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Western Press Review: Anglo-American Intelligence Failures, Uzbekistan's Human Rights Record, And A Wellspring Of Trouble In Turkmenistan

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 16 July 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Among the topics at issue in some of the major dailies today are the release of two separate reports, in the United States and Britain, documenting intelligence failures in the run-up to war in Iraq; frozen aid and human rights in Uzbekistan; and Turkmenistan's "troubled waters." We also hear from the widow of Paul Klebnikov, the editor of the Russian edition of "Forbes" magazine, who was slain last week in Moscow.

FINANCIAL TIMES

In a discussion of separate investigative reports released in the United States (9 July) and Great Britain (14 July) on the intelligence failures regarding Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction, columnist Philip Stephens says despite "the damning indictment of the Central Intelligence Agency's prewar intelligence," U.S. President George W. Bush has apparently decided this "is no time to acknowledge that the war might have been a mistake."

In truth, Stephens says, last week's report by the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee and Lord Butler's findings this week on British intelligence failures did not decisively settle the argument over the merits of going to war. The Butler report declared that, for all the "misjudgments" made by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, ultimately he acted honestly. And the U.S. Senate committee has delayed its judgment on whether the U.S. administration abused the intelligence on Iraq until after the November presidential election.

Stephens says there are no certainties in this situation, although he says inaction when confronted with Baghdad's obfuscation of its weapons programs "would have been as much an admission of the West's failure as war."

In hindsight, he says, Bush probably "has not actually changed his mind about the righteousness of American power. But he has been obliged to understand its limitations."

As for the policy of preemption, "as a guiding strategy for safeguarding America's security, Mr. Bush's version of the doctrine -- unilateral military action based on necessarily incomplete and imprecise threat assessments -- cannot survive the Iraq war."

We now know that the intelligence is simply never good enough to justify a first preemptive strike. It has also become clear that "even the sole superpower cannot afford to ignore its allies." The lesson of Iraq "is that vanquishing an enemy is one thing; making such a country safe for America is something else entirely."

But Stephens says a second lesson to be drawn from events in Iraq is that "the international community is only as strong as the will of its members to enforce its decisions -- which means not very strong at all."

We now risk being caught in an ambiguous landscape between "unbridled U.S. power and effective multilateralism," which Stephens says, "is not a safe place to be."

THE WASHINGTON POST

U.S. President George W. Bush "has been promising to change the long-standing U.S. practice of cultivating dictators in strategically important parts of the world in exchange for their support on security issues or reliable supplies of oil," says an editorial today.

"This week his administration took a significant step in that direction" by declaring a freeze on $18 million in aid to Uzbekistan, pending progress on Tashkent's much-criticized human rights record.

The daily says the suspension of aid "should send a message to Uzbekistan's authoritarian president, Islam Karimov, as well as several of his neighbors in a region where oil, gas and military bases have recently become important: The old formula for partnership with Washington may no longer work."

Following the 11 September 2001 attacks in New York and Washington, Uzbekistan offered to host U.S. military bases for the Pentagon's campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Karimov also pledged to carry out extensive democratic reforms in his country. But the paper says he soon returned "to jailing and torturing his political opponents, censoring the media and staging fraudulent elections."

Last year, the U.S. Congress passed legislation "to hold Mr. Karimov to his word: Unless the [U.S.] administration certified progress on the reforms he had promised, both economic and military aid would be withheld. After several public warnings and months of hesitation, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell finally ruled that certification was impossible."

"Maybe Mr. Karimov won't listen," writes the paper. "But it is very likely that many people in Uzbekistan and around the region will take note -- and be encouraged to draw new conclusions about the priorities of the United States."

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE

Writing from Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, Lynne O'Donnell says, "The autocratic ruler of this Central Asian republic has spent billions of dollars on vanity projects and turned this sleepy desert capital into a city of marble and monuments -- most extolling his glories and those of the long-dead mother he never knew."

President Saparmurat Niyazov "is, essentially, the only law in Turkmenistan: At his decree, the names of days, months and even foodstuffs are changed." But O'Donnell says Niyazov's "latest attempt at posthumous glory" could result in "profound damage far beyond his borders. At risk is the water supply of much of Central Asia," where several newly independent nations are already "dealing with the legacy of vast environmental damage from 70 years of Soviet domination."

In a country that is 80 percent desert, Niyazov "has irrigated his capital and plans to add an artificial river soon." He is building a "massive" reservoir east of the capital in the middle of the Karakum Desert. But experts warn that the lake -- which is primed to be 120 kilometers long, 60 kilometers wide, and to hold 150 billion cubic meters of water -- will drain water from the region's principle rivers, the Amu Darya and Syr Darya. O'Donnell says millions of people in drought-stricken Central Asia rely on these rivers for survival.

"In a region where water is one of the greatest sources of potential friction between states and where military exercises include mock battles for control of dams, Mr. Niyazov's reservoir represents what critics say is one of mankind's most foolhardy attempts at harnessing nature," O'Donnell writes.

Moreover, she says, the level of water wastage in Central Asia -- 27 percent in Ashgabat -- is "phenomenal." And hopes "enticing Turkmenistan into a regional dialogue on how best to use and protect shared water resources are diminishing."

LE FIGARO

Columnist Pierre Rousselin addresses the two separate investigative reports, one conducted in Britain and one in the United States, on the prewar intelligence informing the decision to go to war in Iraq. Charged with answering some of the public's lingering questions, neither commission placed blame squarely on British Prime Minister Tony Blair or U.S. President George W. Bush.

But Rousselin asks, how could the Anglo-American leadership have been so mistaken regarding the alleged Iraqi arsenal as to assert that the danger it posed justified a war? The fault seems to lie with the British and American intelligence agents, he says.

But is it really plausible that Bush and Blair were fooled by their own intelligence agents? In any case, Rousselin says, the Iraq affair has spurred a whirlwind of housecleaning and restructuring within the agencies, which have rested too long on the laurels they earned during their Cold War heyday.

But public opinion will remain skeptical. Neither the British Butler report nor the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee answered the real question: When is a preventive war like that in Iraq justified? The quality of intelligence is an essential element of the answer, says Rousselin. But he says preemption remains a political decision, and neither Bush nor Blair can deny their responsibility for making the choice they did.

But both leaders based their decisions on false information. Thus, Rousselin says, they did not deliberately lie. Their integrity is not in question, and proving this was the principle objective of the investigative committees.

But the judgments of the two leaders remain questionable. Will laying the blame on the intelligence community be enough to exonerate them? Rousselin says in both the United Kingdom and the United States, the voters will have the final say.

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE

"It is hard to say what motivates writers and journalists to work very hard every day to seek truths and explain themes in the world they live in. In the case of my husband, Paul, who was shot dead outside his office in Moscow last Friday [9 July], it was his love of Russia." In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune" today, Musa Klebnikov, the widow of Paul Klebnikov -- the editor of the Russian edition of "Forbes" magazine -- writes of her husband's fervent desire to bring civic openness and transparency to Russia.

This love of Russia "was inherited from generations of loyal, dedicated people, and from his family," she says. "They all wanted Russia to be good, strong and moral."

Paul Klebnikov had a "total commitment to the concept of loyalty," she writes. "He admired loyalty above all else and had a soldier-like need to believe that loyalty was morally critical and that it gave his life meaning."

With the launch of "Forbes" in Russia, Paul had "hoped to create a platform for airing ideas. He wanted to push for law, transparency, values, commitment to the country. He felt he could really help promote civic values and to offer direction."

And Paul "really believed it was happening; the country was turning." She says, "It was exhilarating for Paul to be part of the national debate, to feel that his decades of loyalty to a hope of a better Russia were being rewarded."

Klebnikov says she hopes her husband's loyalty to his purpose "will galvanize many people to remain optimistic and to keep doing all the work that needs to be done to create a successful, moral society in Russia."
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