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Western Press Review: Creating Humans In United States, Killing Them In Macedonia

  • Don Hill

Prague, 10 August 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Substantial commentary in the Western press today discusses war and peace talks in Macedonia, and an entirely different kind of issue in the United States -- the creating of embryonic human beings through advances in biomedical research.


International affairs commentator Flora Lewis writes from Paris in the "International Herald Tribune" that Western vacillation may be at fault in the deterioration of hopes for peace in Macedonia. Or perhaps, she says, the conflagration was inevitable.

Lewis writes: "The prospects now are not good. One more little Balkan country is to be torn by ethnic war, people massively uprooted and ravaged even as the international tribunal in The Hague judges those who committed atrocities in the previous rounds of ethnic cleansing."

The writer says that piecemeal Western efforts to force compromise on unwilling antagonists in Macedonia have been flawed from the start.

She writes: "Pushing belligerents into political deals is not likely to bring peace nearer. There needs to be a comprehensive Balkan conference, based on EU and NATO principles of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, which is broad enough to enable trade-offs so that the peoples involved can feel they have gained advantages to offset the disadvantages they must inevitably swallow."

The alternative, Lewis adds, "is more disaster. [Any peacemaking intervention] has to be a wide-ranging, well-prepared, political as well as military plan. Mincing little steps get nowhere."


An editorial in "The Christian Science Monitor" takes a cautiously more optimistic view. It says: "Macedonia, which is still racked by fighting between the Slav-dominated government and Albanian rebels, has just advanced a notch toward ethnic harmony."

The editorial says: "NATO stands poised to deploy troops in Macedonia to disarm the rebels and keep the peace, in an operation dubbed Essential Harvest. And the European Union has dangled the hope of financial aid to bolster the economy."

The newspaper presents this reservation: "But the peace accord, which is due to be signed Monday, has created a violent backlash. Obviously, the EU and NATO must speak louder to this nation that lies on the fringe of Europe, both geographically and politically."

The editorial concludes, "The Macedonia accord is a model for a better way."


The "International Herald Tribune" publishes a commentary by Ivo Daalder and Karla Nieting of the Washington-based Brookings Institution public policy organization. The writers say that the Macedonia crisis indicates that Germany is not yet doing its fair share. Daalder and Nieting write that declarations by opposition parties in Germany's Bundestag show that if a vote were taken today, Germany would not participate in a peacekeeping mission to Macedonia.

The commentary says: "This deep reluctance to support the NATO mission reveals great ambivalence about what role Germany should play in furthering a European foreign and security policy."

The writers comment that Germany wants to play a prominent role in Europe but that its rhetorical commitment "too often fails to be met by concerted action, especially [in] the area of defense."

The commentators conclude: "The United States has been imploring its European allies for decades to increase defense spending. The difference today is that Europe has a tremendous stake in building a credible and capable European security and defense policy, with a modern rapid reaction force at its core. Full German participation in this effort is not a luxury; it is a necessity for it to succeed."


An editorial under the headline "War or Peace in Macedonia?" in the "Neue Zuercher Zeitung" says: "The agreement [Wednesday] may become a scrap of paper by Monday (13 August). Yet it is impossible not to consider whether foreign mediation actually will succeed for the first time since the disintegration of Yugoslavia in forcing a compromise on the conflicting parties before the fighting spins completely out of control. This in itself would be a success."

U.S. commentary surveyed for today's press review is in such consensus on what comprises the issue of the moment that the writers might be clones of each other. The topic was U.S. President George Bush's announcement yesterday that he has decided to permit federal funding of stem-cell research -- but just a little research.


"The New York Times" says that the president "waffled." An editorial comments: "Last night George W. Bush had one of those rare opportunities a president gets to take a bold step that might define his administration. Instead, he ducked. In a national television address, the president said he was supporting federal funding for stem-cell research. But he added restrictions so rigid that they may constitute a near ban."

The editorial says: "Disappointed Americans who had hope for a more courageous conclusion may wind up wondering if his real concern was a perpetual fear of offending the Republican Party's right-wing base."


"The Washington Post's" Rick Weiss says in a news analysis that even a little embryonic research may be a lot. Weiss writes: "For a field of science as young as embryonic stem-cell studies, in which so much of the biomedical promise is still just that -- a lot of promise and very little proof -- President Bush's decision to permit even a modicum of federal funding could mark the beginning of a major boon to research."

The writer says: "Retrieved from the core of five-day-old human embryos, stem cells can morph into virtually every kind of tissue, providing a potentially bottomless source of replacement parts."

He writes, "Scientists expressed a mixture of relief and disappointment" after Bush announced he would allow federal funding under tight restrictions. Weiss writes: "Many complained that the limits imposed by Bush would hold back the field and slow the development of cures."


"Los Angeles Times" writers Janet Hook and Ronald Brownstein, in their news analysis, agree with Weiss's central thesis. They write, "President Bush's decision on federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research does not fully satisfy either side of the debate on the volatile issue, but it may leave both sides unable to reverse it."


"The Washington Post" television critic Tom Shales considers the news impact of Bush's performance. He writes, with broad irony: "A man purporting to be president of the United States appeared on national television last night to announce and discuss his decision on human embryonic research. Yes, the man was none other than George W. Bush, who is indeed the president of record, but this chief executive has used television so little during his first seven months in office that he could hardly be called a familiar sight to viewers."

Shales writes: "Considering how seldom Bush has been on TV to speak to Americans during his presidency, it did seem a little odd that the somewhat arcane subject of stem-cell research would be the thing to lure him out of hiding. Bush said, though, that the issue was the subject of 'dinner table discussions' all over America."

Shales says also: "Nothing he said seemed quite so startling, meanwhile, as what CBS [TV network news] anchor Dan Rather told viewers after the talk ended -- 'So we can, with, I think, impunity, recommend that if you're really interested in this, you'll want to read, in detail, one of the better newspapers tomorrow.' Has any network anchor ever made that kind of admission and recommendation before?"


In Europe's press, the biomedical issue today is cloning rather than stem cells. An editorial in "The Irish Times" says, "The concept of the reborn entered the public arena this week." The editorial says that a fair amount of nonsense accompanies the issue. It adds that scientists hold the technology but that women hold the key. It says: "Without their eggs and wombs not even therapeutic cloning can take place. The question for women is whether they think it is in humanity's interest to develop the technologies further."


And in "The Wall Street Journal Europe," Ronald Bailey, science correspondent for "Reason" magazine, says in a commentary that human cloning does not comprise the startling new departure that many people hope for or fear. Bailey writes, "Actually, to be pedantic, there are already plenty of human clones. These are identical twins, possessed of exactly the same genes. Considering these natural clones helps us to think clearly about what clones produced in vitro would be like. No one doubts that twins are clearly different people with distinct points of view."

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this Press Review.)