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Western Press Review: Commentators String Beads Of Terror

  • Don Hill

Prague, 4 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary today ranges over a variety of topics -- politics, oil, Iraq, film, history, and, certainly, the resignation yesterday of CIA Director George Tenet. But, like a bead necklace, a common string binds all the topics together. That is the worldwide concern with terrorism.

THE ECONOMIST

The current issue of Britain's "The Economist" weekly considers in a commentary how the House of Saud may do its part in the fight against Al-Qaeda. It says that the Saudi princes must accelerate reforms:

"It has been Saudi Arabia's turn to come under the terrorists' lash, with the entire oil-guzzling world frightened by the prospect that the global economy might suddenly be knocked askew by the onset of chaos in the desert kingdom that holds the key to restraining oil prices. Is the House of Saud about to crumble in bloodshed and chaos, with Osama bin Laden and his acolytes poised to take over? No, it is not. But the ruling princes need to move much faster to rebuild their own legitimacy, accountability and thus popular support if they are to prevent that nightmare from becoming a serious, world-wrenching possibility."

The magazine recognizes that it would be unlikely and unwise for the Saudis to attempt a hasty rush into fully fledged democracy. It suggests that one good early step might be a two-chamber legislature, with one elected house and, perhaps, a senate occupied by Saudi royals.

The commentary says: "None of this, of course, would impress Mr. bin Laden's disciples, who are bent on the destruction of the House of Saud. Those terrorists must be ruthlessly hunted down. But as things stand there are too many embittered Saudis who are prey to the siren of xenophobic Islamist fundamentalism. Only by reforming the country and its archaic institutions will it be possible to fend it off -- and win the battle against terror."

THE GUARDIAN

"The Guardian" writers David Leigh and David Pallister dig through "the dustbin of history" and present their findings today. They find some expected artifacts, but report that one item is conspicuously absent. They write, "Head-first into the garbage has just gone [former Governing Council figure] Ahmad Chalabi, would-be leader of Iraq."

The writers add: "Into the bin with him has gone, as we all know by now, a chimerical tangle of irrelevant pipework: so-called aluminium tubes for nuclear bombs; so-called mobile laboratories for spreading germs; alleged rockets to fire off poison gas within 45 minutes. All these have proved non-existent."

"George Tenet, director of the CIA, is the latest to take a dive into historical oblivion," they add.

Leigh and Pallister go on: "Amid all this mass clear-out of failures and lies, however, there is one mysterious omission. A secretive CIA-led intelligence body set up to look for stockpiles of Saddam's secret weapons, the Iraq Survey Group, is still going strong. "

And they write: "Tony Blair puzzled observers at his press conference last week by reviving the supposedly long-dead ghost of the ISG. He said he still believed the intelligence about weapons of mass destruction had been "accurate," and he urged the world to wait for yet another ISG report. Claims like this seem, on the face of it, to make the phrase 'in denial' barely adequate to the psychiatric depths of the occasion. Surely someone who still wants us to wait for the Iraq Survey Group's final findings must be suffering from delusions on a psychotic scale.

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE

"The Wall Street Journal Europe," like "The Washington Post" hurries the CIA's Tenet out the door, but for different reasons. In an editorial, the newspaper charges Tenet with trying to shift blame for intelligence failures onto others high in the U.S. administration of George W. Bush. The editorial excuses Tenet for believing in Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD), saying that most Western intelligence agencies shared the error.

But, the editorial says: "What is unforgivable is the agency's ex post facto attempt to blame its WMD errors on everyone else. Media leaks citing 'intelligence sources' have blamed the Pentagon, Vice President [Dick] Cheney's advisers and now Iraqi exiles. The most recent stories offer the amazing theory that the CIA, Colin Powell and the 'New York Times' were all somehow [tricked] on WMD by one man -- former exile Ahmad Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress. We are apparently supposed to believe that our 40,000-million-a-year intelligence services were duped by the same person our spooks have insisted could not be trusted ever since he called them out for a botched coup attempt in the middle of the 1990s."

THE WASHINGTON POST

An editorial in today's "The Washington Post" bids CIA Director Tenet farewell with a shove -- not a pat -- on the back.

The newspaper says that Tenet improved the agency in his seven years in charge and "a shamed resignation [is not] entirely called for."

But the editorial concludes: "Yet Mr. Tenet's agency mishandled Iraq in ways that undoubtedly will shadow his legacy and may undo some of his success. While there is no proof that CIA reports on Saddam Hussein's weapons were falsified to please Bush administration hawks, the available facts suggest that crucial parts of them were, as postwar arms inspector David Kay put it, 'almost all wrong.' After months of prickly defensiveness, Mr. Tenet barely acknowledged that reality in a single speech last February; like the administration he serves, he has never fully accepted responsibility for what will surely be remembered as one of the most significant intelligence failures in U.S. history. The ongoing damage of that failure is only compounded by the conspicuous absence of accountability. Yes, Mr. Tenet is going, but Mr. Bush has yet to face up to the reasons why his departure was inevitable."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE

The "International Herald Tribue" reprints this excerpt today from a discussion in Pakistan's "The Dawn" of director Michael Moore's documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11," which takes a critical look at the Bush administration's ties to the Saudi royal family in light of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States, in which a majority of the operatives involved were Saudi nationals.

"Should George W. Bush lose the November presidential election to John Kerry, not only will Michael Moore be thrilled [but also] he can be relied upon to claim some of the credit. His latest effort, 'Fahrenheit 9/11,' may well make a decisive difference. The film last month became the first documentary in 56 years to win the coveted Palme d'Or at the Cannes festival.

"Moore represents a healthy and vibrant strand in American democracy. One must acknowledge that, for all its flaws, American democracy has its virtues. After all, how many countries in the world would allow their head of state and government to be taken to task so publicly and unforgivingly? In the South Asian contest, for instance, it may just about be possible in India, but it's hard to imagine a filmmaker pulling off a comparable coup in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan or Nepal."

THE GUARDIAN

Alan Dershowitz, professor of law at Harvard Law School, says in a commentary published today by Britain's "The Guardian" that the cause of suicide bombings is misunderstood. He writes: "As suicide bombings increase in Iraq, in Saudi Arabia and in Israel, more and more people have come to believe that this tactic is a result of desperation. They see a direct link between oppression, occupation, poverty and humiliation on the one hand, and a willingness to blow oneself up for the cause on the other. It follows from this that the remedy for suicide bombing is to address its root cause -- namely, our oppression of the terrorists."

The writer says: "But the underlying premise is false: there is no such link. Suicide bombing is a tactic that is selected by privileged, educated people because it has proven successful. Some of the suicide bombers themselves defy the stereotype of the impoverished victims driven to desperate measures. Remember the 9/11 bombers, several of whom were university students and none of whom was oppressed by the U.S. They were dispatched by a Saudi millionaire named Osama bin Laden, who has now become the hero of many other upper-class Saudis who are volunteering to become shahids [martyrs]."

Dershowitz concludes: "The time has come to address the real root cause of suicide bombing: incitement by certain religious and political leaders who are creating a culture of death and exploiting the ambiguous teachings of an important religion. Islamist young people are in love with death, claim some imams; but it is these leaders who are arranging the marriages between the children and the bomb belts."

From across the ocean come two more views of the George Tenet departure, one bearing the label "cheap sacrifice" and the other "scapegoat."

THE INDEPENDENT

Under the headline, "This Cheap Sacrifice Offers Little Solace to Those who Question the Iraq War," "The Independent" editorializes: "For all President George Bush's loyal -- if peremptory -- valediction, the head of the world's largest intelligence service thus becomes the first senior government executive, on either side of the Atlantic, to pay for the disastrous miscalculations of the Iraq war with his job. There is more than a little irony in the fact that the first head to roll belongs to the director of the organization that was once headed by George Bush's father and carries his name."

THE IRISH TIMES

"The Irish Times" says in an editorial: "Mr. George Tenet's resignation as head of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency yesterday confirms the profound disarray in the Bush administration's policy on Iraq, even if it is difficult to interpret in terms of the Byzantine factionalism involved.

"He could well be a scapegoat for powerful figures in the administration who have been more forceful supporters of the war. They are now facing an investigation on whether their chief source of intelligence on Iraq, Mr. Ahmad Chalabi, was acting on behalf of Iran, arising from astonishing allegations that he was responsible for letting Iran know the U.S. had broken their intelligence codes. The CIA has opposed the neo-conservative wing of the administration, Mr. Chalabi's main protagonists, aligning itself more with conservative realists and the State Department who have been more satisfied with the shape of the interim Iraqi government appointed this week."

THE BOSTON GLOBE

Scot Lehigh writes in a commentary in "The Boston Globe": "George Tenet wasn't forced to walk the plank, but instead resigned for personal reasons, the Bush administration insisted yesterday. Whether that account is true remains to be seen, but this much is clear: If Tenet wasn't fired, he should have been -- and for professional reasons.

"Buttressing George W. Bush's account of a voluntary departure is the track record of an administration where loyalty has long trumped competence. There is also a suspicion in Washington that Tenet wanted to tender his resignation before June 17, when the Senate Intelligence Committee is scheduled to release a report expected to be highly critical about the use of intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq war.

The commentary bears the headline, "Tenet's Fall -- and Those to Follow" and concludes: "Tenet's departure can be read as a tacit admission that his own performance had made his continuation in office untenable. Based on that standard, he's hardly the only one who should depart."

THE NEW YORK TIMES

"The New York Times" editorializes: "Mr. Tenet's reasons for leaving were the subject of much speculation yesterday. The White House offered up the customary 'personal reasons' and said Mr. Bush had not forced him out. Mr. Tenet said in a choked voice that he wanted to spare his family further exposure to the pressures of his job. It's easy to sympathize, considering the months of criticism that he and the intelligence agencies are about to endure -- from a highly negative Senate Intelligence Committee report that Mr. Tenet received this week, from the 9/11 commission's report and from an update expected this summer from Mr. Tenet's own investigator in Iraq on the failure to find weapons of mass destruction.

"Whether the resignation was voluntary or forced, the timing was terrible. It's too close to the November election for Mr. Bush to make any credible effort to replace Mr. Tenet. The president named Mr. Tenet's deputy, John McLaughlin, as the acting director starting July 11, and, in theory, he could rush through a new nominee. But it is hard to imagine such a choice being based on more than simply finding someone politically bland enough to pass muster in an already tense election year."
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