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Western Press Review: U.S. And Bosnian Elections; Economic Sanctions

By Erica Hurtt

Prague, 14 November 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentators remain consumed by the unresolved U.S. presidential election. Saturday's (Nov 11) elections in Bosnia also receive some attention, as do the effects of economic sanctions on Yugoslavia and Iraq.

On the U.S. election, a manual recount of ballots in some Florida counties is the source of considerable debate.


Griffin Bell, U.S. attorney general under Democratic President Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s, comments in the Wall Street Journal Europe on the Florida recount. Bell says candidates should "wait for election officials in close states to announce final vote totals and accept those results with grace and dignity." He argues that "courts are not suited to resolve the election of a president. The election of a president requires speed, finality and certainty. Courts are slow and different courts often reach inconsistent conclusion."

Bell says his experience "has been that parties to lawsuits become more inflexible and committed to their respective positions with each passing day they spend in court. They have more and more trouble distinguishing fact from the trivial." He adds that the Florida situation puts multiple judges in competition to determine the outcome of the election which, he says, "will undermine the legitimacy of both the courts and the elections."


An editorial in the Washington Post urges both parties to seek a resolution to the situation that will be perceived as fair by as many people as possible. The paper says that the Republican Party's argument that hand counts are inaccurate or unfair "isn't right." But it also says that the Democrats "selective hand count [in four Florida counties] isn't right either. The candidates," the editorial argues, "ought to agree to a full hand count throughout the state, or in as many counties as seem salient to the other side. One would win, both would agree in advance to embrace the outcome as legitimate. What's vital is that the hand count not be skewed by being confined to one side's strongholds."


New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman addresses the implications of the U.S. presidential election abroad. He says "For foreigners, the most important aspect of this American election is not who wins, but how he wins." Friedman says the actions of Al Gore and George W. Bush "have left the playing field out there wide open for those whose vision is to oppose America or seek its destruction." The commentator adds: "The only thing left to do now is pray that this election is resolved, our institutions emerge unscathed and the winner emerges a better man than the one who ran [for office]."


There is also some comment on the weekend's elections in Bosnia. In the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, analyst Peter Muench says: "Bosnians, it seems, regard democracy as one never-ending paradox." He writes further: "The representatives of the international community in Sarajevo keep asking [Bosnians] to vote in a dizzying round of elections to determine the complicated structure of their multitiered state." Muench says the Bosnians vote in the hope things will improve, but he also says that "at the end of the day, a deep sense of disappointment is all that remains. Because no matter how many times elections are held, everything stays the same."

Muench goes on: "If the international community's representatives continue to allow the incorrigible nationalists [in Bosnia] to block each and every attempt at progress -- only to then go over their heads -- it will not only waste more of its precious energy and resources, but will also contribute to its own lack of credibility." Muench suggests that the international community move to ban nationalists parties that weaken democracy. He says "carrying on down this path will only confirm the old paradox that elections may be democratic in Bosnia, but democratic deeds are nowhere to be seen."


The effectiveness of international economic sanctions is also the subject of some commentary today. In the French daily Liberation, analyst Jacques Beltran assesses the use of such sanctions against Iraq and Yugoslavia. Some sanctions continue against Belgrade even after the recent election of Voljislav Kostunica as president and the political downfall of Slobodan Milosevic.

Beltran says that if the sanctions against Iraq have not worked, those imposed on Yugoslavia did help in getting rid of Milosevic because they were better targeted. He describes international sanctions as "an economic tool at the service of a political aim," adding that "by their very nature sanctions are an instrument whose impact is very difficult to determine in advance."

Beltran continues: "In many ways, the sanctions against Belgrade seem to have been imposed under optimal conditions." He says that the "Milosevic regime, although authoritarian, nevertheless maintained some appearance of a democracy. A political opposition was able to take form and serve as a starting point for Western countries which promised an immediate lifting of [some] sanctions once Milosevic was out of power." He adds: "This [kind of] leverage does not exist in the case of Iraq."

Beltran says the different geographic situations of the two countries is also an important factor. He writes: "The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia is surrounded by countries which sooner or later hope to join the European Union and NATO. The risk of being left behind in the race for [these institutions'] enlargements was high and played a role in the mobilization of the Yugoslav population against their president." Iraq, of course, has no such ambitions.

Beltran concludes that "in the case of Iraq, Europeans and Americans are now at a dead end. In the embargo against Belgrade," he adds, "there was a clear will to maximize the economic sanctions and avoid, as much as possible, its collateral effects." Not so, he implies, for Iraq.


A Washington Post editorial (published today in the IHT) editorial agrees that the "United Nations sanctions [against Iraq] have already been greatly loosened and they have failed for a decade to topple Saddam [Hussein]." But the paper says the real challenge for the next U.S. administration "is to fight hard for [an Iraq] containment policy -- to go out and sell it to voters and allies far more vigorously than has the Clinton administration -- because even a tattered version of this strategy is much better than none." The editorial says that, at a minimum, the next U.S. administration needs to defend the existing sanctions.

The paper goes on to say: "Critics of the sanctions seem to presume that the Saddam Hussein who rules Iraq is not the same Saddam Hussein who overran Kuwait a decade ago, who advocates holy war against the United States and Israel, who used weapons of mass destruction and would do so again." It adds: "Short of removing him from power, the only responsible policy towards this kind of warmongering dictator is containment, and the tougher the better."

(RFE/RL's Aurora Gallego contributed to this report.)