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Western Press Review: Ethics And Foreign Policy, Power-Sharing for Georgia, And The Fine Line Between Crime And War

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 16 April 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Among the issues being discussed by some of the major press outlets today are the U.S. president's defense of his policy in Iraq, the ultimate costs of an unethical foreign policy, how terrorism is blurring the line between crime and war, a power-sharing proposal for Georgia, and Iran's influence among anti-American elements in Iraq.


U.S. President George W. Bush has come under much criticism for allegedly failing to answer key questions on his Iraq policy at a rare news conference on 13 April. When confronted with unflattering comparisons between the situation in Iraq and the protracted guerrilla war U.S. troops once faced in Vietnam, Bush said the analogy "sends the wrong message" to both American troops and anti-U.S. Iraqi insurgents.

But E.J. Dionne of "The Washington Post" says: "No, Mr. President, what sends the wrong message is when our country doesn't put enough troops on the ground in the first place to do the job right. It doesn't help that you were unwilling to make clear in advance that bringing democracy to Iraq would involve a long struggle and a great expenditure of American treasure. It doesn't make our troops more secure for a president to divide the country by trashing his critics as unpatriotic. And it doesn't build support for a great experiment in democratization when the president fails to explain how he is going to win the thing."

Dionne says he agrees with Bush that the ouster of Saddam Hussein was a positive development, "that it would be a great thing to bring democracy to Iraq, that it would be a disaster if this venture fails." But Dionne says if U.S. policy in Iraq fails, it will not be the fault of Bush's critics. The fault will lie "with an administration that thought it could pursue a series of radical theories all at once and not worry about the impact of reality on its plans." If Bush really wants his Iraq plans to succeed, "he owes the country" more explanation than he seemed ready to offer this week.


In a commentary published in Britain's "Financial Times," author and editor John Kampfner of the "New Statesman" says since the 11 September 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, and the launch of the war on terrorism, "the so-called civilized world has reached new heights of duplicity in its approach to human rights. It has shed consistency in favor of exigency." And ultimately, he says, "we shall all pay the price."

Only very belatedly and cautiously have the United States and Britain begun to consider the social and political grievances that are often at the root of terrorism. And the perception that major Western powers "support corrupt regimes in the Middle East for their own purposes reinforces latent hostility. Far from promoting the enforcement of basic civil rights as a goal of foreign policy, the British and U.S. administrations have, since September 11 2001, become even more selective about the countries whose ethical violations they seek to punish."

Kampfner asks, "How, for example, can they justify support for regimes in Central Asia except in terms of realpolitik? Or back Russia despite Chechnya, China despite Tibet, and Saudi Arabia despite countless human rights abuses?"

He calls Pakistan "the most blatant example" of the "inconsistent and unethical foreign policy" pursued by Washington and London. Both capitals looked the other way as Pakistan's president pardoned a scientist who had admitted to helping Iran, North Korea, and Libya with their nuclear programs. Compare the destablizing effects of the scientist's actions with some of the "small-fry" combatants now held at Guantanamo Bay, and Kempfer says we begin to see just how selectively the West enforces its ideals.


In the U.S. secular publication "The Christian Science Monitor," columnist Jeffrey Shaffer says America "is facing a new kind of battle that requires our armed forces to create different rules of engagement as we go along."

The line between war and crime has now blurred, and this fact "should never be left out of any future debate as we look for ways to combat terrorism."

The media and other observers have been having trouble describing the resistance U.S. forces are facing in Iraq, partly because the opposition "isn't monolithic; there are numerous anti-U.S. agendas in play," Shaffer says.

"Many journalists have settled on calling hostile forces 'insurgents' or 'militants.'" So Shaffer asks, "is it accurate for us to think of Baghdad as a genuine war zone, or just a city wracked by explosive lawlessness?"

He continues: "The overlap of war and crime also raises complicated questions about the motivation of our enemies and how to deal with them. Is the al-Qaeda network a bunch of ruthless political gangsters or a cult of martyrdom?"

Crime and war "combine to create widespread fear, and that's surely the biggest obstacle the coalition must deal with as it asks for cooperation from average Iraqi citizens." Shaffer muses, "Who could have predicted that international conflict in the 21st century would morph into this bizarre hybrid form?"


Columnist Elise Kissling, writing in "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," says Germany's opposition Christian Democratic Union (CDU) have been unable to uphold a consistent stance on the Iraq war.

CDU Party head "lambasted" Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder last year for opposing any U.S.-led war that went ahead without a UN mandate. But today, "[with] EU elections on the horizon, the CDU has identified its former position as a political liability."

Now CDU officials are saying that the party may review its support for the Iraq war "as new information comes to light revealing that there probably were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq." U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell "has admitted that the information was bogus."

But Kissling says the CDU "should have weighed the evidence coming from a multitude of sources, including local weapons inspectors. The party would be more credible if it either upheld its support for the U.S. government's decision to go to war or admitted that this support had been precipitous." Voters, she says, dislike such blatant political posturing.


Writing in "The Wall Street Journal Europe," Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute says there was something ironic about an Iranian envoy arriving in Iraq to help negotiations between U.S. officials and radical Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

"But the fact that Iran holds sway over him and other Shi'a militants in Iraq should surprise no one," Ledeen says. "Despite repeated denials by the State Department, it is an open secret throughout the Middle East that [al-]Sadr has been receiving support -- if not precise orders -- from the mullahs in Iran for some time now."

He says the United States should understand that the war in Iraq "is in reality a regional war which unites religious fanatics like the Iranians and radical secularists like the Syrians and Saddam's Iraqi supporters."

Iraq "cannot be peaceful and secure so long as Tehran sends its terrorist cadres across the border." And Ledeen says the "only way to end Tehran's continual sponsorship of terror is to bring about the demise of the present Iranian regime [without] the direct use of military power against Iran."

He says there is "a critical mass of pro-democracy citizens there, who would like nothing more than to rid themselves of their oppressors. They need help, but they neither need nor desire to be liberated by force of arms."

Ledeen says above all, Iran's reformers "want to hear [U.S.] leaders state clearly and repeatedly [that] regime change in Iran is the goal of American policy." Ultimately, security in Iraq "will come in large measure from freedom and reform in Iran" and elsewhere in the region.


In a commentary in the "Financial Times," David Phillips of the Center for Preventive Action says Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's overwhelming victory in parliamentary elections has given him "enormous influence over Georgian politics." But even so, he is still unable to establish control over semi-autonomous breakaway provinces that resist Tbilisi's authority. Phillips says these areas "are like black holes that erode governance, fuel corruption, and undermine economic progress."

But by vowing to re-assert central control over breakaway regions such as Adjaria, Saakashvili "might have overplayed his hand." While Georgia "needs a strong leader to tackle serious problems, the country's long-term stability requires a system of power-sharing. A federal system, with extensive powers devolved to autonomous regions, is the best way to preserve Georgia's territorial integrity while promoting self-government in areas where the central government currently has little or no control."

Phillips says, to "enhance legitimate local self-rule, Georgia's regions would retain authority over all affairs except those explicitly reserved for the state. The central government would retain an important role in matters such as border control." Each region would have its own executive body, a parliament and a local judiciary. They would "participate in some international organizations [and] would be responsible for their own public security and safety."

Phillips calls federalism "a win-win formula that enables local self-rule while preserving territorial integrity." Through this type of power-sharing, Georgia "could transform itself from a borderline failed state into a model federal state that fulfils the democratic aspirations of its citizens."