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Western Press Review: Bush Presidency And Putin In Cuba

Prague, 15 December 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The Western press continues to mull over the news that George W. Bush is now president-elect of the United States. Commentary focuses on what a Bush presidency has in store for America and the world. Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to Cuba and the EU's European Central Bank also evoke comments.


In an editorial entitled "The Accidental President," Britain's weekly Economist writes: "Seldom has so much power been awarded to one man by such a narrow margin and with quite so many Supreme Court justices at each other's throats. Al's Gore's gracious concession, more than a month after the actual election, means that George W. Bush will finally be America's next president," the editorial continues. "But Mr. Bush steps up to the victor's podium a shadow of the fortunate figure who first appeared to have sneaked to victory on election night. His presidency begins on an accidental, even damaged note. Can he recover from such a terrible start?" the magazine asks.

The Economist's answer is yes. Provided Bush handles himself wisely, it argues, things can only improve for him. The editorial says: "For many people, Mr. Bush has always been an insubstantial figure. Now the danger is that events could overwhelm him. Common sense suggests not just a full and frank inquest into his own election, but also a conspicuous attempt to reach out to his opponents to appoint Democrats to his cabinet and to moderate his own proposals, particularly his tax cut."

The editorial adds: "The feeling that Mr. Bush has arrived in the White House by accident may take time to wear off. But beginnings are not everything. Bill Clinton won the presidency under far more auspicious circumstances. Eight years later, he hardly departs as a failure, but many already talk of his presidency in terms of wasted opportunities. President Bush, at the least, will begin with expectations low."


New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman sees Al Gore as a victim, but notes that his sacrifice will benefit the country. He writes in a commentary: "When Al Gore was in Vietnam he never saw much combat. Throughout his presidential campaign, though, he insisted he wanted to 'fight' for every American. Well, Wednesday night (Dec 13) in his concession speech, Mr. Gore took a bullet for the country."

Friedman severely criticizes the U.S. Supreme Court, which halted the manual recount of disputed ballots in Florida -- partly because it determined that time had run out -- for its decision: "The shot was fired at the heart of the nation by the five conservative justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, with their politically inspired ruling that installed George W. Bush as president. [The] five conservative justices essentially ruled that sanctity of dates, even meaningless ones, mattered more than the sanctity of votes. [The] Rehnquist court now has its legacy: 'In calendars we trust.'"

Despite what Friedman argues is the injustice of the Supreme Court's decision, he praises Gore for his concession speech after the ruling: "The rule of law is most reinforced when, even though it may have been imposed wrongly or with bias, the recipient of the judgment accepts it, and the system behind it, as final and legitimate. Only in this way can we reaffirm our fidelity to the legal system, even though it rules against us."


Washington Post commentator Jim Hoagland also focuses on the Supreme Court, calling the justice's political and expedient judgment "shameful." He notes that Bush is likely to be in a position to appoint new judges to the court during his term and counsels: "As his (Bush's) opponents predicted during the campaign, the appointments he is likely to make to the Supreme Court may well turn out to be the dominant feature of his presidency. More than any American president in the past century, he must appoint people to the bench for their integrity, judicial temperament and reasoning -- rather than for their political views or partisan service. This Supreme Court already seems to have enough of those latter qualities."


In an editorial, the Wall Street Journal Europe take a quite contrary view. It writes; "We expect most Americans will get over this election pretty quickly. They realize the machinery hit an alligator in the road and the U.S. Supreme Court had no choice but to tow us home. George W. Bush will be a 'legitimate' President from the moment he takes the oath of office. Any idea that he should twiddle his thumbs for four years until we can have another rerun of this campaign is nonsense."

The paper goes on: "[Bush] was right in his own speech Wednesday to show he wasn't going to be knocked off his agenda, an agenda that would have been picked up anyway because it comports with the temper of the times. This 21st century society has to move ahead by letting its people be free and responsible, not by carving out excuses for politically significant voting blocs to avoid personal accountability and competitive reality."

The editorial further argues: "Someday this may be looked back on as the Lucky Election. A complacent electorate took itself to the brink of a constitutional showdown. The High Court barely stepped in to save the day before yet another flaky Florida vote evaporated the Presidency." It concludes: " We knew we were going to get Al Gore or George Bush, but we got the one with the open temperament of a conciliator, a proven talent for bipartisanship and a policy draft that speaks to the future. Mr. Bush won with more popular votes than Bill Clinton ever did. That's a pretty good position from which to lead."


Finally, Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger says in Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that almost all those involved in the protracted post-election battle have been harmed, and repairing the damage may take some time. He writes in a commentary: "Indisputably, most of the individuals and institutions involved in 'Operation Presidential Election' have taken a knock. Even the highest courts in the land, not just the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, but above all the Florida Supreme Court, failed to stand majestically aloof from matters which voters had not made absolutely crystal clear. Now, political life must return to normality, and part of this process is to acknowledge the current state of affairs."


Another commentary in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung focuses on Russian President Vladimir Putin's trip to Cuba this week, the first by a Russian leader since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Berthold Kohler writes: "The Russians have always been drawn to warm waters, and especially so during the Cold War. Cuba was [former Soviet president Nikita] Khrushchev's unsinkable aircraft carrier off the arch-enemy's coast," he adds. "The Soviet Union spent heavily on that policy, until it collapsed, but Messrs. [Mikhail] Gorbachev and [Boris] Yeltsin had neither the money nor the inclination to continue it. Mr. Putin, however, strives to revive former grandeur."


The New York Times, in an editorial, notes: "The days are past when Moscow's relations with Havana threatened American security. But Mr. Putin should not provoke Washington by expanding Russian arms sales to Cuba or by helping Havana complete an unfinished civilian nuclear reactor."


Lastly, Britain's Financial Times focuses on the state of the European Union's economy. In an analysis entitled "Steering a Steady Course," the paper writes: "On Wednesday, the members of the governing council of the [EU's] European Central Bank meet for the last time this year. In spite of an inflation rate well above their definition of price stability, they are likely to leave interest rates unchanged."

"This," the paper says, "would not just be a gesture of seasonal good will. As the temporary factors that have affected inflation recede and growth slows, the central bank knows that price pressures will probably ease without further monetary tightening...[Looking forward to] 2001, falling business confidence and the slowdown in the world economy suggest that output growth is likely to moderate further, although tax cuts in some nations could be a countervailing force. The combination of slowing growth and rising inflation is a tricky one for any central bank to respond to,." The editorial comments: "So far, the ECB has steered a relatively steady course. Leaving rates on hold in the near future while remaining vigilant about second-round price effects would be the best way to safeguard the region's expansion."