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Western Press Review: From U.S. Politics To Russian Tragedy

Prague, 23 August 2000 (RFE/RL) -- From the nation that taught the United States about democracy comes an editorial excoriation today of U.S. democratic behavior. And commentary continues to find fault with Russia and its leadership over the Kursk submariners' tragedy.


A staff-written commentary in today's Guardian of Britain says that U.S. democracy provides another reason why England should be looking ever more Europe-ward. Polly Toynbee writes: "The land of the free now wields an absolute power, free of responsibility, such as the world has never known. The rest of the globe watches its elections with renewed anguish as powerless spectators and demi-subjects.

She goes on: "The two [party] conventions displayed all that is most repugnant and alien in a political system corrupted beyond recognition in the democratic world. The $100-million campaigns lift off in an obscene haze of sanctimonious, lachrymose religiosity, oozing family unction and lies. With 77 days to go and contenders neck and neck in the polls, George W. Bush says that Jesus is his guiding influence, Al Gore and Joe Lieberman share a prayer with reporters and both campaigns promise instant gratification and no sacrifice for anything or anyone ever. Dishonest fantasy politics turn America into an out-of-control, self-absorbed, infantilized monster."

The commentator writes: "In elections there is always a better and worse. Bush is terrifying -- in hock to oil and arms, promising a $1 trillion tax cut to the exclusive benefit of the top few. Gore is better. But whoever wins, America's dismal failure to address the key questions with any realism must strengthen European resolution on future unity."

She says: "The life, views, values, ideas and politics of any town or village anywhere in the [European Union] feels much more like home than any small town in middle America these days. The more we look at alien America, the more European we feel and the stronger we need to become."


A U.S. commentator writes that the world has little to anticipate in the U.S. election outcomes, at least in the conduct of foreign policy. In the International Herald Tribune today, economist and defense analyst Robert A. Levine examines what separates U.S. Republic foreign policy from U.S. Democratic foreign policy. "Not much," he says.

Levine writes: "The irrelevance of foreign policy to U.S. politics is illustrated by the fact that the candidates' acceptance speeches touched on it only in the most cursory manner. Each party suggests the incapacity of the other candidate to lead the world, but that is routine. Americans do not worry about entrusting either with the nuclear trigger."

He continues: "Some observers have commented on the strength of Mr. Bush's foreign policy team. But it is a government in exile, whereas Mr. Gore would draw on the government in being. UN Ambassador Richard Holbrooke seems to be on the inside track for secretary of state, and Leon Fourth, the vice president's experienced adviser, is likely for the national security slot. With either group, the broad outlines of foreign policy will remain [President Bill] Clinton-[Secretary of State Madeleine] Albright, plus or minus a little."

Levine writes that under either candidate as president, "the United States will tend to talk worldwide idealism and practice worldwide self-interested pragmatism. It will treat Russian instability as the greatest danger from that quarter and Chinese growing influence as the greatest danger from there. It will find its policy on free trade to be the captive of competing domestic interests. It will debate anti-missile defense and avoid any major decision because the Democrats lack the courage to scrap the program and the Republicans lack the conviction to deploy a system."

He concludes: "What it comes down to is that the 2000 election may be important to Americans -- it will set the direction of the Supreme Court and determine the distribution of rewards of the economic boom, or costs of the downturn -- but for the rest of the world it is likely to lead to more of the same."


The Kursk disaster provides the Western press with an opportunity to demonstrate that it always has enough criticism to go around. In today's Sueddeutsche Zeitung, commentator Daniel Broessler says that "the only positive note in the whole sorry story [is that] the submarine is not leaking radioactivity." He quotes Thomas Nilsen from the Norwegian environmental organization Bellona as saying that the submarine's reactors have neither overheated nor suffered a meltdown. Broessler writes, "Nilsen told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung that 'In order to prevent this human tragedy from becoming a nuclear hazard, one mistake needs to be avoided above all others: haste."

The German commentator spoke to a number of other specialists. He writes: "[They] agree that, sooner or later, Russia will have to choose one of three strategies to deal with the Kursk. It can be raised and brought on land, it can be sunk in deeper water, or it can be left where it is. Neither Nilsen nor Schmidt have any doubt as to what the best option would be - they believe the Kursk must be raised and disposed of professionally on land. This will be so expensive, though, that Russia will probably need help from the West to do it."

Broessler says also: "[Gerhard Schmidt, nuclear expert at the Institute for Applied Ecology in the southwestern German town of Freiburg] says that it does not make an awful lot of difference whether the Kursk lies at a depth of 100 or 1,700 meters. No matter how far down, ocean currents could transport the radioactivity leaking out of the vessel far and wide, poisoning fish and thus getting into the food chain."


Britain's Financial Times cuts across both central topics in an editorial. As the U.S. candidates discuss whether the U.S military is declining [Republican candidate George Bush says it is; Democrat Al Gore says it isn't], the paper says in an editorial that "Russia must now accept the limitations which its decrepit economy sets on its defense policies."

The editorial also says: "Such reductions can only come with help from the West. Aid for nuclear decommissioning should be greatly increased. More important, the United States and other NATO states should ensure that Moscow feels as secure as possible as it cuts its arsenal. For example, America must be sensitive in developing its planned limited missile shield."

The paper concludes: "A stable Russia, protected by effective armed forces, is an essential condition for international peace."