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Western Press Review: Commentary Covers Many Topics

  • Anthony Georgieff
  • Don Hill

Prague, 23 August 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary on international topics in the Western press today and over the weekend ranges widely rather than focusing on any one issue.

NEW YORK TIMES: There was an extraordinary lack of disaster preparation

On the earthquake in Turkey, where estimates now are running as high as 40,000 dead, The New York Times wrote in an editorial Sunday about what it called the "emotional and civil weight" of such a death count. The New York Times takes note of the difficulties of organizing rescue efforts in teeming Istanbul. Rescue workers have streamed in, as the editorial puts it: "only to discover that they are without civil coherence themselves."

The newspaper offers a prediction in these words: "For years to come, researchers will be trying to distinguish what was natural in this earthquake -- the shock and aftershocks themselves, a certain inevitable minimum of death in an earthquake of this scale -- from what was artificial." The newspaper lists among artificial contributions to the disaster bad construction and building code violations.

There also was, the newspaper comments: "an extraordinary lack of disaster preparation [suggesting that] political will may be one of the things that collapsed last Tuesday morning."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: The killer was not just nature

In a commentary in the Wall Street Journal Europe, Asla Aydintasbas, New York correspondent for Radikal, a Turkish newspaper, writes that an earthquake, in her words: "makes a strange, angry noise unlike any sound I've ever heard." Aydintasbas, who was on vacation in Istanbul during last week's tremor, concludes this way: "The nation will hold its head in grief and shame for some time. For the killer was not just nature. It was contractors' greed and lawlessness and the government's ineptitude [in failing to prepare for] and in responding to a predictable natural disaster."

AFTENPOSTEN: Serbia lacks a culture of democracy

The complexities of life in Kosovo and throughout Serbia in the time following NATO's bombing assault occupy several commentators. Norway's Aftenposten says in an editorial that last week's demonstration in Belgrade showed that opposition forces in Yugoslavia are numerous and unafraid to speak out but are also fragmented. The editorial says this about the splintering: "Some of these splits can be explained by the Serbs' penchant for petty detail as well as by their personal rivalries and animosities -- a clear sign that Serbia lacks a culture of democracy."

NEW YORK TIMES: The Draskovices desire political power and dominance

New York Times correspondent Steven Erlanger, writing in a news analysis from Belgrade, seems to concur. He opens a profile of Vuk Draskovic, the leader of the Serbian Renewal Movement, with these words: "Draskovic and his influential wife, Danica, find themselves at a political crossroads, suddenly less radical than many of their supporters, their commitment to the ouster of President Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia called into question." The couple control Belgrade, Erlanger writes, with what he calls "the sufferance of Milosevic's Socialist Party." Erlanger also says this: "The Draskovices' desire for political power and dominance among the varied opposition leaders has led them to make various deals with the authorities while holding to the idea of fundamental democratic change. As they alternate between opposition and cooperation -- what critics call opportunism -- more people ask whether they have any other real aim beyond power."

BERLINGSKE TIDENDE: It is imperative to drive a wedge between Milosevic and his own supporters

An editorial in Denmark's Berlingske Tidende claims that opposition forces in Yugoslavia agree on only one thing. They all want Milosevic to step down. But, says the newspaper, "[many] fear that the Serb military apparatus, despite increasing dissatisfaction of the citizenry, will be able to manipulate the elections so that Milosevic again emerges a winner." This fear, says Berlingske Tidende, "is justified." The editorial calls on the West to state, as the newspaper puts it: "in clearer terms what kind of rewards the Serb people can expect if they indeed do away with the Belgrade despot." The editorial concludes: "In light of the splits in the opposition, it is imperative to drive a wedge between Milosevic and his own supporters in order to pave the way for his fall."

WASHINGTON POST: Dagestan may seem a few years from now to have been nothing but a harbinger

The Washington Post questions whether Russia can maintain even its reduced federation against what the newspaper calls in an editorial: "the challenge of a few thousand Muslim separatist guerrillas in the southern Russian province of Dagestan." The Dagestan conflict's elements should be familiar to Russia's leaders, the editorial says. These elements are, in the newspaper's words: "highly motivated insurgents fighting in familiar terrain; [and] poorly armed, poorly fed Russian draftees transported to treacherous mountains that they have no interest in defending or recapturing."

The Post editorial says that -- if Russia manages to reform politically and economically -- most in Russia will want to remain in Russia. But if widespread corruption and economic deterioration continue, as the editorial puts it: "Dagestan may seem a few years from now to have been nothing but a harbinger."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Primakov bears watching

The Los Angeles Times said yesterday that people interested in Russia should keep their eyes on the date of December 18 and on the person of Yevgeny M. Primakov. The date is important because, in the Los Angeles newspaper's words: "that's when voters will choose the 450 members of the Duma, the lower house of parliament, a choice that could do much to shape their country's future, including its relations with the West." Primakov bears watching, says the newspaper's editorial, because the former prime minister under President Boris Yeltsin, as the editorial puts it: "will head the new Fatherland-All Russia electoral alliance. [And] he promises to increase the Duma's powers while reducing those of the president, to enact stronger anticrime measures and to improve Russia's notoriously inefficient tax system. In polls, no one stands higher in public confidence."

WASHINGTON POST: China should not miscalculate

The Washington Post carries a commentary today by Peter Rodman, a senior editor of the U.S. journal, National Review, criticizing U.S. Taiwan policy. The United States wants to deter Beijing from a military attack on Taiwan and to discourage Taiwan's government from provoking a crisis. But, writes Rodman, the U.S. has taken the approach of leaving doubt about U.S. commitment to defend Taiwan from armed attack. Rodman writes flatly: "That's the wrong answer."

The commentator says the U.S. government should make its position so unmistakably clear that China cannot by misled into believing it can use force without repercussions. He says: "China should not miscalculate."

NATIONAL INTEREST: The writer offers three modest suggestions

Owen Harries, editor of the U.S. magazine, The National Interest, raises another issue of U.S. foreign policy -- U.S. behavior as what he calls "the world's dominant power." Harries offers, in his words, "three modest suggestions." The first two suggestions are, as he phrases them:

"First, learn to distinguish between the concepts of victory and success." In the case of Kosovo, he says, the military victory is proving to be a dubious success.

Second, "guard against and reject terms that serve no purpose other than to narrow the range of permissible discussion." Harries suggests that officials give up terms like imperialist, appeaser, and neo-isolationist in discussing people who disagree with them.

Harries' third suggestion is that the United States stand willing to be judged by the same moral standards it applies to other nations. He writes: "The United States either should practice what it preaches or expect other states to emulate its practices." The writer cites as an example the act of attacking the territory of a sovereign state.