Accessibility links

Western Press Review: Romania's Diplomatic High-Wire Act And A 'Policy of Neglect' In Chechnya

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 16 February 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Among the topics at issue in the press today are Romania's risky role as a U.S. ally, the dangers of cooperating with so-called "moderate" Taliban elements, America's "policy of neglect" in Chechnya, and drawing up viable postwar plans for Iraq.


John Florescu, who runs a media company in Romania, says Romania has had to walk a tightrope of competing superpower interests following its decision to support the controversial U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

In a contribution to "The Boston Globe," he says, "When [U.S. President George W.] Bush declared war on terror, Romania -- with its strategic Black Sea ports and airstrips within striking range of Baghdad -- unexpectedly found itself at the front end of a U.S. recruitment line." With the prospect of NATO membership "dangling before their eyes, the Romanian government responded [with] alacrity."

But Bucharest's acquiescence to U.S. wants "enraged the biggest members of the [European Union]," says Florescu. French President Jacques Chirac "warned that if the Romanians stepped out of the European -- read 'Franco-German' -- line, their admission to the EU could end up in a deep freeze."

For Romania, he says, "having just completed the marathon of NATO admission, its skillful foreign minister was now looking forward to getting on with the business of EU admission, only to find himself on a high-wire act between two conflicting superpower agendas."

Ultimately, "ridding the world of the ‘evil doers’ got quickly lost in the practicalities of not getting yourself run over in the process. The governing class began to hedge its bets, speaking more mutedly about America's ambitious crusade -- while silently calculating whether they had enough time to make nicey-nice with Paris before EU admission, now optimistically set for 2007."

Florescu says that, with a presidential election coming up later this year, Romanian politicians discovered "that no one wanted to hear any talk about a war against any terrorist."


Writing in "The Washington Post," columnist Jackson Diehl says the U.S. administration made a "critical error" last year as it was preparing to invade Iraq, in that it "failed to prepare a workable plan for the postwar occupation."

In anticipation of the 30 June transfer of Iraqi sovereignty to an interim administration in Baghdad, Washington "needs to come up with a clear strategy for how to handle the post-postwar Iraq -- a country that will be far from stable but no longer under U.S. administration."

The greatest danger remains the possibility of civil war erupting between Iraq's Shi'a majority and its Sunni and Kurdish minorities, as each vies for influence in a fledgling government. The specter of conservative clerics seeking to establish "an authoritarian Islamic state" is also cause for concern. The best-case scenario involves a "smooth segue to a pluralistic Iraqi administration, a waning of the resistance, a steady easing of the burden on the American military as NATO and Iraqi forces step in."

Any of these outcomes are possible, says Diehl. "But more likely is a muddle, a mix of nation-building, violence, economic recovery and chaos," with U.S. troops and administration "playing the role of referee and adviser as well as political scapegoat and terrorist target. Even in the best case, the sorting out of these countervailing forces and the emergence of a new Iraq will take years," he says.

And several major questions remain: how will we know when we've succeeded? he asks, and how do we get there from here?


A "Boston Globe" editorial says the United States should not encourage the Afghan government to partner with "moderate" elements of the Taliban in a pragmatic attempt to solidify support for the central government of President Hamid Karzai. Such a hard-nosed ploy "should be dropped both on moral grounds and because it is unlikely to be effective politically."

The paper writes: "Particularly for the women and girls of Afghanistan, the spectacle of Taliban being released from detention at the U.S. air base at Bagram -- or being allowed to [escape] -- represents a frightening sign of regression and betrayal. [Because] fundamentalist warlords now rule areas of the country like personal fiefs, the situation of women and girls in parts of Afghanistan today remains a continuing crime against humanity."

To ally with "so-called moderate Taliban, to encourage them to participate in political life, is equivalent to warning Afghan women that their human rights will have to be postponed indefinitely for the sake of a dubious political strategem."

Washington was tempted to believe an alliance with some Taliban elements might enjoin others to better cooperate with the central government in Kabul. But the Taliban "have to be defeated, not co-opted," says the paper. "Warlords emulating the Taliban's totalitarian ways must be intimidated by U.S. and NATO forces into ceding their absolute powers and accepting the writ of the central government. It would also be best to put off the June election until there is better security and more voters are registered."

The paper says the "electoral concerns of Karzai and [U.S. President] George W. Bush are not sufficient reasons to betray Afghan women or the cause of human rights."


Historian Jeffrey Kuhner says a major news story is receiving little attention in the world press – the "slow, creeping genocide" in Chechnya.

"Using the global war on terrorism as a pretext to consolidate Moscow's iron grip over the breakaway republic, the Russian army has been waging a war of extermination against the Chechen people," he writes.

And yet, "the West has been silent in the face of Russia's genocidal campaign. Instead of demanding the Kremlin withdraw its forces and negotiate a peace settlement with Chechen leaders, the Bush administration continues its shameful policy of neglect." Washington has seemingly accepted the Kremlin's claim that the war in Chechnya is an "internal matter," says Kuhner.

And so Moscow's "scorched-earth campaign" -- which includes "extensive human-rights violations," "widespread torture," and thousands being "disappeared" -- continues. One-fourth of the Chechen population is thought to have died in the past decade. Those that are not direct victims of Russia's policies are "slowly dying through a combination of war, disease, and sky-rocketing suicide."

Moscow's "brutal occupation has convinced most Chechens to abandon their dreams of national sovereignty; many now would gladly accept some form of autonomy," Kuhner says. "Yet [Russian President Vladimir] Putin refuses to even consider the idea. He demands world leaders accept the notion every Chechen leader is a terrorist."

Western "appeasement" of Russia "risks emboldening the Kremlin to continue its anti-democratic and expansionist policies." And Kuhner says, unlike during the extermination of Jews in World War II, the world "cannot claim the excuse of lacking knowledge of the horrors occurring in Chechnya. We know," he says wryly. "We just don't care."


"Le Monde's" lead editorial today questions whether the situation in Iraq has improved since the capture of Saddam Hussein late last year. The answer, it seems, is no.

The United States had been counting on the capture of the former dictator to take the wind out of the sails of the Iraqi resistance. And it may indeed have been a blow to some elements of Iraqi or Arab nationalism. But his arrest has not intimidated the suicide bombers, who continue mounting attacks and are responsible for 100 Iraqi deaths and hundreds of others being wounded in only the past week.

The latest targets have not been selected at random, "Le Monde" says, but are rather very specific. Iraqis enrolling in the new Iraqi police and security services are being repeatedly targeted. According to the paper's correspondent in Baghdad, Remy Ourdan, the attacks are not dissuading Iraqis from joining the new police services. However, they do indicate that there is an increasingly well-established and well-informed terrorist network operating in Iraq.

Most Iraqis say these elements are mainly comprised of foreigners, more or less affiliated with the nebulous Al-Qaeda network. "Le Monde" says their aim seems to be to pit one Iraqi group against another, sowing the seeds of civil war in the country. This climate of violence seems incompatible with hopes for transferring sovereignty at the end of June, says the paper.

The UN has dispatched one of its most talented diplomats, Lakhdar Brahimi, to assess the situation. But the paper asks, Will he be able to stop the cycle of political and military failure?