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Europe

European Press Review: US War Record Politics

European papers commented on the debate that has erupted over the Vietnam war record of US presidential candidate John Kerry and whether it will prove to be his downfall or his biggest asset.

The hot phase in the presidential race has begun, the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung stated. "Center stage is the heroic epic of naval officer John Kerry: The main questions in this epic are the following: How can you recognize a brave soldier? What exactly must injuries look like to make someone a hero? And how long must a soldier serve in the army for creating an adequate balance between risk and honor?" The debate which has evolved in the United States is absurd, the paper criticized, but for Bush’s supporters the strategy is clear -- by repeating this message often enough they want to plant a seed of doubt into the minds of voters. It's really Kerry’s credibility that's at stake, the paper concluded.

The Financial Times from London pondered the priorities of the American public. "The US is embroiled in the bloody aftermath of the Iraq venture; the Afghanistan government struggles to exert authority; and attempts to stop North Korea and Iran acquiring nuclear arms are making little headway. Yet the debate is bogged down over whether Kerry deserved the five combat medals awarded in Vietnam 35 years ago." But the paper put part of the blame for the discussion on Kerry himself. "A presidential candidate who cites his war record as a reason for trusting him invites opponents to challenge that record," the Financial Times wrote.

For the Italian daily La Republica the mere fact that in the presidential race a past war has upstaged the present one showed the "situation of confusion and embarrassment into which the political class in the US has maneuvered itself." That’s true for the whole political spectrum, the paper added. It suggested that the true reason for this mess is the ongoing conflict in Iraq and the absence of a vision of how to solve it.

The Republican Convention due to begin next Monday in New York City could turn out to be the next stumbling block for John Kerry, the Austrian daily Der Standard opined. "Many of the planned protest activities may sound rather funny -- like a group called 'Shut down Broadway' which is calling on Broadway actors to go sick so that the Republican delegates from all over the country will have to miss out on their planned visits to musical shows." But there are also calls for protests which are less amusing, the paper noted, suggesting that the planned demonstrations against Bush in New York could take a violent turn. If this proves to be the case, the paper reasoned, it would be the perfect opportunity for the US president to present himself as a symbol for peace and stability -- as opposed to a chaotic political opposition.