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Western Press Review: The West's Declarations Of War Raise New Strategic Questions

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 17 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western press today and over the weekend focuses largely on the lasting effects of the 11 September attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. Recent declarations that the U.S. is "at war" against terrorism have many commentators questioning what the nature of such a war will be and how the U.S. will engage an enemy that is not located in a single nation but which -- in the words of one commentary -- "may span half the globe and is composed of thousands of individuals and different organizations."


In the Wall Street Journal Europe, contributing editor Garry Kasparov says that the seeds of last week's tragedy were planted a decade ago. He writes: "It began, to be precise, in the early days following the end of the Cold War. Then, talk of the 'peace dividend' was not followed by a comprehensive Western foreign policy necessary to meet the challenges and threats of the post-Cold War world. In fact, these threats were not even properly identified." Kasparov says that one of the factors was a postwar Western foreign policy that "came to prize regional balance of power and 'peace talks' over the defense of democratic values and the fight against repression and terrorism." What he calls the West's "rhetorical, but ultimately weak, defense of freedom and democratic values" has sent a strong message to those who would threaten its way of life.

Kasparov writes: "It might be tempting now to demonstrate resolute action to regain public confidence. But even the physical elimination of [Saudi extremist Osama] bin Laden and his henchmen does not constitute a victory in the war against terrorism. Anything short of a deployment of NATO troops to make arrests in Baghdad, Tehran, Damascus, Kabul and wherever else terrorists and their affiliates are found to be, will be a betrayal of the memory of the [victims]. Without analyzing the mistakes of the past, we will fail today in devising the right response to the crisis facing the civilized world."


A Stratfor analysis looks at the nature of the terrorist threat and says that last week's attacks "demonstrate clearly and for the first time the existence of a multi-national, global network of Islamic radicals and their sympathizers." Understanding this, the analysis says, must be the key to Washington's war strategy. While suspicion now focuses on bin Laden, Stratfor says, "evidence suggests that while his umbrella organization Al-Qaida was involved at some point, bin Laden himself isn't likely the mastermind behind the attacks. The skill and scope of the operation indicates that more than one base of support was necessary."

Stratfor writes: "The United States thinks it is going to war with bin Laden, Al-Qaida or the unnamed group directly responsible for this week's attacks. But taking down the infrastructure supporting these groups will require the U.S. to identify and dismantle the larger, global network. That, like dismantling the drug trafficking networks in Latin America, West Africa or Europe, will be a monumental task."


In the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, columnist Thomas Schmid says that those who declare that the world is "forever changed" after the attack in fact are admitting defeat. He writes: "Saying nothing will ever be the same again is tantamount to saying the Western world's open society -- which has won adherents around the world, and not just since [the end of the Cold War in] 1989 -- cannot survive when faced with real threats, that liberal democracy was a fair-weather event, and that the terrorists have won."

Schmid suggests going on with life as usual and adhering to long-held convictions. In his words, "the great achievement of Western democracies is to have created a system based on the division of powers, strict rule of law and the promotion of civil spirit. [Especially] now," he says, "it must harness this strength for a resolute fight against terrorism and the semi-state structures that support them with precisely coordinated action, including military action. It must do so by unswervingly continuing with civil life. It must do so by a policy of open markets that encourages the spread of democracy, and it must renounce the Old Testament policy of vengeance, which in the United States, the country that set out to be a better Europe, has so many adherents."


An analysis in The Times of Britain looks at the difficult choice facing Pakistan in light of last week's U.S. attacks. Pakistan has been a supporter and military supplier of neighboring Afghanistan's ruling Taliban. Pakistan is also strategically vital for any U.S. military action in the region -- which places it in a grim political situation. If General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president, refuses to comply with U.S. demands, the editorial says, "he will face the penalties already threatened for those countries sheltering terrorists. If he accedes, he will have to deal with violent revolt in the army, from the mullahs and among the millions of tribesmen and Islamic militants who consider [Osama] bin Laden a hero."

For the past six years, Pakistan has supported the Taliban with arms and training -- yet it maintains that its recognition of the ruling militia is dictated only by the realpolitik considerations that it must both share a border with Afghanistan and respond to the widespread and growing support for Islamic militancy within its own borders.

The paper says: "President Musharraf must now choose. Supporting America could cost him his job; but failure to do so will hasten the isolation and disintegration of Pakistan, strengthen the mullahs and tilt world opinion more decisively towards India -- an alternative, and more accommodating, route for the U.S. to hit its adversary."


A Le Monde editorial says the U.S. "war against terrorism" is just the latest in a series that includes its "war on drugs," "war on poverty" and "war against crime." The paper says if this newest "war" waged by Washington is not to go the ineffectual way of its predecessors, it must demonstrate exceptional "intelligence and efficiency."

The U.S. has already declared it is ready to fight a long and difficult campaign, and is looking to Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden as primary targets. However, the editorial says, "it is difficult not to recall, after the funeral of [Taliban opposition] commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, that the United States refused to help the man that embodied the resistance to the madness of the Taliban."

The paper goes on to say that Saudi Arabia, which often maintains the most extremist views, is now considered an ally. Such examples emphasize that U.S. policy in the Middle East must change if the words being spoken in Washington are going to have any direction. But if the "war against terrorism" ends up offending the opinions of moderate Arabic countries, it may start looking like a clash of civilizations. That, it says, is the objective of Osama bin Laden: a conflict between the Muslim world and the West. This, the paper concludes, must be avoided.


In "The Washington Post," Jackson Diehl considers the myriad shifting alliances and foreign policy strategies in light of the attacks in the U.S. He writes: "Behind the outpouring of sympathy for the United States and vows of support for a new alliance against terrorism are cold calculations by European allies, would-be rival powers such as Russia and China, and in-betweeners of all kinds. The common goal is to use the crisis to forge an advantageous partnership with a world power that, under [U.S. President George W.] Bush, so far has been alarmingly elusive, prickly and unilateralist."

Diehl writes that relations with nations such as Pakistan, China, and particularly Russia will be very tricky in the near future. Russia has a lot to offer the U.S. at this juncture, including intelligence regarding Afghanistan and a strategic geographical position. "All of this," he writes, "offers the Bush administration some large opportunities. Tragic as its cause, the adoption of counter-terrorism as an organizing principle for U.S. foreign policy will provide a larger mission that has been missing for a decade and should prove far more workable than the Bush impulse to subordinate all to missile defense. What's more, a foreign policy team that by its own account mishandled early approaches to Europe, and retreated in confusion after recent failures in the Middle East, will have what amounts to a fresh start on alliances and strategies."


Under the headline "Retribution as Prevention," Peter Muench writes in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" that the fear of the consequences of any U.S. response has had a paralyzing effect. Before undertaking action, he writes, it is worth examining the threat. This threat, he writes, is global and it is imperative to counter it here and now. There is no time to wait for an attack with the use of biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons. There has already been ample proof of terrorist attacks to be entirely on the alert now. He writes: "This threat justifies and demands a resolute response. Appeasement no longer helps. The time has come, however materialistic this may sound, to take on the battle forced upon us." Muench says this attack will also have a counterproductive effect, for it will no doubt be answered by further radicalization. But again Muench says there is no alternative. He concludes, "the strategy will only be successful provided the military attack is measured and correctly targeted, and simultaneous political strategies are correctly implemented. By combining these two factors, the West can demonstrate its superiority in the face of the new power of terror."


An editorial in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" discusses the pivotal role of Pakistan in the U.S. response to last week's attacks. The paper notes that in 1979, when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, Pakistan came to its neighbor's aid, supplying weapons to the resistance movement. This time, it says, the situation is reversed. The Taliban is threatening anyone who chooses to support the United States. "Such a threat," the editorial says, "must be taken seriously." It continues: "Were Pakistan's inner defenses secure there would be no need to fear, but exactly the opposite is true. Not only foreign powers, but Pakistan itself is responsible for this state of affairs. There has been only nominal control of the frontiers between Afghanistan and Pakistan." Moreover, it adds, "the fruits of the Islamization of Pakistan are also due to the Taliban. When these 'Koran pupils' appeared for the first time a few years ago, they hailed from Pakistan."

Although the Pakistani government vehemently denies any Taliban connections, it is one of just three countries maintaining diplomatic relations with the Taliban. This is creating a sensitive situation for Pakistan's president, General Pervez Musharraf. But he can hardly reject U.S. demands for support. The editorial concludes: "The general will have to take on the fight for his country."


In "The New York Times," Michael Gordon considers the military options for U.S. retaliation. He writes that the Bush administration is preparing a powerful military strike if the Taliban, as expected, refuses to surrender Osama bin Laden. He writes: "The blow would be intended not only to destroy terrorist bases in Afghanistan but also to demonstrate to other nations that there is a heavy cost to be paid for those who shelter enemies of the United States. A principal option is to intervene militarily in Afghanistan's civil war on the side of the Taliban's foes: the beleaguered rebel alliance that claims just a sliver of Afghanistan's territory. It was just weakened further with the assassination of its leader, Ahmed Shah Massoud."

But Gordon observes that there is a recognition in the U.S. that "to go further by carrying out a Soviet-style occupation with thousands of troops would place the United States at odds with much of the Islamic world and is fraught with danger." He notes that the Bush administration is already talking about a campaign that will last years, not months. "The administration's goal is clear: it wants to rip apart the terrorists' networks. But since the terrorists are hard to find, Washington is focusing not just on them but on the governments that back them. Certainly capturing a terrorist or enemy leader is one of the most difficult of military tasks."

(NCA's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)