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Western Press Review: West Looks Southeast, U.S. Looks Inward

Prague, 1 March 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Several West European commentaries today examine continuing unrest in the Balkans, while U.S. commentators remain focused on the emerging presidency of George W. Bush.


Writing in the "Frankfurter Rundschau," Stephen Israel comments pessimistically that Albanian extremists have ruined any real hopes for peace in the former Yugoslavia. Israel writes: "Hopes for peace in the Balkans have been dashed only months after the end of the era of Slobodan Milosevic. Albanian extremists are causing renewed instability in the triangle which connects Kosovo, southern Serbia and Macedonia. A new front has opened up in the Balkans."

Israel says the new front is on the Macedonia-Kosovo border. Writing from Belgrade, he concludes: "It is no secret that, structurally, the [Kosovo Liberation Army] -- which no longer exists officially -- still exists underground. Long-time veterans are still working hard at exporting the conflict across the borders to southern Serbia and Macedonia. KFOR has been charged with the task of controlling the borders and can choose to keep its eyes tight shut, or it can opt to adopt a much harder stance. If it chooses to take a hard line, though, that could result in the situation becoming much hotter for the 40,000 troops stationed there."


The "International Herald Tribune" carries a commentary by international affairs columnist William Pfaff, who says that questions have arisen about President Bush's promises to deliver what he calls a more "humble" foreign policy.

Pfaff writes: "Mr. Bush apparently wishes for a foreign policy that avoids the triumphalism, self-righteousness and hectoring which characterized U.S. policy under the previous administration -- indeed, under several previous administrations."

The commentator says: "Possibly he wants one that is less Promethean in its ambitions, less devoted to the notion that Washington has all the answers for the world, less hegemonic in its attitude toward its allies and toward international society in general."

Pfaff writes further: "Washington is deeply involved in building one nation, largely of American invention, in Bosnia. The Albanian nationalists favored by NATO during the Kosovo bombing campaign are trying to set up another independent state, for themselves, at cost to their neighbors and to Balkan stability."

The commentator adds: "The Bush government might address such problems in a low-key manner while limiting expectations about how much can be achieved by foreign initiatives. It could even, with discretion, disengage from some of them. It could emphasize the responsibility that people bear for their own outcomes. That was not the Clinton style, which globalized the world's financial economy and wanted to globalize democracy. It set out to save Russia but failed. It declared America the indispensable nation, standing taller than all the rest."


Steve Crawshaw writes in a news analysis in Britain's "Independent" daily that elements in Bosnia seeking to split the nation are increasing the threat to regional stability. The writer says, "The Bosnian Croats threw a spanner into the Balkan works yesterday by declaring the Bosnian federation to be dead. Ante Jelavic, the Croat member of the Bosnian presidency, described the authorities as 'illegal and illegitimate,' and insisted: 'We will neither participate in them nor shall we recognize their decisions.' Mr. Jelavic's party, the HDZ, has moved increasingly towards breakaway in recent months.'"

The commentary notes that under the Dayton peace agreement of 1995, Bosnia was divided into two separate entities -- a Muslim-Croat federation and a Serb entity. Crawshaw says: "A spokesman for the high representative, the top international peace official in Bosnia, described Mr. Jelavic's statement as 'extremist nonsense.' The disintegration of Bosnia would have crucial knock-on effects (a Rugby term, meaning to advance the ball by knocking it forward) in a region that remains highly unstable."


In two comments today, the "New York Times" assesses yesterday's budget presentation by U.S. President George W. Bush administration as a kind of replay of what his father once denounced as "voodoo economics (that is, relying on nonsensical superstition)."

The paper's editorial, entitled "Return of Fuzzy Math," says: "One day after outlining his lofty budget priorities to Congress, President Bush has delivered the decidedly down-to-earth numbers in the budget itself. They show more than ever that Mr. Bush's tax cut is to be financed by tapping revenues generated by Medicare, jeopardizing the future solvency of Social Security and cutting domestic spending programs. The precise cuts in housing, environment, job training, transportation, law enforcement and other areas were largely hidden even in Mr. Bush's budget, where they were blandly labeled as spending 'redirections.' Congress must not accept this kind of assault on domestic spending in an era of surpluses."


Also in the "New York Times," staff columnist Bob Herbert writes of what the headlines calls "Voodoo Redux." He says: "It was a good speech, well written and well delivered. The president was relaxed, gracious, funny at times, even eloquent. He seemed so reasonable that it was difficult to tell from Tuesday night's speech that -- under the comforting cloak of his nice-guy conservatism -- George W. Bush plans to take the country on yet another wild and reckless economic ride."

The commentary continues: "Mr. Bush has gotten very good at masking the problematic aspects of his party's agenda. Ronald Reagan may have been more polished, but Mr. Bush is at least as good -- maybe better -- at hiding disturbing truths. The Bush tax cuts are too big and too skewed to the rich. But the president, with his smiling, awe-shucks demeanor, tells us not only that the size of the tax plan is 'just right,' but also that it's the best thing in the world for lower-income people."


It seems as though the "Wall Street Journal Europe" and the "New York Times" listened to two different Bush presentations. A "Wall Street Journal" editorial says: "Yes, it was certainly the case that George W. Bush delivered his speech to Congress with skill and confidence. [His government], at its most serious, is attempting to modernize the administration of Washington, much as the private sector has done or for that matter many state and local governments."

The newspaper goes on: "Mr. Bush is proposing that Congress join the rest of us in the 21st century where -- if indeed it wants to increase spending on something worthy like the National Institutes of Health or teaching basic literacy and numeracy -- then it will have to defund something relatively useless like the Export-Import Bank or the current fiscal year's amazing 6,000 public works projects that it funded."


The "Boston Globe's" editorial board appears to have heard about what the "New York Times" heard. In its editorial, the "Globe" says: "The fact is that Bush's tax-cut proposal, fashioned early in last year's campaign when he was competing with even more conservative offerings, is far too large and tilted far too much in favor of wealthy individuals."

The "Globe" concludes: "Washington is ready to cut taxes. But if Bush insists on enacting his campaign giveaway, he will run into powerful opposition. Helping fashion a reasonable tax cut that can pass Congress may well be the first major test of Bush's presidency."