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Western Press Review: Issues Surrounding Coalition Against Terrorism

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 27 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Several commentaries in the Western press today consider whether the newly formed international coalition will prove lasting enough to win the declared war on terrorism. Others examine how international affairs have shifted since the 11 September attacks on New York and Washington. More than two weeks after the attacks, many commentators are also beginning to ask whether the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush has a well-defined plan for how to respond to the attacks or whether the administration is -- in the words of one commentator -- "groping its way toward a plan."


An editorial in "The Independent" calls attention to the lack of definitive goals emerging from the discussion of the war on terrorism. It also notes that U.S. objectives appear to have narrowed considerably from the administration's initial sweeping pledges. But while more narrow, they are no clearer, says the paper.

"This lack of clarity," it says, "will have to be remedied if Mr. Bush does not want to see the tiny fissures that are emerging in his grand coalition widening into more dangerous splits."

"The Independent" goes on to note that many questions remain unanswered. As the editorial puts it: "The need for a clear set of war aims is becoming urgent as we edge closer to military action. What is the purpose of such action in Afghanistan? Which countries are officially regarded as 'harboring' terrorists? What demands will be placed upon them? Are we now going to depose [Iraqi leader] Saddam Hussein? And where is the solid evidence that links Mr. bin Laden to the atrocities? Mr. Bush must not turn this strange, phony war into a real one until he can say what it is for," it concludes.


In France's "Liberation," columnist Eric Dupin considers the nature of radical Islamic movements and how they are organized around the world. Dupin describes extremist Islam as "an actual international network, among which Afghanistan and Pakistan are the main hubs. [This network] involves a genuine ideology, which cannot be disputed on purely military grounds."

Islam is "a new internationalism," says Dupin. While Afghanistan hosts training camps for recruits from around the world, Pakistan is where a network of Islamist schools indoctrinate activists, who then serve the cause. He notes that Southeast Asia is a particularly fertile ground for recruiters. Malaysian, Filipino, and Indonesian students have often studied in Islamic religious schools, but concern now arises regarding the number of students that come under the influence of radical teachers. Unemployment and racism are also factors in recruiting.

Citing the Moroccan weekly "Morocco -- The Day," Dupin says that recruiters in Europe choose their prey based on psychological weaknesses and do not hesitate to entice them with bribes.

"Radical Islam is a worldwide ideology," writes Dupin. He quotes Zvi Bar'el writing in "Haaretz" as saying, "Terrorism is a means, not an ideology, and [one] cannot fight an ideology by killing its standard-bearers."


"Putin and NATO" is the subject of a commentary by Johann Mueller in today's "Die Welt." "[Russian President Vladimir] Putin sees an auspicious moment" as he recognizes that a global terror wave needs Moscow's help, says Mueller. In return, the Russian president wants to use this ad hoc relationship to create a permanent security architecture, to aid in his endeavor to secure Russia's membership in NATO.

He has put forward this idea on several occasions, but this time, in these circumstances, he can "reckon with a stronger emotional response," writes Mueller.

Putin is making a generous gesture to set aside the last remnants of the Cold War in identifying with Western values and unequivocally joining in the newest threat of the 21st century -- terrorism. This is, indeed, a "hopeful thought," says Mueller. He concludes: "Putin is holding out his hand and the West should grasp it. But accession to NATO is not part of the debate."


In Britain's "Financial Times," columnist Lionel Barber examines the shifting international alliances since the 11 September attacks. He says that the world is witnessing a geopolitical realignment "potentially comparable to that of [the] fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The U.S. has exploited outrage over the aerial assault on New York and Washington to muster a coalition against terrorism that includes rivals such as China and one-time pariahs such as Cuba, Iran, and Sudan. Regional powers such as India, Pakistan, and Russia are also being forced to make strategic choices ..."

Barber notes that several nations have used the changing global situation to their advantage. Russian President Vladimir Putin exploits the global shift to secure a new global security alliance, aiding Russia's prospects of joining NATO. Simultaneously, he advances his aims in Chechnya, describing the conflict as a necessary part of the war on terrorism. Iran's support of the U.S. and that of other Arab states is conditional on the U.S. adopting a more qualified policy toward Israel.

But Barber says that "until the crisis unfolds and the Bush administration settles on its ultimate war aims, [predictions] are premature." The real question, he concludes, is who will succeed in seizing the strategic advantage.


A "Le Monde" editorial looks at Vladimir Putin's trip to Germany earlier this week. The daily says that Putin conducted himself as a man of state who knows how to take advantage of the situation.

"He presented himself like the president of an 'allied European country,' careful to depict a 'common European establishment.'" Russia did not hesitate to join the antiterrorism coalition put in place by the United States, says "Le Monde," and writes: "Just as the Gulf War allowed the USSR to complete its integration into the international community, the head of the Kremlin uses the 'war' against terrorism to underline the 'community of values' supposed to link his country to the West."

"Le Monde" says that Putin made it clear that he was well aware of the dangers posed by Islamic terrorism, evidently referring to the Kremlin's war against separatist fighters in the breakaway republic of Chechnya.

"For the Kremlin," writes the paper, "the cause of this conflict is clear: The Chechens are terrorists, with direct or indirect relations with Afghan fundamentalists and others." But what more can the Russians do in Chechnya, besides attempting to negotiate? the paper asks.

It writes: "Instead of appealing, like [German] Chancellor [Gerhard] Schroeder, for a 'more differentiated' assessment of the Chechen war, the Western leaders would do better to remind Mr. Putin of this sinister balance[-sheet], before celebrating 'the same system of values' with him."


In "The New York Times," columnist R.W. Apple Jr. writes from Washington that two weeks after the 11 September attacks, "the question of the hour here is this: Does the Bush administration have a well-defined plan of action in what it calls the war on terrorism, or is it groping its way toward a plan?"

Apple quotes what he calls "a seasoned Republican military strategist" as saying: "Afghanistan is obviously the initial target, but it isn't easy to decide exactly what to do. There is always the danger of going off half-cocked. It's crucial that we make the first attack an effective one, and I suspect that we don't have enough reliable intelligence yet to make key decisions."

The United States expressed much the same sentiment to its European allies in Brussels yesterday. Apple writes, "U.S. officials cautioned against expectations of any early attack and appealed for help in gathering information on which to base eventual action." Apple notes that the talk in Brussels was "less of any early military action than of trying to break terrorist networks through other means, such as enhanced and better coordinated intelligence gathering."

But eventually, says Apple, the U.S. administration will have to show Americans, as well as the world, that it is making real progress in the antiterrorist campaign.


In a contribution to "The Wall Street Journal Europe," associate editor Daniel Johnson of "The Daily Telegraph" questions whether the trans-Atlantic alliance against terrorism will prove lasting.

Johnson notes that many Europeans are "lukewarm about President Bush's 'crusade.'" European leaders are also seeking to exploit the new coalition for their own purposes, he says. Johnson writes by way of example: "In a crisis of this gravity, Americans, whether Jews or gentiles, offer instinctive support to Israel, as the only democracy in the Middle East. Europeans, by contrast, are instinctively distancing themselves from Zionist democracy in order to cozy up to Islamic autocracies and theocracies."

Eventually, he says, the coalitions members' interests may irrevocably diverge. He writes: "European strategy in the months ahead is very likely to get in the way of America's. A war against terrorism cannot be prosecuted effectively if most of the terrorist states are welcomed into the coalition. The U.S. needs European political support, even if only the British are likely to provide serious military assistance. But Mr. Bush should have no hesitation in publicly rejecting European diplomatic machinations or overtures that do not serve American interests," Johnson advises.

Soon, he says, the U.S. president "may find that it is the Europeans who try his patience most."

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