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Congressional Shake-Up Sends Shock Waves Abroad : Foreign policy: The GOP's huge victory catches many international observers by surprise. Trade, aid concerns are raised.


BONN — In the eyes of the world on Thursday, President Clinton looked like the walking wounded, facing two years of legislative gridlock with Republicans in control of Congress and the prospect of a one-term presidency.

Political commentators--from Asia to Europe and liberal to conservative--expressed surprise over the scope of Democratic losses and concern that the Republican congressional majority could mean more isolationism and less commitment to free trade.

Across the map, newspapers and political commentators debated whether the Democrats' drubbing was the result of a "morose national mood," as the French daily Le Figaro suggested--that is, part of a global anti-incumbent trend--or whether it marked a true shift to the right by the United States, as Canada's Toronto Star determined.

"Most voters embraced the Republican platform of fighting crime with more police, fighting the world with more defense spending and fighting the poor by slashing services and cutting taxes," the Star's editorial said.

In either case, Clinton was the clear loser to just about anyone looking at the electoral upheaval in the world's surviving superpower.

The Republican victory was welcomed in some parts of the world, although few newspapers had kind words for the GOP's leaders.

A reporter for Britain's pro-business Financial Times described House Speaker-to-be Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) as "a slash-and-burn conservative" and another said Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato (R-N.Y) would be the GOP "chief attack dog" on the Whitewater affair as the new chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee.

A commentary in Germany's conservative Die Welt newspaper called the prospect of 91-year-old Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) at the head of the Armed Services Committee "depressing."

But most comment was reserved for the likely chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, right-wing Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina, whom even the conservative Times of London called "a loose cannon."

In foreign policy issues, "Bill Clinton will find himself on a leash held by the all-powerful Senate," said an editorial in the left-leaning French newspaper Liberation. "To be sure, Clinton's foreign policy, particularly in Europe, was considered chaotic. But now national isolationism has a beautiful future ahead of it."

Likewise, various newspapers added, there is a new generation of more populist Republican leaders, which means that the GOP is no longer necessarily the party of free trade.

Immediately at stake on the trade front is ratification of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade's Uruguay Round pact, on which Congress is scheduled to vote later this month. The pact, the result of years of painful negotiations, is meant to dramatically reduce world trade barriers and would create the World Trade Organization as the watchdog successor to GATT on Jan. 1, 1995.

Failure to ratify the pact this year could deal "a mortal blow" to the multilateral trading system, GATT Director-General Peter Sutherland warned in Brussels.

Clinton is scheduled to discuss trade with leaders of Pacific Rim nations in Jakarta, Indonesia, later this week and with Latin American leaders in Miami on Dec. 9 and 10.

In Japan, some analysts voiced hope that traditional, pro-business Republicans would put a brake on the Administration's "managed trade" approach to Japan, which calls for trade agreements based on measurable results, such as a larger U.S. market share.

But others feared that a Republican-dominated Congress would increase pressure on Tokyo to cut its bureaucratic red tape and dismantle other hidden barriers that prevent newcomers from entering the Japanese market.

The biggest concern centered on Helms. The Nihon Keizai Shimbun newspaper, echoing other analysts, noted that Helms had strongly advocated sanctions against Japan in 1987, when a Toshiba subsidiary was discovered to have sold submarine technology to the then-Soviet Union in violation of international agreements. "He is known as a hard-liner toward Japan," the paper said.

Helms has strong opinions on just about every foreign policy issue. While it is widely known that he has called Haiti's President Jean-Bertrand Aristide "a psychopath," it is less known that he has been an undying supporter of Taiwan in its 50-year conflict with China, though the United States does not recognize Taiwan as an independent country.

Taiwan, along with the issue of human rights, is among the most visceral for China's Communist leadership, which continues to view Taiwan as a province.

Meanwhile, in Russia, which has been the most important foreign policy issue for the Clinton Administration, several political commentators expressed concern that Republican control of Congress could lead to a cooling of U.S-Russian relations. They predicted that Clinton will be pressed to distance the United States from Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin.

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