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Friday, 26 January, 2001, 17:25 GMT
Stephen Sackur quizzed

The Cabinet of US president George W Bush is now almost complete, with most of his nominees already approved by the Senate.

Many in his team, like state secretary Colin Powell and vice president Dick Cheney, worked for the administration of George Bush senior.

His first act as President was to reinstate a ban on giving federal money to international groups that lobbied for or provided abortions.

So what tone do these first actions set for the next four years? What does his choice of Cabinet say about the new administration?

The BBC's Washington correspondent, Stephen Sackur, has answered your questions.

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Transcript highlights


Michael McMain, London, UK:

Considering that the consensus on Wall St during the presidential campaign was that a Gore administration would be more beneficial for the US economy, what is the current mood amongst the business community regarding US economic prospects?


Stephen Sackur:

Well I think I would disagree with Michael McMain on his first point. I don't think the business community was united or indeed there was even a consensus behind Al Gore - I think the business community was very split. But if you look at political donations from Wall Street and corporate America to the political parties during the campaign there is no question that the Republicans got much more money from big business than the Democrats did. I think if you had to find a majority one or the other, big business went for Bush not for Gore.

In terms of how big business and corporate America sees the economy and sees the relationship between politics and the economy, I think right now everybody agrees that we are at the crossroads. There is the possibility of a recession in the United States albeit probably a small, short-lived recession, but at the same time there are some signs in the economy i.e. fairly resilient consumer spending, which suggests that there may be a "soft landing". There may not be a recession.


Nik Kieboom, Manchester, UK:

Does the US's obsession with economic "growth" mean that the new administration has been formed purely to pander to industrial interests?


Stephen Sackur:

Well I tell you who would say that - Ralph Nader but then he would probably have said that about a Gore administration as well. Clearly some Americans are disgusted with the degree to which corporate America - big business - through the relationship between money and politics does dominate the American political system. It is a powerful strand of opinion but clearly the main players in the big two political parties don't quite see it that way.

However, there is no doubt that George W. Bush is deeply sympathetic to big business - he comes out of the oil business himself. I think he launched his political career on the back of success in business both oil and then baseball.

If you look at his Treasury Secretary and many members of the team he is developing in the economic field, they are inclined towards big business. They have links with big business and clearly their policies are designed to help the business sector in the United States but whether you could go from there to say that this administration has been formed simply to serve corporate interests - I think that perhaps is going too far. No doubt George Bush is aware of that accusation which is why he has made the first priority of his administration the education policy which no one could argue is being driven simply by corporate America.


Bernie Williamson, Leighton Buzzard, England:

Following the Florida debacle - what are the chances of "Dubya" taking a stance on electoral reform?


Stephen Sackur:

That is a very good question because it is such a burning issue post-Florida and after one of the most disputed elections in America's history.

In their meeting senior Democrats at the White House were invited in by George Bush and requested early initiatives on electoral reform. George Bush simply said - "I hear what you say - I will think about it". I don't think George Bush regards this as a big priority, I think philosophically he is inclined to leave it to the individual states. He doesn't think that federal government should be dictating to the states how they run elections. I wouldn't expect too much initiative there from George W. Bush.


Ben Pickard, Edinburgh, Scotland:

How would the Bush administration react if Tony Blair or a future PM did not agree to the stationing of a missile detection system in the UK as part of the new missile defence system?


Stephen Sackur:

Obviously one of the biggest topics that is going to be flying across the Atlantic is going to be what to do about the American plan for national missile defence. The Americans are committed to it under a Bush administration; GWB has made it one of the pillars of his foreign policy and security strategy.

The Brits don't like it - it is as simple as that. They are very sceptical about it both on a technical level but also there is a different view in Europe of what the threat is. The limited national missile defence approach is supposed to specifically safeguard America from threats from rogue nations e.g. North Korea and Iraq. Many people in Europe have a real doubt as to whether there is such a threat. The Bush idea then takes it further - Bush imagines an umbrella which protects not only America but European allies and other allies as well from any global nuclear ballistic threat. The Europeans by contrast prefer the notion of continuing the disarmament process - reducing the levels of nuclear weapons.


Gerard A.Eisenga, Amsterdam, Holland:

Aren't you afraid Mr Bush's conservative policy will collide with more liberal countries like the Europeans? What will Human Rights organisations make of his policies?


Stephen Sackur:

There are clearly potential rifts within the Nato alliance. Europe's view of a whole host of issues concerning security, other areas of foreign policy and indeed human rights is different from that of the Americans. Bill Clinton tried to finesse some of these divisions - he was a great man for trying to give everybody a little piece of what they wanted. I think George W. Bush is going to be much more clear-headed, perhaps even ruthless, about America's national security interest - that in the end is what drives his policy. If the Europeans don't like it - on issues like national missile defence - they are going to have to lump it.

Also on a whole raft of issues concerned with human rights I think we can expect the Bush team to be somewhat less effusive about a moral humanitarian foreign policy. For example, interventions in countries like Haiti and Somalia, which the Clinton team undertook - those sorts of intervention, he is not keen on. He believes that is not what US forces are for. So around the world you are going to a more limited, more specifically focused national security oriented US foreign policy which is going to be less ambitious but perhaps easier for the rest of the world to understand.


Colin Finney, London, UK:

What impact will a change of administration in Washington have on the peace process in Northern Ireland?


Stephen Sackur:

I think in terms of the style and the tone of this new administration, they are going to be less keen to put themselves in the middle of problems. Obviously the biggest example might be the Middle East but I think you could say the same thing about Northern Ireland. It is amazing the amount of effort Bill Clinton's team took in Northern Ireland. I am not sure that Bush is going to expend political capital in that way. I think he believes that parties have to make peace themselves - all America can do is encourage them in a broad sense and offer them benefits if they do it but not to be right there in the negotiation.


Michael Maathuis, Amsterdam, The Netherlands:

Do you think that the corporate structure which president Bush is planning to use for his administration, in which he will be the CEO, his cabinet-members will be directors and the supreme court will be the supervisory board, will work for a country like the US?


Stephen Sackur:

People around Bush say he knows how to inspire people and he knows how to lead and pick a team that can do the job. He wants people in his administration who can go away, come up with solutions to problems, bring them to him, present him with choices and he makes the final decision and signs off on them. That is a corporate sort of style. Bush has been brought up in a business environment which he believes is the most efficient, practical, pragmatic way to use power. It does depend on the quality of the people around him and exactly what challenges he faces.


Lionel Farmer, Vancouver, Canada:

Do you think that Bush's pledge to be a uniter and not a divider was sincere?


Stephen Sackur:

I think it was sincere in the sense that every politician wants to be a success. GWB knows that he really can only be a success if he does draw in some of the people who opposed him during the election campaign. He is practical and pragmatic and he knows that the Senate is split fifty-fifty. The House is very closely divided - controlled by Republicans - he cannot deliver his domestic political agenda by which he will ultimately be judged unless he can pull in some Democrats on specific issues - like education policy reform and tax cuts. So practically he has to be a uniter not a divider. He also knows that come next election time he cannot afford to lose 90 per cent of the African-American vote as he did this time. It is in his political interest to reign people in not to cast them off and be a very divisive president.


James Devlin, London, UK:

Do you think President Bush will have any success in reversing the environmental orders made in the last few days of President Clinton's term? And do you think the voters of Ralph Nader will be regretting their decision to vote for him rather than Gore?


Stephen Sackur:

I have said lots of things are going to be hot topics in Washington and environment is another one. We have already talked about Bush's background in the oil industry - the fact that he is closely tied to corporate America. This is going to be a very different view of the environment - a much less principled view. It will be a view that is pragmatic - that is about exploiting America's resources as much as can be done.

There is one impending showdown and that is over the Arctic national wildlife refuge. The Bush camp has said they favour drilling for oil and natural gas in this area - about 8 per cent. of the entire refuge might be given over to the exploration of oil and gas. It seems the environmental groups are girding up for a huge fight on some of these issues and it will get very nasty because both sides feel very strongly that they have right on their side.

As regards Ralph Nader. Goodness knows what he has been thinking and what his supporters have been thinking since the end of the Florida election fiasco. However, I think you have to say that the fundamental point Nader made was that GWB and Al Gore are exactly the same - a vote for one is like a vote for the other - they are both tied to corporate America and they will not change the money politics and the sickness at the heart of American democracy.

But on a whole host of issues - the Arctic national wildlife refuge, abortion, appoint Supreme Court justices, there are fundamental differences between what GWB is going to do and what Al Gore would have done. So as Bush is now in power people are realising he is going to do some very important things, Gore wouldn't have done them and perhaps Nader supporters are regretting it.

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See also:

24 Jan 01 | Americas
Mixed fate for Bush nominees
24 Jan 01 | Americas
Analysis: Bush's abortion signal
23 Jan 01 | Americas
EU condemns Bush abortion move
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