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Western Press Review: Broadcasting The Workings Of U.S. Government, And How To Start A (Peaceful) Revolution

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 6 July 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Among the topics up for debate in the press today are Tehran's nuclear program; making the inner workings of the U.S. government more accessible to viewers in the Middle East; how a nation's natural resources can actually make it poorer; and "rules for revolutionaries" from President Mikheil Saakashvili, the architect of Georgia's "Rose Revolution" in November.

THE NEW YORK TIMES

Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations writes, "With the transfer of political authority to the Iraqi interim government now complete, the Bush administration should focus its attention on promoting democracy in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East." He says Washington might consider broadcasting the inner workings of the U.S. government on U.S.-funded television station Alhurra.

After revelations about prisoner mistreatment at Baghdad's Abu Ghurayb prison came to light, Alhurra broadcast to the Arab world on 7 May U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. "The spectacle of the secretary of defense of the United States answering questions from elected [legislators] transfixed many Arabs," Cook says. Given that most regional leaders are "unelected and unaccountable," many Arabs had "never seen a senior government official called to account."

If America's Arabic satellite news channel broadcast translations of U.S. government hearings and other events, "it would go a long way toward promoting democratic principles in the Middle East," Cook writes. Eventually, he says, perhaps "the station could gain permission to broadcast important government proceedings in the Middle East."

Cook says, "Hostility toward the United States -- over its support for Israel, occupation of Iraq, abuse of prisoners at [Abu Ghurayb] or for other reasons -- is endemic in the Arab world. As a result, Arabs routinely dismiss [Alhurra] as propaganda."

But a new version of Alhurra could "provide a vantage point for people from Morocco to the Persian Gulf to observe both the best and worst aspects of America's political process, helping to counter many of the prevailing myths and conspiracy theories about how American policy is developed and articulated."

THE WASHINGTON POST

During the NATO summit in Istanbul in late June, the paper's David Ignatius sat with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and asked him how one successfully launches a peaceful revolution aimed at democratic reform. Saakashvili outlined several main ingredients of a successful movement for the journalist.

The Georgian leader said it was important to entrench oneself within the system. "Like many reformers, Saakashvili began as an insider with the regime he later toppled," Ignatius says. Saakashvili was a member of the ruling party. But Saakashvili "was an agitator from the start, pressing for legal reforms."

Next, nongovernmental organizations can help a reformer build a political base. Reforms launched with the aid of NGOs "helped strengthen civil society in Georgia, and correspondingly helped weaken the power of the ruling party."

A successful reform movement is also "modern, media-savvy and well-connected in the West." Funded in part by Western contributions, Saakashvili's group, Kamara, "trained its members in nonviolent protest, and cleverly used the Georgian media to get free publicity."

Saakashvili says also to never show fear. After President Eduard Shevardnadze won reelection in a ballot widely seen as fraudulent, Saakashvili and his followers "occupied the Georgian parliament building, almost daring the authorities to evict them. He says that when the takeover occurred, he was prepared to die. That fearless personal commitment galvanized his supporters."

"Another key tactic was not to initiate violence, no matter what the provocation."

And finally, it is important to cultivate your opponents. Ignatius says: "The smartest thing Saakashvili did was to woo the Georgian army and police. His followers showered the troops with roses, paid visits to their families, invited them to share food in the chilly streets outside parliament. When the soldiers were ordered to attack the protesters, they refused -- and the revolution triumphed."

THE WASHINGTON TIMES

"The latest rebuke from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) last month has done nothing to alter Iran's continuing pursuit of an illicit nuclear weapons program," says an editorial in this Washington daily. In a statement last week, Tehran announced that it is to resume centrifuges, a move the paper calls "a sure sign of its determination to go forward with its atomic-weapons program."

After negotiations last fall with leaders from Britain, France, and Germany, Tehran agreed to suspend its uranium-processing and -enrichment programs. But in January, the paper says, "the regime brazenly announced it was building centrifuges -- wrongly asserting that the agreement didn't apply" to these activities.

The paper says Tehran follows a pattern when dealing with the international community over its weapons programs. "When caught in the act, promise to reform. When caught breaking this promise, act defiantly and tell the international community to get lost."

And while Washington has taken "a somewhat tougher stance," it has also shown no desire to set "a deadline for Iran to comply with its commitments under the international Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The toughest action that Washington seems prepared to take right now is to try to muster support for a UN Security Council resolution denouncing Tehran's noncompliance."

"The Washington Times" says that Tehran is "forging ahead with nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs and developing the means to deliver deadly payloads to targets in Western Europe, Israel and Turkey. The question now is whether Washington and its allies have a strategy -- beyond moral suasion and the threat of UN condemnation -- that will stop Iran from making this arsenal more dangerous in the months ahead."

THE DAILY TELEGRAPH

"Vladimir Putin's loathing for Mikhail [Khodorkovskii] is well known," although the Russian president has said it would not be in Russia's interest for Yukos, its leading oil company, to collapse entirely. An editorial in the British daily says, "The problem for the president is that he has unleashed such forces against Yukos, of which Mr. [Khodorkovskii] was chairman, that it has been brought to the brink of bankruptcy."

Yukos is now caught in a situation in which it cannot win, squeezed between "demands for back taxes and a freeze on sales of its assets wherewith it might meet those demands."

The paper says, "In his determination to scupper Mr. [Khodorkovskii], who provoked him by financing opposition parties and is now on trial for alleged fraud and tax evasion, Mr. Putin may find he [undermines] Yukos as well." But the destruction "of such a large and relatively well-run company would deter foreign investment in the oil and gas sectors, thereby damaging the entire Russian economy."

The paper says that the Khodorkovskii case "illustrates the paradox at the heart of Mr. Putin's policies. On the one hand, he wants to modernize Russia so that it can regain superpower status. On the other, his methods -- arbitrary targeting of opponents, reliance on colleagues who hail from the security services, the search for greater efficiency through micro-management -- hark back to the discredited Soviet era."

And the tumble in Yukos and other Russian shares in recent weeks shows "the hounding of Mr. [Khodorkovskii] and Yukos is already limiting prospects for growth."

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE

"Most people believe that rich natural resources make a country rich," writes author Robert Skidelsky. Yet, he says, the belief that countries "with plentiful natural resources enjoy a head-start in the race for prosperity is not born out by experience." Many economists now talk about a "resource curse," that does exactly the opposite.

Skidelsky says abundant natural resources "tend to corrupt politics, turning it into a battle to seize control over the incomes produced by the resources. This has been true of much of Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa." Moreover, the resources "generate unstable terms of trade, because the prices of natural resources or agricultural commodities fluctuate widely." The high exchange rate they generate "hinders development of internationally competitive manufacturing" and makes it harder to develop trade in these higher value-added products.

Will Russia be able to escape this curse? Skidelsky asks. He says the Soviets were correct in believing that wealth creation lay in the development of manufacturing and not in natural resources. But, he says, the industrial mismanagement of the Soviet years has caused postcommunist Russia to rely increasingly on its resources.

Skidelsky says that Russia has two advantages. First, the Kremlin "is not controlled by the oligarchs," which allows it to avoid "the destructive, redistributionist politics of most resource-rich countries."

Second, the "high level of scientific and technical education" that is an inheritance from the communist era has resulted in highly skilled human capital that can be dedicated "to the production of goods and services for the world market."

"If this can be done," Skidelsky says there is no reason Russia should not be able to follow in the economic footsteps of West."

THE BOSTON GLOBE

Writer H.D.S. Greenway is highly critical of the administration of President George W. Bush in its policy on Iraq. In a commentary, he writes that the new Iraqi administration got "a bad deal" when it accepted sovereignty from the U.S.-led coalition on 28 June. They now have "a sovereignty that is so limited that they do not control their country's airspace or its ports. The security forces they do control are so limited, under-trained and untested that Iraq's new leaders are completely dependent on foreign soldiers even for their very lives."

He writes: "They are being asked to rule a country that has been so reduced by the incompetence of the Americans that very few lights turn on at night in the capital."

Greenway writes that the Bush administration "promised change in the Middle East, but change came in the form of a deeper hatred for the United States, and an Iraq in which only 2 percent of the people view the United States as liberators."

U.S. administration policy in Iraq has been characterized by a "back-and-forth manner," he says. "At first the Marines were going to root out those who had killed and mutilated four American contractors in Fallujah. Then that manhunt was abandoned and Fallujah was turned over to a former general in Saddam Hussein's army. At first Muqtada al-Sadr was going to be killed or captured. Then that was dropped and Sadr was left at large. At first it was going to be de-Baathification. Then it was re-Baathification," Greenway writes.

In his view, "the entire history of Bush's intervention in Iraq became a series of fallback positions."

THE NEW YORK TIMES

Columnist David Brooks says there is now ample reason for cautious optimism in Iraq. The country has "a tough, capable prime minister. Democratic institutions are emerging, including a culture of compromise. Clerics are now preaching against insurgents." Leading Shi'a cleric Ali al-Sistani refers to them as sinners.

Brooks says the "political transition is going well. It's when you turn to military matters that things look tough. The Iraqis and the Americans now face a choice. U.S. troops can take advantage of this hopeful moment to mount a full-scale assault on the insurgents, or they can hang back and hope that the Iraqis themselves can co-opt or defeat the fighters."

But it seems clear that, "with the Iraqis leading and the Americans assenting, there will be no broad offensive against the insurgents anytime soon."

Perhaps in a month or more, "Allawi and Bush will have to unleash U.S. forces. Still, stepping back, two things are obvious," Brooks says. "This administration can adapt, and stick to a winning strategy once it finds it. Second, the Iraqis really do have a galvanizing hunger for democracy."
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