Prague, 23 January 2004 (RFE/RL) -- A review of media commentary today finds a discussion of European Union enlargement and some of its likely economic effects; Germany's offer to send medical and humanitarian aid to Iraq; new initiatives for promoting reform in the Middle East; Iraq's "nascent" internal political process; and the ongoing standoff between Iran's reformist legislators and its conservative mullahs.
WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:
A "Wall Street Journal Europe" editorial discusses the upcoming May 2004 EU enlargement, which will bring 10 new countries -- many from Central Europe and the former Soviet bloc -- into the European fold. The paper says that for all the West's vocal concern over experiencing a post-enlargement wave of job seekers from the East, it is "looking increasingly as if the jobs are as likely to move East as the job seekers are to move West."
The "Journal" suggests that a steady flow of investment -- and thus, jobs -- into new member states that successfully adopt "pro-growth" tax and labor policies might just shake "[the] current member states out of their complacency."
While some blame enlargement for creating "a distraction from economic reform," the paper says it hopes the coming expansion will help "focus the minds of old-member politicians who find that the EU's new members are out-competing them for jobs and investment."
But the paper also emphasizes that new accession countries "must be disciplined about cultivating a pro-growth regulatory and tax environment." It predicts that those who do "will not only quickly [bring] the budgetary costs of enlargement down; they may teach 'Old Europe' a thing or two" about meeting the EU's own goals of increasing "job creation, productivity and overall economic competitiveness."
FRANFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG:
A commentary in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" by Heidi Sylvester accuses German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of selling out his principles to earn the support of Germany's business community.
In the run-up to war in Iraq, the chancellor was one of Europe's most vocal opponents, a stance that largely reflected the views of the German public. But last week, Schroeder offered Germany's support for ongoing operations in Iraq by offering to send "Medevac" aircraft on a humanitarian mission to the country, a move "that has reignited the debate on German military involvement."
Sylvester observes that the chancellor's apparent reversal "came just a day after the United States reversed its own decision to exclude companies from countries that opposed the war from bidding on the Iraqi [reconstruction] contracts."
Schroeder insists Germany's military involvement would be limited and humanitarian in nature. "After all, [the] U.S. government is dangling $18.6 billion in reconstruction contracts under [Germany's] nose," Sylvester remarks wryly. She says Schroeder "certainly cannot be faulted for wanting as usual to cultivate the support of his business community."
Sylvester says the chancellor "has retained a fig leaf of principle to be worn with his new flag of convenience." But while Schroeder's fig leaf "may appease the electorate, [it] also sends a strong message to other EU countries that joined him in opposing the war and promoted strengthening the EU's joint military capabilities." The chancellor "acts to please," she says, and "not on principle."
THE WASHINGTON POST:
A "Washington Post" editorial says the White House is considering several new initiatives for fostering reform and cooperation in the Middle East.
One proposes the establishment of a charter for the region, a mutual commitment from Mideast states "to embrace the principles and institutions of democracy." Another suggestion is for NATO to sign "training and other security cooperation agreements with Arab states." Finally, economic links would be promoted between Middle Eastern countries, the European Union and the United States.
One advantage of these initiatives "is that they are based on democratization programs that proved successful during and after the Cold War in Europe." A Middle East freedom charter "would build on the model of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, an East-West security agreement that formally committed the Soviet Union and its satellites to respecting human rights and provided for monitoring and follow-up diplomacy. The 'Helsinki Process' played a critical role in the rise of indigenous pro-democracy groups in communist states."
The paper says, unlike the war in Iraq, programs such as these would attract multilateral support abroad and bilateral support in the United States. These initiatives would require the United States to join with European governments "in a long-term effort to encourage change that would be conducted through trans-Atlantic institutions -- which would be invigorated by a vital new mission."
As such, this new Middle East program "could form the basis for a common European-American strategy for addressing one of the world's most serious challenges."
THE WASHINGTON POST:
Columnist Jim Hoagland says "Iraq's Shi'ite majority has begun to pry political control of the country from U.S. administrator Paul Bremer and his small, overwhelmed staff in Baghdad." And this development should be welcomed by Washington, which can help shape the transition "rather than fight to retain [its] eroding power."
Writing in "The Washington Post," Hoagland says the U.S.-led occupation "has essentially run its erratic course," and is yielding to "a nascent internal Iraqi political process." Even recent street demonstrations by Shi'a demanding direct elections should be seen in Washington as positive developments.
Shi'a leader Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and leading Shi'a members of the Iraqi Governing Council now "agree on one overriding objective: The Shi'a majority must not be cheated out of political control of Iraq or once again be subjugated by a domineering minority," as they were by the Sunni under Saddam Hussein. It is estimated the Shi'a make up 60 percent of Iraq's population.
Hoagland says a UN mandate providing for elections later this year or early next "would provide Sistani with political cover for accepting a short delay in majority rule." U.S. leadership on moving forward with elections, "rather than grudging acceptance of inevitable change, is the right course."
THE MIAMI HERALD:
"The Miami Herald's" Richard Cohen says U.S. President George W. Bush's State of the Union speech this week, "while not quite a lie, was clearly deceptive." Bush did not have to answer for everything that went wrong in Iraq, says Cohen. But nor should he have "[pretended] that, somehow, the WMD [weapons of mass destruction] allegations had been substantiated."
There is one "ugly beast" of an issue regarding the war in Iraq that "never gets acknowledged," says Cohen. "Either the administration purposely misled the American people, or it did so out of incompetence. This is not a minor matter because war, with all its unknown consequences, is not itself a minor matter -- nor is the loss of some 500 American lives."
Saddam Hussein is gone, "and that is all well and good," he says. But the U.S. public's belief that the Bush administration tells the truth was another casualty of this war, he claims.
Cohen says the State of the Union speech "was as rhetorically flat as it was intellectually dishonest -- a political pitch designed to obscure uncomfortable facts and to solidify the conservative Republican base."
In "Eurasia View," Ardeshir Moaveni says the ongoing standoff between reformist legislators and hard-line clerics in Iran "does not offer either side an easy path to compromise." An almost two-week sit-in at the parliament by pro-reform legislators has followed from the conservative Guardians Council decision to disqualify thousands of liberal candidates from running in parliamentary elections on 20 February. More than 200 candidates have been re-instated, but Moaveni says the reformists suspect "that conservatives have no intention of allowing a competitive election."
Some believe the Guardians Council will continue to exclude many prominent reformists. Moaveni says, "By eliminating the best-organized and best-known reformists from the next Parliament, conservatives would leave the reformists weakened and quiet. This would probably lead the reformists' base, already alienated by the slow pace of reform, to grow more apathetic."
Many liberal parliamentarians have threatened to resign if their colleagues are not reinstated. But Moaveni says the reformers' very identity rests on "their faith in the democratic system. A mass resignation or vote boycott would express despair with that system."
Moaveni suggests there is little belief in Iran that either Europe or the United States would react forcefully to a crackdown by a fully conservative government in Iran, should one emerge out of the standoff. As one Tehran-based political analyst put it, the EU is more concerned with Iran's nuclear program and Washington cares more about Tehran's help in tracking down Al-Qaeda.
Thus, Iran's reformers may harbor little hope of receiving either aid or rhetorical support from democratic elements abroad.