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Western Press Review: Strategies In War Against Terrorism, Poland's Elections

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 25 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The war against terrorism declared by the United States and its allies continues to dominate analysis in the Western press today, as commentators examine the possibilities for winning a decisive victory over the terrorist threat. Other commentary looks at Poland's general election on 23 September and how the political shift will affect its chances for European Union accession.


"The Wall Street Journal" in an editorial considers British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw's visit to Tehran, calling it "a gamble worth taking" even if a level of skepticism should remain well intact. The paper writes: "Iran may have self-interested reasons for cooperating. The Shiite Persians have no special love for the Sunni Taliban regime in Afghanistan, and they fought a horrible war with Iraq's Saddam Hussein in the 1980s. The Iranians thus may see a chance to weaken their neighbors in the region. If nothing else, perhaps Mr. Straw can win Iran's neutrality should the U.S. and its allies strike inside Afghanistan."

But the paper goes on to say that neither the U.S. nor Britain should consider Iran an ally just yet. It writes: "Notwithstanding [reformist President Mohammad] Khatami, Iran's ultra-hardline clerics wield enormous power. Iran's human rights record is abysmal. [So] skepticism is in order. The same goes for any Western overtures to Syria, another regime with a long record of harboring terrorists. The risk in building an anti-terrorist alliance is that it will become so broad that it deteriorates into a one-man hunt: to find Osama bin Laden. Once he is captured, the temptation will be to declare victory, until some new state-sponsored terrorists strike."

"But wars can make for strange alliances," says the paper. "Iran will have to decide which side it's on."


An editorial in "The Washington Post" questions the rhetoric surrounding some Western claims regarding the declared "war on terrorism" and also looks at the coalition-building taking place in this new endeavor.

The paper writes: "[It] is important to be careful and precise in measuring the foe and setting the goals. Is it the entire story, for example, that the terrorists target America because they hate its open society? [Then] why do the terrorists also target authoritarian regimes such as those of Uzbekistan or Saudi Arabia?" the paper asks. "It is important to recognize distinctions where they exist -- among different terrorist organizations and among varying goals even within organizations."

The paper notes that, as in the Cold War, the campaign against terrorism "will put the United States in league with allies of convenience, unsavory ones at times. Already, [the] United States finds itself pondering cooperation with the despotic regime of Central Asia's Uzbekistan."

Saudi Arabia and China are also considered allies in the war against terrorism. The paper writes: "Such regimes may work with the United States because they also fear the Islamic extremists, but not in defense of freedom," it says. "To the dictators of China and Central Asia, the terrorists may represent chaos, a challenge to state authority, but no one running those countries views democracy as the alternative to Islamic extremism."


In "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," Michael Ludwig looks at Poland's Sunday election and says that the dissatisfaction of the voters evidenced by the low turnout seems to be directed at politicians as a whole. Three populist protest movements -- the farmers' union, Self-Defense; the ultraconservative Catholic nationalists of the League of Polish Families; and the movement of Law and Justice -- have won "a good quarter" of the seats in the lower house, the Sejm. But Ludwig says that all three of these parties "lack a political or economic concept for Poland and take a negative or at least skeptical view of the country joining the European Union. The elections have thus weakened the cross-party consensus in parliament on the need for integrating Poland into the EU."

Ludwig goes on to say that although the political situation in Poland is serious, "there is still a glimmer of hope." The Civic Platform party is increasingly appealing to moderate conservatives; the same is true of the neo-liberal wing of the Freedom Union.

Ludwig writes: "If the [Civic] platform, which came from nothing to be the second-strongest party in parliament, were to decide to support the left or even to enter a coalition with it, the damage that the populists threaten to wreak could be limited. A historic compromise of this kind would certainly be in Poland's interest."


An editorial in the "Financial Times" says that Poland's election has "left the country facing political uncertainty just when it needs strong leadership to prepare for European Union accession." The paper notes that the ex-communist Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) was left without a majority and will now struggle to form a government. The editorial says that its best partner would be the center-right Civic Platform, a party committed to EU-oriented reforms.

The editorial suggests that Civic Platform "should swallow its pride and cooperate, at least on EU-related issues." But the paper goes on to say, "No amount of coalition-building can disguise the fact that the vote is a shock to Poland's pro-EU elite. With unemployment near 16 percent, Poles are increasingly unwilling to bear the costs of economic reform, including accession. Wise leadership," it suggests, "will tie further reforms with poverty alleviation. It will also do more to spread the benefits of economic modernization from a few big cities to the countryside."

"The EU can help by accelerating its eastward enlargement," says the paper. "The repeated postponement of possible accession has done nothing to reassure voters in candidate states. Nor have the proposed restrictions on labor-market access. Enlargement cannot be rushed, given the complex interests involved. But neither can it be unreasonably delayed," it concludes.


Writing in "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," Thomas Urban says the post-communists who won the election in Poland on Sunday will serve as reliable partners for the West, for much has changed in the past 12 years. The Polish post-communists have won the elections for a second time since 1993 and will now take on the governing of the country, which proves that the "power change in Poland functions without friction, that the country has at its disposal firm democratic structures, even though there are still some difficulties in the areas of administration and justice."

Urban says the election was marked by three factors: a reform of the post-communists, an end to the Solidarity myth, and a retreat on the part of the Catholic Church from day-to-day politics.

The post-communists now call themselves a democratic left party, but this is not in the Western European sense. Urban describes this party as one free of an ideology, only concerned with preserving the interests of the former Communist Party nomenklatura, which achieved successful careers in the 1980s and are now the victors of 1989.

"They are internationally recognized and have established themselves squarely in the capitalist system," Urban continues. Currently, he says, there is no alternative; this is what the people wanted. Most of them attend Sunday Mass but are of the opinion that the church should not be politically involved. "They condone that, in addition to a communist president, they now have a post-communist prime minister," he concludes.


In the "International Herald Tribune," Robyn Lim, a professor of international relations at Japan's Nanzan University, says that in the fight against terrorism, the United States should not anticipate significant aid from either Russia or China. "The United States, Russia and China all detest the Afghanistan-based terrorist Osama bin Laden," Lim writes. "But this is one of the few interests genuinely shared by the three countries."

Lim says that while China and Russian both fear an Islamic extremist spillover into Central Asia, China is willing to dally with the Taliban to try to limit support for the Muslim Uighurs in its Xinjiang province. Nor will China support any infringement on Afghanistan's sovereignty, she says, "because it worries about precedents being set for Tibet and Taiwan."

For its part, Lim writes, "Moscow is not well placed to provide substantial help even if it wanted to." Nor does Moscow want to see the United States establish a presence in Central Asia.

Lim goes on to predict what the U.S. can expect from its traditional Cold War foes: "In relation to Afghanistan, Russia will probably grant overflight rights, plus limited intelligence and logistical [support]. Little can be expected from China. If Iraq turns out to have been involved in the attacks in the United States, neither Moscow nor Beijing will do anything. [In] fact, China has been helping to rebuild Iraq's air defense system."

Lim concludes: "In the fight against terrorism, America will have to rely on itself and whatever help its traditional allies can provide."


Also in the "International Herald Tribune," Philip Bowring says that what he calls the "spectacular massacre" of 11 September was just a means to an end. He writes: "That end [is] confusion, the disruption of the status quo, the undermining of societies and economic relationships."

Bowring says that since the attacks, the world has witnessed self-fulfilling economic downturns, strains developing between the U.S. and Europeans as to what the appropriate response should be, instability within Middle Eastern regimes, and the increased potential for a rise in revolutionary fanaticism should the Western response prove disproportionate.

He writes: "Events since 11 September -- global reactions -- have served Mr. bin Laden's purpose. Fear, war hysteria, consumer retreat, international suspicions and communal tensions are the trap."

Bowring continues: "Desire for revenge is natural. Punishment of the guilty is desirable. But the self-interest of the living -- preservation of our systems, avoidance of fear, addressing of the resentments that are the sea in which terrorists swim -- must come first. Reactions must be judged by their consequences for confounding the aims of terror. Otherwise, even if the battle to punish is won, the 'war' against those aims will be lost."


"The Daily Telegraph" considers British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw's recent assertion that one of the reasons underlying terrorism is Middle Eastern frustration over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The paper quotes him as saying, "One of the factors which helps breed terrorism is the anger which many people in this region feel at events over the years in Palestine."

The paper says that Straw's statement "betrays the [British] government's pernicious reading of what is needed in the Middle East: that if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be solved, all will be well. In fact, Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in the American bombings, has repeatedly made clear that his main target is the United States, not Israel. As a Saudi radical, he objects not so much to the existence of Israel as to the presence of American troops in the same country as Mecca and Medina. Peace between [Israeli Prime Minister] Ariel Sharon and [Palestinian leader] Yasser Arafat would not remove his hatred of the West," it writes.

Osama bin Laden wants "to expunge the influence of Washington and its allies, including many Arab governments, in the Middle East." The paper concludes: "By picking on the Palestinian cause, Mr. Straw has belittled the scale of the challenge facing the coalition."


In a contribution to France's daily "Le Monde," physics professor Pervez Hoodbhoy writes from Islamabad that after the 11 September attacks, "[As] rational human beings we must urgently formulate a response that is moral, and not based upon considerations of power and practicality. This," he says, "requires beginning with a clearly defined moral supposition -- the fundamental equality of all human beings."

Hoodbhoy says that ultimately "the security of the United States lies in its re-engaging with the people of the world, especially with those that it has grievously harmed. As a great country, possessing an admirable constitution that protects the life and liberty of its citizens, it must extend its definition of humanity to cover all peoples of the world. [But] it is not only the U.S. that needs to learn new modes of behavior," he says. "There are important lessons for Muslims, too...."

Hoodbhoy goes on to say that it is "stupid and cruel" to derive satisfaction from a retaliatory attack. He writes: "Instead, the real question is: Where do we, the inhabitants of this planet, go from here? What is the lesson to be learned from the still-smoldering ruins of the World Trade Center? [If] the lesson is that America needs to assert its military might, then the future will be as grim as can be. [The] bodies of a few thousand dead Afghans will not bring peace, or reduce by one bit the chances of a still-worse terrorist attack."


In "The Wall Street Journal Europe," former U.S. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski says that the United States will only prevail in its war on terrorism if it acts effectively on both the military and political fronts.

Two realities, he says, must be faced. One is that terrorism "is political warfare. By deliberately and indiscriminately killing innocents, it is designed to break the will of the opponent. Counter-terrorism also has to involve political warfare. It must strive to isolate the terrorists politically in order to extirpate them physically."

The second is that political resentments, and not religion per se, fuel terrorism. "Therefore, the suppression of terrorist organizations and activities must therefore also address some, if not all, of the political resentments that galvanize support for terrorism," he writes.

A U.S. response must incorporate immediate, medium-range and long-term aspects, says Brzezinski. He writes: "The long-term response should promote an international coalition to enhance domestic security as well as to undermine political support for terrorist causes. The medium-term response will have to target the governments that tolerate or clandestinely support terrorism, while disrupting the terrorist networks that operate in the Middle East, Western Europe and North America."

"The immediate response," he suggests, "will have to involve direct military action against known terrorist facilities and leaders in Afghanistan and the Middle East, as well as against the Taliban regime."


In "Eurasia View," Central Asian affairs analyst Ahmed Rashid writes that the imminent attack against Osama bin Laden and the Taliban in Afghanistan "may radically reshape the geopolitical balance in Central and South Asia. Instead of merely dealing with the threat of terrorism, the magnitude of the U.S. response could cause the region to unravel."

On one hand, he says, Pakistan could improve ties with the West and benefit from debt relief in exchange for its cooperation. However, Rashid says, "If the U.S. offensive is drawn out and lacks an overarching strategic vision for the region, Pakistan could become engulfed in turmoil. Islamic militants could take to the streets, there could be an economic meltdown and the army might become dangerously divided."

The Central Asian republics, for their part, "may finally get rid of their militant Islamic opposition movements based in Afghanistan and concentrate on improving economic and democratic reforms," says Rashid. "Conversely, they could resort to greater authoritarianism and repression."

Afghanistan faces a similar problem. A new government could be formed with Western aid that could finally bring peace after 23 years of war, or else the nation could revert to its warlordism of the past. Rashid writes that, underlying these opportunities, "the key to success or failure will be Washington's commitment to remain engaged in the region and particularly Afghanistan, once the shooting is over."

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this press review)