Prague, 9 March 2004 (RFE/RL) – Trans-Atlantic tussles over the international force in Bosnia, Iraq's nascent democratic experiment, and U.S. nation-building efforts are some of the topics being debated in media commentary today. Also up for discussion are Iranian nuclear policy and what one commentator calls the emerging science of "Putinology," named for Russia's sometimes intractable president.
Judy Dempsey of the "Financial Times" writes from Brussels on the debate expected tomorrow at NATO headquarters concerning who will control the military mission in Bosnia once the European Union takes over from the NATO force at the end of this year. Dempsey says Europe and the United States are "engaged in a fresh trans-Atlantic debate" on the issue.
"At stake for the Europeans is their ability to show they can command a strong and robust military operation," she says. But the United States is torn between "wanting to pass as much of the burden-sharing in the Balkans to the Europeans [while] wanting to maintain some political control over EU military missions in the region."
Washington wants NATO to remain in control of the search for indicted war criminals, such as former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his military commander, Ratko Mladic. The United States also wants to retain the counterterrorism file and maintain its large base in Tuzla, to the north of Bosnia. But U.S. sources deny wanting to retain political control over the anticipated EU mission. Dempsey cites one official as saying that the 11 September 2001 attacks simply changed U.S. perceptions of the Balkans, once again making it a source of concerns over security.
THE JERUSALEM POST
An editorial in "The Jerusalem Post" says: "Freedom and independence rarely come without a [struggle]. The road ahead for Iraqi democracy is a long one and the outcome is not guaranteed." But yesterday's signing of an interim Iraqi constitution "was undoubtedly a historic moment in the history of Iraq, the Middle East, and the world."
The paper says that, one year ago, Baghdad was "the capital of Arab rejectionism and radicalism. Saddam Hussein had attacked Iran, Kuwait -- which he swallowed whole -- Saudi Arabia, and Israel. [And he] was distributing cash rewards to families of every suicide bomber who murdered Israelis." Today, Baghdad is setting the example for democratization and the region's future "depends on the success of Iraq's bold experiment."
Recent events also represent "a sea change in American policy" and that of the administration of President George W. Bush. "In his first campaign, Bush opposed his Democratic predecessor's penchant for nation-building. Now, post 9/11 [attacks], Bush is engaged in region-building, with the new Iraq as the centerpiece."
The paper says, "Politicians do not like to admit changes of mind, but this is one to be proud of."
It goes on to note that, often, European nations that oppose U.S. policy in the Middle East are viewed as "'friends' of the Arab world." But they are not, says the paper. "They are friends of Arab despots, not the silenced millions they rule."
"The signing of Iraq's new interim constitution may have brought sighs of relief in Washington, but the arguments behind it are likely to continue in Iraq," writes Brian Whitaker in the British daily. The agreement may be "the first significant political victory for the Americans in Iraq," but it could be a victory that comes at the cost of clarity.
Whitaker cites Iraq expert Toby Dodge of Warwick University as saying the various Iraqi factions "have put off every big issue for a later date, when one assumes the United States will no longer be acting as ringmaster."
One of the major issues that was sidestepped is that of federalism, says Dodge. The new constitution says Iraqi federalism will not be based on ethnicity, but it allows for Kurdish self-government in the north of the country to continue. But the parameters of Kurdistan are ethnically based, he points out.
The role of Islam in the political workings of the state is another main point of contention that was deftly avoided. After much wrangling on the subject, the new document makes Islam the official religion and yet says Islamic (Shari'a) law will only be one of many sources informing Iraq's judicial processes. And yet the problem remains of who will interpret this, as many members of the Shi'a majority still seek the implementation of religious law.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
An editorial by "The New York Times" republished today in the "International Herald Tribune" says that U.S. troops have found themselves repairing two failed states in Afghanistan and Iraq, while a smaller troop contingent attempts to keep order in Haiti after the ouster of the country's president on 29 February.
In each case, the United States is dealing with a "shattered society," in which political and economic rebuilding "became not just a moral but a practical necessity. Without effective nation-building, American forces could leave these countries only to be summoned back."
The paper says, however, these projects are not likely to succeed "if they remain the responsibility of the American military alone. The lesson being driven home by Iraq -- that international efforts work best and that defeating the enemy is not enough -- apply everywhere." Progress should be "measured against three benchmarks -- securing stability, promoting democracy and resolving the underlying problems that prompted military intervention."
After almost a year of U.S. occupation, Iraq "still suffers from pervasive insecurity." And despite the signing of an interim constitution on 8 March, "no satisfactory formula has yet been devised for creating the interim government that is due to assume power" on 1 July.
"Functioning nations cannot be conjured into existence by foreign occupiers," the editorial concludes. "They must be put together primarily from within. But in shattered societies like Afghanistan, Iraq and Haiti, no internal effort can get far without a substantial and sustained outside commitment."
THE IRISH TIMES
An editorial in "The Irish Times" says a new International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report discussed yesterday in Vienna has found Tehran has hidden some aspects of its nuclear program from the UN nuclear inspections agency. The paper says the finding "that Iran's leaders have not revealed all to the IAEA inspectors, coupled with a demand that the Iran file be closed because they have adhered to the agency's terms, will antagonize states concerned with nuclear proliferation."
And while there is little desire in the United States for another confrontation in the Middle East, the U.S. administration "remains frustrated by what it sees as an excessive willingness by European powers to indulge Iran."
The paper says a "credible international effort to prevent nuclear arms proliferation must include a readiness to deal firmly with recalcitrant states. The IAEA board must now decide whether to report Iran directly to the UN Security Council as in breach or give it another opportunity to cooperate with arms inspectors." And Iran must now "[decide] how to respond to renewed pressure."
The Irish daily says, "A great deal is at stake in this confrontation, for Iran, the wider Middle East region and how European and American policy should relate to changes there in coming years."
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Arnold Beichman of the Hoover Institution says a new subdiscipline could be created -- "Putinology," or the attempt "to understand what the budding dictator of Russia, who will be with us for years to come, is up to with what he calls 'managed democracy.'"
A study of Russian President Vladimir Putin could replace the now defunct Cold War-era disciplines of Sovietology and Kremlinology, Beichman says. Putin's recent purge of his cabinet could be compared and contrasted to those of the past. In Josef Stalin's day, such a purge "would have been followed by arrests, forced confessions and executions or a long sentence to the gulag." Under former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, the purge victim would find himself in virtual exile.
Today, "even minus its onetime Soviet republics and with less than half of its Soviet population, [Russia] is still a major nuclear power, still holds a seat in the United Nations Security Council and is becoming an important economic entity in the global market. In other words, Putinology should become an important area of academic concentration, as once was Sovietology."
There are innumerable sources of study for future Putinologists. One area of investigation could be how private ownership in Russia is respected, provided it is "patriotic" and has no political ambitions. Or how newspapers can print what they like, but television has returned to state control. Also of interest might be the decade of thawing relations with the West being replaced with a renewed sense of mistrust and the competition for geostrategic control in key regions. Budding researchers might also wish to study the Kremlin's renewed interest in its former Soviet satellite republics, and its new focus on guarding Russian national interests in these regions.
Columnist Pierre Rousselin says 7 March legislative elections in Greece heralded the fall of one of the last leftist governments in Europe. Greek voters chose the opposition, defeating the Socialist Party that had ruled them almost continually since 1981.
From the left-leaning past of the old continent, there are now only three bastions of leftism -- in Sweden, which Rousselin says is "eternally social democrat, and the exception that proves the rule"; the United Kingdom -- where the Labour government of Prime Minister Tony Blair is so centrist as to not be of the left at all; and Germany, where the popularity of the ruling Social Democrats continues to slide after being trounced in elections late last month.
In Europe, the time of the great ideological debate has passed, Rousselin says. The victory in Athens of the conservative New Democracy Party indicates an urgent need for change. As throughout Europe, the ability of the welfare state to offset the effects of globalization are being assessed. And when the left began shifting toward more right-wing policies, Rousselin says the voters preferred the original to the copy.
In Greece, as in other countries that have long known socialist reign, the left was handicapped by the resistance of an old guard that sought to shackle those with more modernist tendencies in the party.
European countries as a whole seem to be headed in the same political direction, but each at its own rate, Rousselin says. And perhaps this is one sign that a pan-European public opinion is now taking shape.