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Western Press Review: Global Shifts In Wake Of U.S. Attacks

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 1 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western press today and over the weekend continues to examine the effects of the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington. Many papers examine the unlikely alliances being formed in the wake of the attacks, and speculate on what form the U.S. response -- largely expected to begin this week -- may be.


In the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," Leo Wieland writes that the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush has exhibited "extraordinary patience," while U.S. security advisers have sought to adapt their strategy to the new threat and terrain. Wieland says that the newly renamed Operation Enduring Freedom "will not begin somewhere when the first shot is fired. It already began externally with the careful diplomatic, economic and logistical preparations and domestically with the weaving of a network for homeland defense."

Wieland also looks at the shift in U.S. policy since the 11 September attacks, and considers America's unlikely coalition of new alliances in the declared "war on terrorism." Wieland writes: "Suddenly, new parameters have been set for Mr. Bush's foreign policy, and the consequences for unresolved, temporarily shelved issues such as NATO expansion or missile defense are not yet clear. The first favor returned to Russia for its willingness to cooperate was paid for with a Chechen coin. The quasi-outlaw, nuclear Pakistan, can look forward to a miniature Marshall Plan. Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan are no longer measured primarily by the human rights yardstick. The same goes for cooperation with China's intelligence services."


"International Herald Tribune" editor David Ignatius also considers U.S. foreign policy. In a comment published in "The Washington Post," Ignatius says that U.S. policy in the Middle East has "been allowed to drift in recent years into arrogant neglect. Too often, America has allied with corrupt and authoritarian regimes in what many Muslims see as a cynical attempt to protect the West's oil supplies. The United States has been obsessed with Arab-Israeli issues, in addition to oil, but beyond the machinations of the peace process it has often seemed oblivious to the lives of ordinary people in that part of the world."

Ignatius continues, saying that the United States has become "aloof, disengaged and unreliable in the Middle East. It had a powerful alliance with Israel, as it should, but it allowed most other aspects of its Middle East policy to atrophy. It is as if America cares about Arabs only when there is a crisis."

And the U.S., he adds, has not emphasized enough what he calls its "basic creed of democracy and human rights" in the Arab world. He writes: "Perhaps that is because it fears offending the royal family in Saudi Arabia. Or perhaps U.S. policymakers are afraid that when Muslims vote they will opt for anti-American regimes like the one in Iran. But the United States should never be in the position of betting against democracy and freedom -- anywhere."


"Los Angeles Times" syndicated columnist William Pfaff looks at the unlikely alliance between the United States and Saudi Arabia and the motivations of those that resent the U.S. and its policies. He says that the terrorist campaign of Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in the 11 September attacks "is not primarily directed against the United States, which he expects eventually to collapse on its own, as a result of what the fundamentalists see as its decadence. Their aim is to unseat the Saudi Arabian elite that has permitted an 'infidel' United States to install itself in the nation of the Islamic Holy Places. This is why the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia is so uncomfortable today. Washington is reluctant to talk about it because America is heavily dependent on Arabian oil, and the Saudi leadership is silent because it depends on U.S. protection."

Pfaff goes on to say that, contrary to the convictions of many, America's support for Israel is not a primary issue for the bin Laden movement. However, he says, it is a very important factor in opinion elsewhere in the Middle East.

He writes: "The fundamentalists are concerned with the condition of Islamic society itself -- its integrity, its purity, its future. [Nations], like individuals, pay a price for what they have, or have not, done in the past. The terrorists are taking revenge, in their minds, for harm done to them and their society by the United States." While noting that this view sparks controversy in the U.S., Pfaff writes, "Americans must accept the consequences of U.S. policies that contributed to bringing us to this crisis."


The war in Chechnya is not being taken seriously by the world at large, says Alfred Missong, former OSCE chairman of the support group for Chechnya, writing in Austria's "Die Presse." Missong writes that although Putin declared a Russian victory over Chechnya in April 2000, there are no signs of an end to the conflict in which victims die every day in a senseless slaughter. The only solution, he writes, are "negotiations with the legitimately elected Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov."

Missong adds that the West, and the U.S. in particular, appear to believe the conflict in Chechnya does not concern them. But this, he says, is a false concept. By continuing the war, Russia is risking a progressive weakening of its democracy and a destabilization of its economic and social structures. "A weakened Russia," he writes, "would be a highly unpredictable partner for the West."

Missong sees a solution in cooperating to fight international terrorism and cutting off financial support to the terrorists, especially those from Muslim countries. Moreover, since Moscow is incapable of solving the reconstruction of Chechnya or the refugee problem, the West should offer a generous aid package. But of course, he says, this assumes negotiations with Maskhadov will be held.


In "The Times" of London, William Reese-Mogg writes: "The world was just as dangerous a place on 10 September as it is now. There were already numerous terrorist cells. [In] many Islamic countries there were already passionate anti-Western feelings, in some cases fueled by poverty, in some by the oppressive character of their own regimes, in some by hatred of Israel and sympathy for the Palestinians."

Reese-Mogg goes on to say that the main strategy of prime suspect Osama bin Laden is "to radicalize Islamic opinion and destroy the pro-Western governments of the Middle East, particularly those of his own country of Saudi Arabia and of Pakistan. Saudi Arabia has the largest oil reserves in the world and Pakistan is a nuclear power. If he succeeded in fomenting a revolution in either country that would be a disastrous strategic defeat for the rest of the world."

He cites British Prime Minister Tony Blair's statement yesterday (30 September) that the first objective of the coalition against terrorism is to destroy the structure of the terrorists in Afghanistan by rooting out bin Laden and his training camps. If the Taliban resist this process, Rees-Mogg writes, "they will make themselves the enemy." The subsequent objective is to expose and destroy other international terrorist networks.

Reese-Mogg writes, "This is not a war against Islam, though bin Laden will no doubt do everything in his power to make it so." He adds, "As a religion, Islam is opposed to terror."


An editorial in France's daily "Le Monde" looks at the Taliban's admission yesterday that it was harboring Osama bin Laden and its warning that the U.S. should not pursue guerrilla warfare in Afghanistan. The paper calls the warning, delivered by Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, "a response to the effort begun by the United States to strengthen the Afghan resistance, with the objective of bringing down the [Taliban] regime in Kabul -- the option which seems to have been the one preferred by the U.S. administration over that of massive, spectacular, but ineffective strikes."

The editorial goes on to note that over the weekend, several U.S. officials warned the American population of the risk of new attacks and has acknowledged the dangers posed by chemical or biological weapons. "Le Monde" quotes U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft as warning on CNN, "We consider that there is always a substantial risk of acts of terrorism directed against the United States."


A commentary in "The Christian Science Monitor" looks at the inevitable tension between government and free-press advocates in wartime. The paper notes that part of fighting a war involves secrecy. But an effort must be made by government officials to provide the press and citizens with as much information as possible. The paper says: "Part of the [press's] responsibility -- to hold government, and itself, accountable for its actions -- can be realized only when it has the access it needs."

The commentary continues: "[The] press's ability to do its job must be maintained. Former CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite has proposed a reasonable compromise to this problem. He's calling for historians and journalists to sit on a board that would monitor government actions in these extraordinarily sensitive times, when information flies at the speed of nanoseconds -- possibly into Osama bin Laden's hands, or into terrorist camps." This idea, the paper says, makes sense.


An editorial in the "Chicago Tribune" also looks at the often conflicting aims of the military and the media. On the whole, the paper writes, "information serves the military's purpose. The military needs the support of the [public] to wage war; the public is likely to grow disillusioned if it suspects that bad news about the military effort is not being divulged. The respective missions, though, often find themselves at odds."

The editorial notes that the war on terrorism is the first of its kind, due to today's high-speed communications systems. "This will be a war of virtually instantaneous news and information from hundreds of sources -- the first war of the Internet era. That expands the possibilities for information -- and for misinformation. [With] cell phones, laptops, e-mail, Internet and satellite communications, a tip on troop movement can be on the air or on a website within minutes, even seconds. That raises the bar for news organizations to exercise caution and responsibility as a far higher priority than rushing to beat the competition."

The press, the "Tribune" says, will have to exercise good judgment. "New rules are being written for press coverage of the first engagement of the 21st century," it writes. "The responsibilities and obligations, though, have not changed. The press has an obligation to protect the security of the nation's military. The [military] has an obligation not to obstruct the reporting of the war effort to a free and democratic society."


Erik Eckholm of "The New York Times" service examines China's motivations for joining the international "coalition against terror." He says that these motivations are largely pragmatic. "China fears the emergence of unrest and terrorism at home, most immediately in the largely Muslim frontier province of Xinjiang. [But] the Chinese leaders also see an opportunity in the current crisis to meet a broader goal: to forge an improvement in overall relations with the United States and other Western countries."

Eckholm says that China's leaders are also concerned over how the geopolitics of Central Asia will be altered as the widely expected U.S. confrontation with the Taliban plays out. He writes that China's diplomats "are deeply worried about the fate of their nuclear-armed ally Pakistan, which could be torn apart. They hope that their fledgling alliance with Russia and nearby Muslim states of the former Soviet Union, largely meant to counter groups like the Taliban, can be strengthened."

Eckholm concludes that the U.S. should move cautiously regarding some of its new allies. He writes, "[If] the United States is to keep China and many other countries on board, it will need to seek a strong UN role in the prolonged war against terrorism, a point that Chinese and Russian diplomats stressed Friday (28 September) after they met in Moscow to discuss the crisis."

(Dora Slaba contributed to this press review.)