The Swiss say Bush's "hesitance" caused a blowup in the Middle East.

Published May 21, 2001 8:22PM (EDT)

It's all Grecian to me: Notes from the foreign press

Did the Bush administration's ambivalence cause the most recent escalation of the Middle East conflict? Early on Friday, Israeli forces bombed Palestinian territory with F-16 fighter jets in retaliation for a suicide bombing earlier in the day that killed six and injured over 100 at an Israeli shopping mall. That attack prompted new outrage in the Mideast, and prompted Vice President Dick Cheney to call the violence "worrisome," though he stopped short of urging Israel to call off the use of its warplanes.

A leading article (Eurospeak for "editorial") in Switzerland's Basler Zeitung under the headline "Bush's Middle East hesitance" alleges that the new administration's Middle East uneasiness helped pave the way for the current disaster.

"Bill Clinton's slogan was 'It's the economy, stupid.' George W. Bush took something from that, too: Voters will hardly reward him for investing too much political capital away from the homeland," writes Dieter Osterman. "Nowhere else has this been more clearly depicted in recent months than in the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. As the difficult achievements of 10 years of the peace process dissolved in smoke and hate, the new U.S. administration was nowhere to be seen. By each subsequent wider escalation, Washington reacted, more or less, with weary calls for restraint. Hawks in both parties in the conflict have openly assessed this to mean that the U.S. isn't really serious about its appeals -- and that Washington doesn't need to be taken seriously anymore either. In doing so, the U.S. unintentionally contributed to the escalation of the situation."

Meanwhile, as the Middle East situation spiraled further out of control, the U.S. announced its intentions to abandon yet another international treaty. A report in Sunday's New York Times hinted that the administration would abandon the Geneva protocol of the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention, which would ban the use of biological weapons. British Prime Minister Tony Blair has championed the ban, and after the U.S. abruptly pulled the rug out from beneath the Kyoto treaty and the ABM missile treaty, the Europeans aren't likely to take the new development lightly. The European press is already sharpening its talons.

"The United States is poised to reignite European fears of American isolationism by rejecting a draft agreement prohibiting biological weapons despite Tony Blair's strong support for the deal," London Daily Telegraph journalist Toby Harnden writes. "Without U.S. backing, the protocol would be meaningless."

The Bush administration is apparently concerned that inspection provisions of the Geneva protocol could leave American pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies susceptible to industrial espionage.

But European sensibilities and America's new fear of multilateral agreements aren't the only hot spots on the Bush agenda. There's a battle brewing closer to home -- and it even has a Bush energy policy tie-in. According to the Calgary Herald: "Soaring oil and gas prices are causing a modern-day gold rush in the United States, as energy companies and speculators snap up land in search of a hydrocarbon bonanza." And Canada could become the first victim of that energy grab.

Of concern to the Canadians is the proposed 660-megawatt generating station on the Washington-British Columbia border known as "Sumas 2." According to the paper, the plant would emit 142 tons of nitrogen oxide a year, 202 tons of particulate matter, 42 tons of sulfur dioxide, 142 tons of volatile organic compounds, 96 tons of carbon monoxide and 2.2 million tons of carbon monoxide. Most of the toxins in the laundry list compiled by the Herald "would drift over the border into British Columbia's Fraser Valley." And that can't make the natural resource-rich Canadians very happy.

Daily line

"It will pass, and I believe overwhelmingly."
-- Sen. Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., speaking about Monday's vote on the Bush tax cut

Bush buzz

The cornerstone of Bush's agenda, his tax cut plan, comes up for a vote in the Senate on Monday. Though its size has been trimmed from Bush's $1.6 trillion request to its current figure of $1.35 trillion, GOP leaders hail its impending passage as a major victory for the president and for the conservative agenda.

Not only will the cut fulfill Bush's campaign promise of speedy tax relief, it could also permanently shrink the size of government, and that's what critics are afraid of. Some claim that by emptying government coffers with the tax cut, Bush is restricting the ability of future administrations to deal speedily with national social or economic crises. Particularly with baby boomers approaching retirement, critics say, the government could be called upon to handle unforeseen needs of a burgeoning population of elderly people who may not be prepared to support themselves.

Bush would likely respond that the American private sector should step into that gap. The president renewed a theme of his campaign in remarks to University of Notre Dame graduates on Sunday, calling for young people and all Americans to finish Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty by increasing their support of private and faith-based charitable organizations.

A death row inmate is looking to test the limits of Bush's personal compassion, requesting that the president commute his sentence. Juan Raul Garza, convicted of a drug-related murder, has asked that the president grant him clemency and block his execution, currently scheduled for June 19, eight days after Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh's scheduled execution. Garza's attorneys claim that their client, a Hispanic man, was the victim of racial bias in his sentencing. (As Texas governor, Bush presided over 152 executions.)

Meanwhile, Bush's second in command was on the air defending the administration's energy plan, which made its public debut last Thursday. In an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press," Vice President Cheney continued to downplay the prospects of short-term solutions to high energy prices, and dismissed solutions such as pressure on OPEC nations and price controls. He also repeated his assertion that the crisis in California is a homegrown mess and not the responsibility of the White House.

As for complaints that the process that led to the administration's energy plan was overly secretive, an echo of former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's doomed healthcare reform plan, Cheney said the comparison was unfounded. "Hillary had a different deal," he said. "She was in a situation where they, in fact, were incorporating outside people in the policy-deliberation process. We didn't do any of that."

On the lighter side, Cheney assured host Tim Russert that he was working hard to take care of his notoriously weak heart. The vice president said he was losing weight and making strides in improving his diet. "No bacon and eggs today, [just] fruit and latte -- skim milk," Cheney said.

And don't miss one of the president's former professors blasting Bush as "a spoiled brat." Yoshihiro Tsurumi, now a professor at New York's Baruch College, taught economics at Harvard Business School in the 1970s, and Bush was one of his students. Speaking to Japan Today, Tsurumi said that the younger Bush coasted on his father's prestige, and didn't show any potential as a business leader. "I told him then, 'You could become a fraternity president but not a CEO,'" Tsurumi said.

Monday's schedule: The president delivers the commencement address at Yale University, where he is to receive an honorary degree.

This day in Bush history

May 21, 1998: Texas education officials announced that 77 percent of the state's public school students passed the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills that year, a record passage rate. Bush was credited with the climbing scores, especially with gains in minority communities. "These gains are especially impressive because more students than ever are taking the TAAS test, and they are showing greater improvement than ever before," then Gov. Bush said in a written statement. Critics complained that Bush's enthusiasm for high-stakes testing robs teachers of autonomy and substitutes test-taking skills for real learning in the classroom.

Burning Bush

Links to the Web's best sites for hardcore Bush watchers.

Send questions, comments and tips to bushed@salon.com.

Bushed! contributors: Eric Boehlert, Karen Croft, Gary Kamiya, Kerry Lauerman, Daryl Lindsey, Alicia Montgomery, Fiona Morgan, Scott Rosenberg, Jake Tapper, Joan Walsh, Anthony York

Take a look at the previous edition of Bushed!

By Salon Staff

MORE FROM Salon Staff

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

George W. Bush