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Western Press Review: Shotgun Commentary

Prague, 27 February 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Lacking any one or even two major targets at which to fire, Western commentary today spreads shotgun pellets of comment over an array of issues.


Turkey's sudden surge of economic difficulties after what appeared to be a successful series of liberalizing economic steps, draws attention from both the Washington Post and the New York Times. Stephen Rosenfeld, former editorial page editor of the Washington Post, says that people should not allow the economic crisis to fog their vision of Turkey as a strategic force.

Rosenfeld writes from Istanbul: "Its latest financial crisis should remind us that Turkey is a truly weighty, insufficiently recognized European and Middle Eastern power. That means that, along with helping the Turks find effective ways to beat their current difficulties, the United States needs to cultivate Turkey as an emerging democracy and as an already-emerged regional security-and-stability partner."


The New York Times carries a long analysis of Turkey's situation by analyst Robert T. Kaplan. The problem in Turkey, Kaplan says, is that the system there does not seem to assign clear responsibilities. He writes: "Stability has so far been maintained by the National Security Council, a mixed regime of military officers and civilian ministers. For decades, this council has prevented Turkey from slipping into the anarchy of new democracies like Indonesia or the stifling autocracy of many nearby Arab states. Nevertheless, that stability has come at an increasing cost, especially as Turkey's society and class structure have become more complex."

Kaplan says: "The problem is this, simply put: No one in the system is accountable. Turkey's needs for responsive, transparent banking and taxation systems have grown. But who would establish them? The military has no logical role, and anyway, avoids political responsibility for many problems."


Commentators in the New York Times and the German newspaper Die Welt poke fun at U.S. President George W. Bush's garbled English. In the New York Times, commentator Gail Collins discusses the merits of Bush's economic program and parodies Bush's loose rhetorical style. She writes: "Members of Congress turn out to have exactly the same reaction to Mr. Bush as [does] the country at large. They like everything about him except his ideas. His Medicare drug plan elicited an energetic bipartisan response, with both parties stomping on it until there was nothing left but a thin legislative grease spot."

Collins says: "Tonight Mr. Bush, the father of two whose wife is a former librarian, is going to officially ask Congress to approve his $1.6 trillion tax cut. He says we need it because 'a warning light is flashing on the dashboard of our economy,' and there will be perilous times ahead unless the consumer confidence cruise control is completely operational."

The writer comments: "The president has been selling this plan forever." And she adds: "Tonight we'll begin to find out if Mr. Bush, a graduate of Yale and the owner of a dog named Spot, can talk the nation into believing that tax relief 'pumps adrenaline into troubled economies,' multiplying the endorphins of economic growth and increasing the insulin of employment. Not to mention fixing that darned light on the dashboard."


Die Welt's commentary, by the paper's Washington corespondent Uwe Schmidt, focuses directly on Bush's endemic confusion of terms. Schmidt writes that other public figures have made famous verbal slips, but, she says, "George W. was the first to achieve cult status. [His] malapropisms are being collected, exchanged, and published in paperbacks and on websites."

Schmidt writes: "Strangely enough, neither the stock markets nor the drug cartels reacted last Thursday when George W. Bush warned against a devilish new substance. He is concerned about the size of the areas under cultivation of cocoa (he intended "coca," the source of cocaine), the U.S. president said."

Schmidt cites other recent pratfalls taken by Bush, tripping over his own tongue: "damage bombing assessment" when he meant "bombing damage assessment," "Is [instead of: Are] our children learning?" speaking on education, and, of a visit by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, "Laura and I are looking forward to a private dinner with he [instead of him ] and Mrs. Blair."


The Washington Post said yesterday in an editorial (published today in the IHT) that severe reverberations in Japan over the sinking of the Japanese trawler Ehime Maru by the U.S. Navy submarine Greeneville earlier this month are shaking loose evidence of structural weaknesses in the Japanese government. The newspaper says: "Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori was already so weak that his failure to break off a golf game when news of the accident arrived may prove to be his undoing. Many Japanese analysts expect that he will be forced to resign within weeks. Even worse, Mr. Mori's survival seems to depend on whether his moribund Liberal Democratic Party can find anyone to replace him. No capable political leaders seem to be available in Japan now or even on the horizon."


Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen takes a different direction today, He says that the United States has apologized enough over the disaster. Cohen writes: "I cannot tell you how the USS Greeneville surfaced under a Japanese fishing vessel, the Ehime Maru, sinking it. [Nor can I] tell you if the presence of civilians in the sub contributed to the accident or if some piece of equipment malfunctioned or if someone was incredibly negligent. I can tell you, though, that it was an accident and that the United States has apologized enough."

Cohen writes: "We are [certainly sorry]. The accident was a tragedy. Most of those on board the Ehime Maru were students. It was a training vessel. Some of those missing and presumed dead are students. Their parents are in agony -- they have suffered an incalculable loss. They are permitted to say anything they want, to demand anything that will salve their grief. That includes the demand to raise the Ehime Maru and recover the bodies of the dead."

The writer continues: "But other Japanese -- everyone from editorial writers to opportunistic politicians -- are demanding more than they are entitled to." He says, "The collision was a tragedy, but it was an accident."

Cohen writes: "This constant call for one apology after another may well reflect a cultural difference between Japan and the United States, but it also smacks of epic hypocrisy. It took the Japanese forever to acknowledge that approximately 200,000 Asian women were forced to become the sex slaves of the Japanese military during World War Two. Only grudgingly did Japan compensate some of them and even more grudgingly did it offer remorse. As far as some of the surviving 'comfort women' are concerned, no apology has ever been forthcoming."


The New York Times and the Sueddeutsche Zeitung carry commentaries today on aspects of U.S.-Russian relations. Tomas Avenarius writes in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung that a "second, more important Ivanov" eclipses the significance of Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov.

Avenarius says: "At the first meeting of [Ivanov] and his U.S. colleague, Secretary of State Colin Powell, [another Ivanov] also was at the table, in spirit at least. Sergei Ivanov, the general secretary of the Russian security council, is the second, more important Ivanov."

The commentator adds: "Even without his tangible presence it is clear that Moscow's foreign policy is no longer run solely from the Foreign Ministry. The Security Council has long had a hand in decision-making, with its boss Ivanov viewed as Putin's foreign policy director. Whether it is NATO's secretary-general or the Foreign Ministry in Berlin, all important visitors to Moscow speak first to the foreign minister, and then to his namesake."


Washington-based Brookings Institution analysts Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay argue in a New York Times commentary that the United States should treat seriously Russian President Vladimir Putin's recent proposal to work with NATO. They write: "A joint program of Russia and NATO to defend against possible missile attacks from countries like North Korea, Iran, and Iraq would address Europe's two main worries about the Bush administration's commitment to building an anti-missile system: that it could trigger a new cold war with Russia and that it would signify an American search for unilateral advantage."

The commentary goes on: "The proposal by Mr. Putin -- though still quite vague -- is nonetheless significant because it accepts two key propositions that the United States has been pushing for some years now: first, that the proliferation of long-range missiles in more and more nations poses a threat to international security, and second, that missile defenses are an appropriate response."

They conclude: "At a time when many in Moscow view NATO with distrust, a major Russian-NATO initiative to deal with one of the principal threats to international security could place relations between the United States, Europe, and Russia on a new and more constructive footing."