IT must be a long time since the leaderships of the West's four main countries were in such simultaneous disarray. Germany still has no effective government several weeks after its general election. Several French cities are under siege and neither President Chirac's insistence that “the law must prevail” nor the ineffective measures of his government is preventing the street violence from spreading. In Britain Prime Minister Blair has his back to the wall over his proposal to extend detention without trial for terrorist suspects from 14 to 90 days. In the United States President Bush has been bruised by his failure to get agreement on a free trade zone stretching from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego and returns home from Argentina, Brazil and Panama to opinion polls showing his standing with the public lower than it has ever been. Germany will presumably sort out its coalition-building problems before too long but France faces the kind of escalating violence that worsens as short-term measures to control it are strengthened. Mr Blair is showing signs of desperation over his anti-terrorist legislation; his assertion yesterday that the opposition to the 90-days detention was “really not good enough” and that he would not have survived as leader of the Labour opposition if he had taken a similarly negative line on comparable legislation was quickly countered by the Conservatives with chapter and verse on the occasions in the mid-1990s when he did just that. However, it is probably Mr Bush who is in the greatest personal difficulty. A Washington Post/ABC News poll released on Sunday showed that the President's approval ratings on almost every measure of his performance and character were lower than ever before and, for the first time, a majority of respondents questioned his integrity. A new USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll showed that 55 per cent of those questioned believed that the Bush administration has been a failure. He will find it very difficult to pull out of this decline with the shadow of suspicion still over his key advisor Karl Rove and Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff facing charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. On Iraq the only issue that now concerns the American people is when US troops can come home and that is still a distant and indeterminate prospect.


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