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Western Press Review: Growing Impatience In War Against Terror

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 31 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Several commentaries in the Western press today express growing frustration that the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan has produced few results. Others consider the image of the European Commission and its president, opportunistic alliances made by the antiterror coalition in the wake of the British prime minister's visit to Syria, and tensions in Abkhazia.


In the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," columnist Gunther Nonnenmacher says the United States "failed to foresee how hard it would be to defeat the Taliban." He writes: "Dropping bombs from a high altitude, without endangering U.S. soldiers, has not hit the Taliban's military and political structures hard enough for the regime to collapse."

In addition, he says, the anti-Taliban forces grouped under the Northern Alliance "are apparently not as strong as the United States thought."

Nonnenmacher writes: "The United States will have to increase its military operations to fell the Taliban government. But above all, [it] will have to massively bolster military support for the Northern Alliance. The problems that would ensue are no secret: The Tajiks and Uzbeks who form the alliance cannot govern, much less bring peace to Afghanistan. But a military victory would create new political conditions."

Nonnenmacher says that whatever happens, "all military and political energies must remain focused on Afghanistan. Expanding the war to include, say, Iraq could lead to a chain reaction throughout the Islamic world -- with consequences that may be beyond anybody's control."


Nikolaus Blome says in "Die Welt" that the war against terrorism in Afghanistan has not lived up to expectations. He says that America has experienced small setbacks that are now threatening to become genuine defeats, "not so much physically but mentally."

The U.S. has a clear aim of overthrowing the Taliban, but as yet has not succeeded. In spite of words about a long, protracted war, politicians had hoped to achieve the defeat with forceful air attacks. However, Blome writes, "Now things are turning out differently in Afghanistan, dirtier and protracted -- and doubts are growing by the day."

Even in a democracy, says Blome, it is acceptable to use violence as a last resort -- but it must be based on valid reasons. The entire operation is now being questioned, he says. Blome notes that U.S. President George W. Bush emphasized after the 11 September attacks that this campaign would be an issue of willpower. Blome says the U.S. president was right, and that, "Now the will is being put to the test."


An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" says that European Union President Romano Prodi "has done little to enhance the [European] Commission's image." The paper writes that the latest example of Prodi's improprieties "is his overture toward having Libya send an observer to Brussels for the November 5 meeting of EU foreign ministers, part of a broader effort to enlist Moammar Gadhafi in the war against terrorism. The last time Mr. Prodi attempted something similar, with an invitation to Mr. Gadhafi in December 1999 to visit Brussels, he was soundly scolded by EU member state leaders, who forced him to withdraw the invitation. But that didn't discourage the EU president from his peculiar brand of freelance diplomacy."

Prodi is not earning much prestige for the commission, the EU's executive body, says the paper. It writes: "The European Commission still has a useful role to play in the construction of a better Europe, but that purpose is not being well served if Brussels doesn't have the respect of member states."


An editorial in Britain's "The Times" is critical of British Prime Minister Tony Blair's trip to Syria. The paper says that under the dictatorship of President Bashar Assad and his family, "Syria has for decades been at the crossroads of Arab terrorism." It notes that several known terrorist organizations obtain shelter, training, or weapons in Syria. In addition, Syria exercises what the paper calls "decisive sway" over Hezbollah.

"The Times" writes: "A main purpose of Mr. Blair's visit was to impress on Syria, which is believed by Washington to have the terrorist groups based there under tight control, that it must rein in their Palestinian operations and give Arab-Israeli peace a chance. Syria has, however, seen its place in that ring as a spoiler not a peacemaker."

The paper says that if President Assad "is made to understand that he can no longer get away with supporting [so-called] 'good terrorists,'" this may have been worth the British prime minister's visit. But "The Times" says that Syria will produce neither suspected terrorists "nor information until this nasty regime decides that its survival depends on cooperating. That choice has yet to be forced on it."


An analysis in France's "Le Monde" says European leaders are having increasing doubts about the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan. It writes: "After more than three weeks of bombings on Afghanistan, anxieties emerge for some European officials. Gathered on Monday [29 October] in Luxembourg, the foreign secretaries of the 15 [European Union member states] warned against the growing risks of a collapse of the antiterrorist coalition."

The U.S. administration is subject to dual and conflicting pressures, says "Le Monde." On one hand, some U.S. officials are demanding an intensification of military strikes on Afghanistan. On the other, foreign leaders warn against the civilian losses being caused by the air strikes and their growing unpopularity.

The public image of the military campaign in Afghanistan is further complicated by the decision not to halt military operations for Ramadan, which begins in mid-November. The paper says that both Washington and London have agreed not to pause in the strikes.

The paper quotes a Downing Street spokesman as saying that suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden is "the last person" who could expect such a concession in the name of religion, for bin Laden has "the blood of thousands of innocents on his hands."


A contribution to "Eurasia View" by Yerevan-based journalist Haroutiun Khachatrian says Armenia and Georgia successfully reduced bilateral tensions during a recent visit to Armenia by Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze.

Khachatrian says that since the 1991 Soviet collapse, "Armenia and Georgia had seemingly been on a collision course." While "Armenia maintained close strategic links with Russia, [Georgia] sought closer ties to Western organizations, including NATO," he says. Armenia was also cautious about Georgia's support of efforts to build the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, which would link Azerbaijan to Turkey -- both traditional enemies of Armenia.

Khachatrian notes that during Shevardnadze's 23-24 October visit, he and Armenian President Robert Kocharian signed an agreement "in which both sides pledged not to enter into an alliance that is considered by the other to be hostile." Khachatrian says "the geopolitical framework promoted by Armenia seeks to create conditions in the Caucasus in which the interests of Russia and the West overlap, rather than contradict."

As for Georgia, he says, "the need for improved relations is clear. At present, Georgia is hard pressed to cope with renewed fighting in Abkhazia, a diplomatic row with Russia over the ongoing presence of Russian troops in Georgia and its ongoing economic difficulties."

Khachatrian says some observers also hope the Armenian-Georgian rapprochement "can accelerate efforts to find a political settlement to the Abkhaz conflict."


An editorial in "The Washington Post" says U.S. authorities are being unnecessarily reticent regarding the 1,017 people detained during its investigations into the 11 September attacks on New York and Washington. It says the Justice Department "continues to resist legitimate requests for information."

The questions at issue "are pretty basic," the paper writes: "How many of the 1,000-plus are still in custody? Who are they? What are the charges against them? What is the status of their cases? Where and under what circumstances are they being held? The department refuses not only to provide the answers but also to give a serious explanation of why it won't provide them. By withholding the information, it seems to us to create a larger problem than any it might solve."

While acknowledging that U.S. authorities are facing a difficult and complex task, the paper says the government must act within traditional constitutional bounds. It writes: "The civil rights groups rightly observed in a letter to the attorney general the other day that the government's 'official silence prevents any democratic oversight of [its] response to the attacks.'"

"The Washington Post" asks: "If the government's response has been as benign as claimed, why not release the data and put the questions that have begun to arise to rest?"


In "The Washington Times," syndicated columnist Bruce Bartlett suggests that economic conditions are partially to blame for the attacks of 11 September. He says the terrorists may have been frustrated by the lack of opportunities offered by the Saudi economic system.

Bartlett writes: "This is a common problem in the Middle East, where the largely socialistic and state-centered economic systems do not provide sufficient opportunities for work and wealth creation for the people. Unable to channel their energies into jobs, businesses and entrepreneurship, many well-educated young Arabs look for an outlet among radical groups like Al-Qaeda."

He continues, saying there is little entrepreneurship in the Saudi economy. "Oil wealth provides a good education for any Saudi male who wants one. But lacking opportunities for careers outside government, few study business, economics or engineering. Many pursue degrees in Islamic studies and are unemployed more or less permanently after graduation...[leaving] large numbers of Saudis with nothing to do except bemoan their condition and look for scapegoats to blame for it."

Bartlett concludes that the economic system in Saudi Arabia, in his words, "deserves some blame for the events of September 11."


In the "Los Angeles Times," columnist William Pfaff says the difficulties being encountered in the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan "[cast] doubt on the tactics being employed to run this war. [These difficulties] also raise questions about the political assumptions and expectations that govern the campaign. U.S. policy has assumed that the Northern Alliance, and possible Taliban defectors or dissident tribal groups elsewhere in the country, would do the ground fighting to overturn Afghanistan's present government, once air power had broken its resistance. This is not happening," he says.

Pfaff says that as the campaign's problem have become apparent, U.S. war goals have been shifting -- from seeking out Osama bin Laden to toppling the Taliban regime. If the Taliban was removed, it is assumed, bin Laden could be found.

Pfaff writes: "Merely setting up a new government to replace the Taliban would allow Washington to claim a victory, even if it is not the victory it set out to have."

The problems in Afghanistan, he says, "are likely to promote the ideas of those who want to raise the stakes, and take the war to Iraq. That offers another substitute for the promised, but impossible, victory over terrorism."

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