward a convincing strategy."

The newspaper says that the Republican platform "promises that a Republican president 'will set priorities and he will stick to them.' The campaign will give Democrats a chance to ask what those priorities are precisely. The new Republican commitment to internationalism and U.S. leadership abroad is a welcome departure from the narrow-minded carping of the party's congressional leaders. But it is only a first step."