Buchanan's Message Catches on Like Arizona Brush Fire

His ardent nationalism dismays many abroad who worry his views may become US mainstream

VLADIMIR ZHIRINOVSKY, the ultranationalist candidate in Russia's June 16 presidential election, is enthusiastic about Pat Buchanan's victory in last week's New Hampshire primary. By all counts, he is one of the few foreign observers who is.

Around the world Mr. Buchanan's strong showing in early caucuses and primary elections has been greeted with reactions ranging from dismay (''hate's spokesman,'' Norway's largest newspaper editorialized) to consternation (a practitioner of ''quack-doctor cures,'' London's liberal Guardian wrote) to anger (a man ''who hates Jews and blacks,'' an Israeli newspaper intoned).

There is no expectation in foreign capitals that Buchanan will actually capture the White House. Even so, political leaders and commentators abroad voice concern that some of Buchanan's extreme views on foreign policy could find their way into the American mainstream. It is a view widely shared at home.

''Buchanan's views are a complete repudiation of the last 45 years of American [foreign] policy,'' says Charles William Maynes, editor of Foreign Policy magazine. ''The real danger,'' Mr. Maynes says, ''is not that he will be nominated but that he will win the debate'' by influencing the platforms of other candidates. He says the conservative columnist and TV commentator has tapped into an economic concern - the decline of real wages over the last 20 years - that neither mainstream Republican or Democratic leaders have successfully addressed.

In dozens of columns and campaign speeches, Buchanan has blamed the plight of American workers on what he describes as flawed liberal trade policies, epitomized by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. His solution: stiff trade penalties, such as prohibitive tariffs on Chinese and Japanese imports.

Buchanan's other targets include longstanding American political and financial commitments to NATO, Israel, the poorest nations in the developing world, international peacekeeping operations, and the United Nations.

A Buchanan administration would ''keep the bravest of America's young out of wars where no vital interest is at risk and ... not send our wealth abroad in foreign aid to balance the budgets of foreign regimes when we cannot even balance our own,'' writes the peripatetic Republican front-runner. ''This is not isolationism; it is Americanism,'' Buchanan adds.

All of which worries many political leaders and commentators abroad.

In Mexico, Buchanan's ascendancy is taken as the latest indication of an anti-Mexico turn in American attitudes. Many Mexicans see it as a search for scapegoats to explain away mounting American domestic woes.

Buchanan calls for building new steel walls between Mexico and the United States, canceling NAFTA, and steep reductions in even legal Mexican immigration to the US. His attitude is very ''worrying,'' says Mexican Congressman Carlos Reta Martinez, secretary of the Chamber of Deputies' foreign relations committee, because it is ''characterized by a meaning that is anti-Mexican.''

In Europe, an editorial in the left-of-center French daily Le Monde headlined ''The dangers of American fundamentalism'' credited ''anxious populism'' for Buchanan's New Hampshire victory last week. His ''dangerous rhetoric'' and ''resolute hostility'' to action beyond national borders could curb American freedom to act in the world, the editorial said.

In statements that have resonated with many American voters, Buchanan has said the US should act abroad only to secure ''vital'' American interests, such as protecting access to Gulf oil, containing Iran and Iraq, and retaliating against terrorist attacks launched by rogue states like Libya.

He insists that the stakes for the US in Bosnia and Rwanda are not vital and says that the US does not have a role to play in European security. ''Why must 260 million Americans forever defend 300 million Europeans from 160 million Russians mired in poverty and despair?'' he asked in a recent newspaper column.

Buchanan's success confirms what French and other European commentators describe as a growing American mood of isolationism, disengagement, and social extremism.

The conservative French daily Le Figaro last week compared Buchanan to the right-wing French politician Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has tapped into anti-immigrant sentiment created by the influx of millions of North Africans and southern Europeans into France. Like Mr. Le Pen, the paper says, Buchanan aims to ''protect his country from external contamination.''

''His program is quite distressing,'' says Alex Sauder, an analyst with the Bonn-based German Society for Foreign Affairs. ''Imagine President Buchanan facing [Communist presidential candidate] Gennady Zyuganov in Russia.''

''But there would be more concern here if he had a chance to win the nomination,'' Mr. Sauder adds.

* Monitor correspondents Gail Russell Chaddock in Paris and Howard LaFranchi in Mexico City contributed to this report.

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