Prague, 3 February 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the press today focuses largely on the announcement by U.S. President George W. Bush that an independent investigation will be launched into the apparent intelligence failures surrounding Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. The papers also look at the ongoing standoff between Iranian reformists and the conservative Guardians Council over upcoming parliamentary elections. Other items consider a proposal to revise the Dayton Peace Accord and alleged human rights abuses in Azerbaijan.
Writing in the "Miami Herald," columnist Cal Thomas said before the world prepares to "rush to judgment that there were no weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq," one should consider the significant amount of evidence showing that Saddam Hussein was, at one point, actively developing such weapons.
Hussein used such weapons against both the Iranians and the Kurds, Thomas writes. And Baghdad once had an active nuclear development program. Moreover, the columnist says, the world can be relatively certain that Hussein had further ambitions to develop and possibly use weapons of mass destruction in the future.
"Granted," he continues, "the American intelligence community may be in need of serious restructuring." But to believe that the intelligence on Hussein was entirely wrong would be "foolish and shortsighted. [Nothing] is gained by rushing. Much may be gained by allowing the [independent] investigation to take its course."
Hussein is gone. And that, Thomas says, is "a good thing for Iraq and the world. An assessment of [U.S.] intelligence capabilities should continue, but that investigation should not be politicized. It is too important for that."
THE WASHINGTON TIMES:
Writing in "The Washington Times," Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy says any new investigation into the intelligence failures on Iraq should not stop at discovering how the intelligence was wrong and why.
An independent commission could also reveal much more useful lessons if its mandate is broadened to include information "about the sorts of intelligence that presidents, Congress and other policymakers need to understand -- and to act on -- the various threats with which we must contend in this War on Terror." This, Gaffney says, "would be a natural and appropriate extension of the initial inquiry."
The commission should also address "another, related and very important topic: Was Saddam Hussein's Iraq involved in previous terrorist attacks against the United States?" Gaffney says the U.S. administration was right to label Hussein a "grave and growing" danger. Moreover, he says denying Hussein the time and materials "to translate his residual capacity for WMD-equipped attacks into future, far more lethal acts" was the right course of action.
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE:
Writing in the "International Herald Tribune," columnist H.D.S. Greenway says the United States may be suffering from a bout of national narcissism. Narcissism's psychological symptoms -- including delusions of unlimited power and success, requiring excessive admiration from others, a profound sense of entitlement, arrogance, and unreasonable expectations of special treatment -- could easily apply to much of America's foreign policy posture today, says Greenway.
There is much lingering dismay over the U.S. penchant for unilateral action, he says. So, too, is there disappointment over the failure to supply security in Iraq and the failure to find weapons of mass destruction, which has "given credence to the strong doubts about American wisdom and even veracity."
In much of the world, anti-Americanism is growing "at an alarming and corrosive rate," and distrust of the United States "is noticeably high" in the Middle East. "[Even] America's good motives are misunderstood in the general climate of mistrust."
Greenway remarks that many European observers suspect that the United States has not "successfully addressed the root causes of terrorism." Instead, it has "concentrated its efforts on military solutions, which run the risk of recruiting ever more terrorists."
Freelance journalist Ardeshir Moaveni, a specialist in Iranian politics, says Iran is now immersed in the "deepest political crisis since the Islamic Revolution 25 years ago." By disqualifying thousands of mostly reformist candidates -- including over 80 serving legislators -- from standing in 20 February parliamentary elections, the conservative Guardians Council sought to deliver the coup de grace to the reform movement, Moaveni says. And the mass resignation of one-third of the parliament on 1 February in protest of this decision has now "accelerated the pace of the political confrontation."
But there are also signs that fissures are widening within the conservative camp. Moaveni says that, according to some Iranian-affairs analysts, the reformists' move has "thrown conservatives on the defensive, sowing dissension among the hard-liner ranks." The Guardians Council may have "miscalculated [in] their expectation that public apathy would continue to hold in the face of such blatant political manipulation of the electoral process." In fact, he says, the council's "heavy-handed disqualification of candidates appears to have reanimated popular support for reformists."
For now, "both sides appear to be digging in, preparing for what may be a decisive battle for control of Iran's political agenda." Some analysts believe Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, "may be forced to intervene and resolve the dispute in a way that permits broad reformist participation in the elections." But Khamenei appears to want to steer clear of the dispute, Moaveni says. And if Khamenei refrains from intervening, the political battle "could take unpredictable turns, potentially altering the very underpinnings of the state as now constructed."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE:
The "International Herald Tribune" carries a commentary by Alexander Ivanko, a former United Nations spokesman in Bosnia-Herzegovina (1994-1998). Ivanko remarks that no program similar to the post-World War II de-Nazification of Germany was ever instituted in Republika Srpska. "Racist views [are] still considered [respectable], even if not advocated too openly," he says.
He continues: "Even when taking into account the many positive developments over the past years in Bosnia, one has to ask whether it is not time to revisit the  Dayton [Peace Accord]. Let's not forget that three signatories are either dead or in custody," he says.
The fundamental problem, according to Ivanko, is that Dayton "tried to equate two things that couldn't be equated: civility and barbarity. It set a precedent that still sends shivers down my spine [by] legitimizing ethnic hatred. The Bosnian Serbs, after waging a vicious war against their neighbors, were awarded their own state, Republika Srpska, even if it was called an 'entity.'"
He continues, "A policy of extermination of thousands of innocent civilians in concentration camps led to international recognition and acceptance. No matter how hard the politicians in Srpska try to look the part, graciously welcoming foreign delegations, the history of this entity-state cannot and should not be ignored."
Republika Srpska "has to go," says Ivanko. "It cannot be incorporated into any agreement as a separate entity, canton, whatever. It should be divided into several parts that report to the state. Wartime barbarity should be punished by both political and constitutional means."
In today's English-language "Moscow Times," Baku-based freelance journalist Chloe Arnold writes on alleged human rights abuses in Azerbaijan. She says a recent report by Human Rights Watch has documented cases of rape, torture by electric shock, serious beatings, and forced confessions in the wake of opposition protests against last November's disputed elections that saw Ilham Aliyev succeed his father as the country's president.
Arnold writes, "[When] opposition supporters took to the streets in protest, they were promptly rounded up and slung into jail." Over 100 activists remain in prison, with no access to lawyers.
The big question now, Arnold says, is how the Azerbaijani authorities are being allowed to get away with this. Azerbaijan belongs to the Council of Europe and looks to become a member of NATO. "Could oil have something to do with it?" she asks. "Foreign companies, backed by their governments, have poured billions of dollars into Azerbaijan's lucrative offshore oil and gas fields. Construction has already begun on the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, which will transport a million barrels of oil a day from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean by early 2005."
In light of the lucrative opportunities Azerbaijan offers the rest of the world, Arnold expresses doubt that the international community will take "any action at all" against the reported human-rights abuses.
"If they stuck to their principles," Arnold concludes, "international organizations like the Council of Europe should threaten to oust Azerbaijan unless the authorities clean up their act. But with all that oil at stake, it's easier to turn a blind eye to what's going on in Azerbaijan's prisons."
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
A "New York Times" editorial welcomes U.S. President George W. Bush's decision to appoint an independent commission to look into intelligence failures in the runup to war in Iraq. But the paper says any such investigation should not be used as a way to deflect the issue until after November presidential elections. Instead, "[the] question of whether top officials exaggerated intelligence on Iraq or, worse, pressured analysts to hype the threat from Iraqi weapons programs deserves to be a central issue this fall."
The daily says the "first and most urgent task of the new commission should be to give a public accounting on Iraq. It is now clear that Washington's intelligence reports on Iraq's programs to build weapons of mass destruction were breathtakingly wrong." We now need to know whether the shortcomings were "a matter of poor collection of information, including a lack of reliable spies in a closed society, or a failure of those who are charged with analyzing intelligence -- or, more likely, both. The panel also should look into whether intelligence analysts tailored their reports on Iraq to please their political bosses or were under pressure from above to suit the administration's policy needs."
While the new independent panel should not be used "as a shield to deflect controversy over the Iraq intelligence failures, it also cannot become a pawn of election-year politics." The paper concludes by urging the Bush administration to cooperate fully with the commission, allowing senior figures to testify and releasing relevant documents in a timely manner.