Prague, 18 March 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary today and from the weekend discusses the importance of foreign aid in maintaining stability in Kosovo and Afghanistan; assessing the U.S.-led war on terrorism and events on the ground in Afghanistan; and the European Union economic summit that took place in Barcelona on 15-17 March. Other discussion centers on the Middle East, as violence continues during U.S. special envoy Anthony Zinni's visit to the region in a renewed attempt to broker a cease-fire.
THE WASHINGTON POST:
An editorial in "The Washington Post" calls Kosovo's formation of a provincial government in March "an incremental but important step forward" in its reconstruction, a step that will allow the UN governing force in the province to gradually begin transferring authority. This "breakthrough," says the paper, is "another sign that the nation-building process under way in Kosovo is gaining momentum."
But the paper goes on to say that this sign of success has come only after the commitment of an initial 60,000 NATO troops to the province, while 36,000 troops remain deployed. This is seven times more peacekeepers than are in Afghanistan, the paper notes. Sixty nations have committed military or civilian personnel to the Balkan province, and $2 billion has been spent just on civilian programs since 1999.
The paper writes: "Despite that investment, it has taken until now to form Kosovo's first democratic government, and greater stability lies much [further] off." In contrast, it says, "Afghanistan, which is 60 times larger than Kosovo, has 13 times its population and suffers from far greater impoverishment and war damage, has received nothing close to an equivalent commitment."
The paper suggests that the international community must be prepared for long-term commitments of resources when rebuilding failed states -- whether in Kosovo or Afghanistan.
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
In "The New York Times," columnist Thomas Friedman says the last time America dominated the world as it does today was following World War II. He asks why the U.S. did not inspire then the anger and resentment that it does today. Largely, he says, it's because after World War II, the U.S. "took responsibility for making the world both a more secure place to live and a better place to live. And it expended a lot of resources, as in the Marshall Plan, to do both."
But since 11 September, he says, the U.S. administration "has focused on making the world safer, but has shown little interest in making it more healthy, less poor and more environmentally sound," says Friedman. He welcomes U.S. President George W. Bush's speech on 14 March announcing a $5-billion increase in foreign aid for poor countries, calling it a step in the right direction.
Friedman writes: "America cannot win a global war against terrorism without global allies but we'll have those allies only by practicing [enlightened] self-interest, not just self-interest." And perhaps a little self-restraint, he adds.
Friedman suggests the U.S. should show it "understands that if it's going to have lasting allies in a global war on terrorism, it has to be the best global citizen it can be.... Selfishness and hubris are a terrible combination."
In the "Frankfurter Rundschau," Michael Bergius discusses the weekend EU summit in Barcelona. He says that although the participants are as committed as ever to the aim of Europe becoming "the most competitive and dynamic economy in the world by 2010," there are serious doubts as to how and whether this goal can be achieved.
Two years have elapsed since this vision was adopted as a clear EU aim. Now, says Bergius, in hindsight it must be admitted that "there have been some successes, while progress in other respects has been too slow."
Although European Union leaders agreed in Barcelona on a number of measures to limit bureaucracy and boost Europe's economies, the leaders announced only a partial liberalization of energy markets, a major aim of the summit. Bergius says movement is going in the right direction, but this compromise also represents what he calls "a minimization of original aims."
Regarding German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's stance, Bergius is dissatisfied. He writes: "If Germany wants to be number one by 2010, it is going to have to offer far more."
NEUE ZUERCHER ZEITUNG:
An editorial in the Swiss "Neue Zuercher Zeitung" also expresses disappointment with the lack of progress made by the EU since it outlined its grand plans at the summit in Lisbon two years ago. But the newspaper says that, despite the obstacles, the progress since Lisbon will continue, slowly but surely.
In the long run, it says, France -- as the lone holdout on deregulation and other issues -- will not be able to resist the pressure from groups within the EU. But the paper goes on to say that it makes sense to dispense with the notion that the EU's economy can outperform the U.S. economy by 2010.
It writes: "In actual fact, Europe will have achieved considerable success if it manages to close the gap somewhat between it and the U.S."
An editorial in Britain's "Financial Times" says it is no accident that the return of U.S. special envoy Anthony Zinni to the Middle East coincides with Vice President Dick Cheney's trip through the region to drum up support among Arab leaders for a U.S.-led intervention in Iraq. The editorial says the message Cheney is receiving from Arab Middle Eastern leaders is that the U.S. must help restrain Israel before it considers operations in Iraq.
The paper says that for Zinni's mission to result "in more than a temporary lull in the fighting, his efforts must be buttressed by a political solution. The lessons from the past 17 months of bloodshed are that U.S. pressure must be applied on Israel as well as on the Palestinians and that the conflict cannot be dealt with purely as a security problem."
The paper says that even if Zinni can negotiate a cease-fire, "sustaining it will require two things. The first is the introduction of outside monitors to observe the cease-fire and deter aggression. The second is an immediate halt to all Israeli settlement activity."
The paper says "a long-term U.S. commitment to act as a mediator" is necessary but notes that the Bush administration has been reluctant to take on this responsibility. The paper concludes: "Unless Zinni's mission carries real political commitment from Washington, it is likely to be as short-lived as his previous trips."
In France's daily "Le Monde," an editorial says the accord between the Serbian and Montenegrin presidents signed on 15 March in Barcelona should be hailed as a move away from what seemed like the never-ending "Balkanization" of the region. The agreement keeps the two republics together in a new, looser federation and aims to give them more autonomy.
The construction remains fragile, it says, but at least it staves off the threat of a declaration of Montenegrin independence. Such a declaration, supported by a narrow majority, risked setting an example for other provinces, namely Kosovo.
Europe has used a combination of threats and encouragements to impose a compromise on Belgrade and Podgorica, says "Le Monde." And they now are showing that betting on institutional stability and cooperation pays off -- not only in the form of aid but also by the possibility, however distant, of membership in the European Union.
"The success of European diplomacy should not be underestimated," writes "Le Monde." This latest agreement adds to efforts made in Macedonia and in Bosnia, where security challenges will increasingly be assumed by Europe alone. But the stabilization that has followed 10 years of violence came with a price, says the paper. Stability may be assured only if certain Balkan regions remain international protectorates, in order to, among other things, stem the rise of organized crime.
And for the EU, the paper says, this means "an immediate financial burden and a political mortgage," as other commitments and challenges in the future will be forthcoming for Western Europe.
In the British newspaper "The Guardian," columnist Peter Preston says the U.S.-led war on terrorism is losing credibility, and is even becoming something of a "joke." Osama bin Laden remains elusive, he notes, while the one-eyed -- and thus easily recognized -- Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar has been "on the run all winter, mostly sighted riding a motorbike through outlying villages."
Yet, says Preston, "the combined strength of Western -- [or] world -- intelligence hasn't laid a finger on him yet." He adds that "anyone who is anyone in Al-Qaeda" has already escaped Afghanistan, probably into Pakistan. Preston writes: "Months pass, filled only by hysterical, unfulfilled warnings from U.S. attorneys general and British chiefs of police. Nothing happens."
Preston continues: "We were told [to] expect a new kind of war, blending the military, the diplomatic and the power of secret intelligence as never before. But there is [nothing] new about [U.S. President] Bush's latest defense budget. It wants more of everything, [but] the everything is old, heavy-duty kit left over from Gulf and Cold War thinking," he says. "Yet, more than ever, the West needs its intelligence arms to take the strain. It needs to pick up a few of the real ringleaders. [It] needs to have precise information about Iraq's biological arsenals that can be used."
But Preston concludes that "there is no sign of that happening."
THE WASHINGTON TIMES:
An editorial in "The Washington Times" looks at the prospects for peace in the Middle East. The paper says that following the peace proposal put forth by Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah -- which calls on Israel to withdraw to pre-1967 borders in exchange for a full normalization of relations with the Arab world -- Saudi Arabia should be encouraged "to step forward as a leader," without waiting for other Arab countries to agree to every aspect of the proposal.
The paper says, "To wait for consensus among members of the Arab League means the death of the process before it ever starts, and invites final-status issues [to] become requirements for peace before the peace negotiations are even launched."
The editorial says Saudi Arabia "will need reassurances that the United States will remain involved in the peace process in a time of increasing violence. With the death toll reaching over 1,500 in the last 18 months of violence, [some] Arab countries are afraid to give away too much to Israel at this time."
But the paper says Israel is also looking for assurances from the U.S. that it won't compromise Israeli security for its own purposes. Israel sees "its long-time ally court the Arab world for the American war on terrorism [and] call for a Palestinian state."
The U.S. must remain engaged and offer reassurance and encouragement to both sides, says the editorial.
An editorial in the "Chicago Tribune" says that, despite appeals from interim Afghan leader Hamid Karzai, as well as from UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the U.S. and Britain continue to deliberate on expanding the International Stabilization Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan.
The paper says while important questions remain unanswered, Afghanistan is "a land that could quickly and easily fall into chaos." It writes: "Warlords are fighting in the north. They are battling it out in the eastern provinces of Khost and Paktia, vying for control of their own personal fiefdoms. Iran is meddling in the west. Pockets of Taliban and Al-Qaeda troops remain, ready to fight. Could more reason be needed to enlarge the small stabilizing force, which as of now operates only in Kabul?"
The "Chicago Tribune" cites a recent Central Intelligence Agency assessment of the situation which indicated "increasing competition between rival warlords and rising tensions between ethnic groups and the central and regional authorities." The paper says, "If anything, the events of the past few weeks in Afghanistan should prove why the international community needs to provide more peacekeeping units and police officers."
The editorial concludes: "The world has pledged billions of dollars in aid to Afghanistan. But the future of the nation rests on peace and political stability as much as economic rebuilding. The fledgling government can succeed only if each element is in place."
THE BOSTON GLOBE:
In a contribution to "The Boston Globe," retired Marine Lieutenant General and military analyst Bernard Trainor says the U.S. is fighting a largely covert Afghan war. He says U.S. officials have remained reticent regarding events on the ground, and the public has not been given enough access to information. This, he says, makes it difficult to know how the war is truly progressing.
He writes: "There are no pictures of the carnage, no video of defeated soldiers, no schematics of what we intended to do and how successful we have been. All we have are assurances from the Pentagon that all goes swimmingly and victory is ours."
Trainor says actual evidence of any victories would be preferable. "In World War Two, Korea and even Vietnam, close combat had visual results. Casualties on both sides attested to the ferocity of battle. We also had testimony by those who fought of a harrowing trial by fire. We have none of this in Afghanistan." Without proof, he says, "we have only the Pentagon's word."
Trainor says secrecy was understandable in the early days of the campaign, when U.S. special forces were clandestinely working with the Northern Alliance. But now that conventional forces are openly engaged in ground fighting, he says the public "deserves more than ambiguous briefings dispensed at the Pentagon."
(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)