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Western Press Review: Dutch Elections, Reforming The PA, And What Did The FBI Know Ahead Of 11 September?

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 17 May 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary today looks at this week's Dutch elections in the wake of the assassination of anti-immigration politician Pim Fortuyn, reforming the Palestinian Authority, the situation in Afghanistan, the West's new alliance with Russia, and former U.S. national security advisers and others discuss the Middle East.


An editorial in Britain's "Financial Times" today says while the Netherlands' Christian Democrats may have won the most parliamentary seats in this week's general elections, "the real victory belonged to Pim Fortuyn, the anti-immigration populist, murdered 10 days ago. Fortuyn and his supporters have succeeded in shaking up a complacent political elite," it says.

The paper calls the success of Pim Fortuyn's List Party "a repudiation of the Netherlands' cozy consensus politics." It adds: "In a country where power was often shared, and governments did not seem to change, the Dutch have shifted to the right."

The "Financial Times" says the defeat of what it calls "one of the most admired social democratic governments in Europe" is largely due to the Dutch voters' "frustration with a stolid political class." But it adds there are other lessons for center-left parties as well: "Economic competence is no longer enough to guarantee electoral success. Prosperity breeds other concerns. Public services, crime, cultural insecurity, and fear of change must all be dealt with. If they are not, mainstream parties will find it hard to keep populism contained."


A commentary in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" looks at recent reports that the White House had received intelligence briefings from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) about Al-Qaeda's plans to hijack airliners a month prior to the 11 September attacks in America.

But the new information still seems far too vague to draw any substantial conclusions, says the paper. It predicts that this is likely to turn into a scandal surrounding U.S. President George W. Bush. The paper suggests that the Democratic Party is "not going to miss this opportunity to tear apart the nimbus of the country's leader," and raise the issue of his possible culpability. Elections are due in six months and, as usual, all means -- even a national tragedy -- will be exploited to curry political favor.

But the paper adds that the Democrats are in good company on this last point, since the Republican White House has been selling at a profit photographs of Bush taken during various fateful moments on 11 September. The paper concludes that the release of the latest investigative report plays into the hands of the Democrats and, as sad as it sounds, the commentary says, "America is returning to political business-as-usual."


An editorial in "The New York Times" welcomes the announcement this week that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is willing to hold elections within six months. If the Palestinian Authority becomes more democratic, it says, the chances for peace with Israel will be greatly improved. But there are "plenty of reasons to be skeptical of Mr. Arafat's intentions and the possibility of reform," the paper adds. "Five years ago a Palestinian parliamentary committee found that Mr. Arafat's bureaucracy was so riddled with corruption that it recommended it be dissolved and some of its members put on trial."

"The New York Times" makes several suggestions for reforming the Palestinian Authority. It says Arafat must sign the so-called Basic Law, passed five years ago, which establishes three separate branches of government within the PA. The paper goes on to describe what, ideally, would happen next: "[An] independent judiciary is set up. The dozen security services are consolidated into one under the authority of a civilian. The Ministry of Finance is strengthened so that it can become accountable to the legislature and have the capacity to establish a budget and supervise expenditures. [A] constitution is adopted."

But the editorial goes on to say that "internal Palestinian reforms have to be accompanied by negotiations over Israeli withdrawal and the establishment of a Palestinian state. Without the promise of a breakthrough on that front, the issue of occupation will again overwhelm the Palestinian agenda."


An editorial in "The Washington Times" discusses the fact that the U.S. administration "missed a series of previously undisclosed warnings about the possibility of an upcoming terrorist attack on U.S. soil." The paper says while U.S. officials insist that none of the information available prior to 11 September could have prevented the attacks, "this claim must be viewed with skepticism."

The editorial goes on to enumerate a few of the things the administration did know before the September attacks. First, that Osama bin Laden "had discussed hijacking a plane; 2) an FBI agent in Phoenix had put out a memorandum urging that the agency investigate Middle Eastern men enrolled in American flight schools to train for terrorist [operations]; and 3) In 1994, the Armed Islamic Group, an affiliate of Al-Qaeda, attempted to hijack and crash an airliner into the Eiffel Tower." The paper says this information -- and the failure to adequately investigate Zacarias Moussaoui, the suspected 19th September hijacker -- were opportunities the U.S. authorities missed.

"The Washington Times" concludes that at the very minimum, "Americans deserve to know how this country's national security establishment will improve the way it handles such intelligence in order to spare the nation a repeat of 11 September."


"The Washington Post" today carries contributions from two former U.S. national security advisers on how to deal with the Middle East crisis. Samuel Berger, security adviser to former U.S. President Bill Clinton, says a larger framework for peace must first include democratic change for the Palestinians. He says Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat "offers no realistic hope for change," and that what is needed are re-worked, "honest and open political and administrative Palestinian institutions."

Secondly, Berger says an immediate change in the status quo must take place. "There have been too many broken promises" to move forward based on faith, he says, adding, "Economic and regional cooperation can begin before political relations are established."

Finally, a "shared international framework for negotiations" must be implemented. The U.S., Arab nations, and Europe can provide "a frame of reference for negotiations, to be achieved in phases or over an agreed timetable." But a "legitimate peace can only come from choice, not coercion," he adds. Berger concludes that pessimism regarding the Mideast crisis may be justified, but "fatalism is not."


Also in "The Washington Post," two-time National Security Adviser Brent Snowcroft, formerly of the Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush presidential administrations, says the first step in the Middle East is to halt the violence. He says Israel "must withdraw from the Oslo territories as Arafat concurrently implements a clampdown and total rejection of terrorism." Furthermore, he says, an "interim interposition of an international force between the hostile parties would provide physical evidence of the commitment of the international community, while offering a buffer as the [peace] process moves forward." After a cease-fire is implemented, he says, "focus on a peace conference and final settlement could begin." But in order to be successful, ahead of the conference the U.S. should carefully consult "with key Arab states and Israel to fashion a consensus on the broad parameters of a settlement."

The main elements of a settlement are already clear, says Snowcroft: "They include Arab recognition of Israel as a nation and a neighbor; an independent, contiguous Palestinian state along the 1967 borders, with security rectifications agreed on by both sides; a Jerusalem resolution along the lines of Taba; right of return limited to Palestinian areas, in return for removal of Israeli settlements not contiguous to Israeli territory; and an end to tacit support of terrorists and terrorism."


The cover story of "The Economist" magazine this week considers Russia's changing relations with the West in light of the anticipated signing next week of a U.S.-Russia arms-reduction treaty in Moscow and the creation of a joint NATO-Russia Council earlier this week. The magazine says these events are part of a larger, "history-shaping process" that has been ongoing since the fall of communism. Russian President Vladimir Putin "is making a determined bid for Russia to end its self-estrangement and join the concert of developed, democratic countries alongside America and Europe."

But the magazine says skeptics are correct in noting these developments may stem partly from the fact that Russia is weaker than it used to be. Putin's policies are pro-Russian, not pro-Western, it says, adding that there can still be "plenty of beneficial overlap" between the two.

"The Economist" says Putin knows "the 21st-century measure of influence will be economic growth, not missile tally." He realizes that "Russia's economic future needs to be built on the difficult reforms" needed to qualify for membership in the World Trade Organization, which "The Economist" calls "the world's premier trading club." But the magazine says if Russia is to "reform and eventually prosper, it will need two other things: a secure and stable neighborhood, and new investment."


An editorial in Britain's "The Independent" questions whether the deployment of 2,000 British Royal Marines to Afghanistan was merely an elaborate public-relations stunt orchestrated by the United States. Originally, the deployment was justified by explaining that, given the difficult Afghan terrain and fighting conditions, not to mention the ferocity of the entrenched remaining Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters, the best British troops were needed to help American forces already stationed there.

But "The Independent" says six weeks later, "Britain's most ferocious" troops have not even encountered enemy fighters, and have certainly not come close to engaging in combat. The paper says they have only "blown up four caves stuffed with weapons and ammunition, which may at one time have been controlled by Al-Qaeda, but probably belonged to fighters allied to the interim administration in Kabul."

"The most convincing justification for Operation Snipe came from the prime minister, [Tony Blair,] who said that the very presence of British troops was keeping this one area of Afghanistan clear of Al-Qaeda forces. But it is hard to escape the impression that the real purpose was to save Washington from accusations of unilateralism by making Afghan combat operations look more 'international,'" it says.


In the German paper "Die Welt," a commentary by guest writer Juergen Todenhoefer says, "Whoever fights terror with terror generates, in the end, even more terror."

The author expresses his disillusionment with the U.S. antiterror strategy. The negative consequences far outweigh the positive results of destroying the infrastructure of the terrorist Al-Qaeda organization and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, he says. The deaths of over 5,000 civilians in Afghanistan who fell victims to U.S. bombing must be taken into account.

The U.S. has rejected its own principles as a much-vaunted law-abiding and moral world leader, because it has forgotten the principles of "toughness and justice" that it upheld in engineering the downfall of the Soviet Union. In the fight against terrorism, it seems the U.S. wants to win by merely being tough. "The Soviet empire disintegrated not because the Americans had a superior arsenal of nuclear weapons, but because the U.S. stood, in a compelling way, for political, economic, and social justice."

Arab countries are now accusing the U.S. of double standards. The U.S. can only triumph in the fight against terrorism, Todenhoefer says, when it again displays a sense of justice as well as might -- and only if it can reach the hearts and souls of the Muslim world.


A commentary in France's daily "Le Monde" by Daniel Vernet looks at the difficulties faced by Jordan and other Arab states in the face of the Middle East conflict. Jordan faces a dilemma of whether to maintain its strategic agreement with Israel and risk inciting popular anger or to give in to the Arab "street" and renege on its agreement to pursue peaceful relations with Israel.

These contradictions are not new, says Vernet, and have been skillfully managed in the past by Jordan's late King Hussein. But will his son and successor, King Abdullah, due to address the European Parliament on 12 June, have the same wisdom? Vernet asks. Some observers remark that Hussein would have taken a harder stance with respect to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon when Israel invaded the West Bank. The response of Jordan, and of other Arab states, was muted at the height of Israeli incursions in to Gaza, Vernet observes.

"The West Bank intifada thus increases the divide between the region's leaders and the led, among the rich and the poor, between the Transjordanians and Palestinians, among Islamists and laymen, among supporters of the agreement with Israel and its opponents." Within the state apparatus itself, supporters of the peace process have the upper hand. But now, says Vernet, the opponents are finding their voice, and critics of the Oslo agreement are becoming more and more active.


In a contribution to "The Wall Street Journal Europe," former U.S. special envoy and ambassador to the Afghan resistance (1989-92) Peter Tomsen suggests that the international governments and organizations currently active in Afghanistan should let Afghans themselves take the lead in rebuilding the country.

Tomsen says the centerpiece of the strategy to reconstruct Afghanistan "should be to revive and modernize Afghanistan's indigenous institutions." He says, "Before warfare began to tear the country apart more than two decades ago, Afghanistan had an array of political, economic, democratic and administrative institutions, [all] functioning, and modernizing."

"In short, while Afghanistan desperately needs help, it doesn't need outsiders to run the show. The international aid community should back off attempts to impose priorities and programs, and to take the lead in implementation.... [Afghans] know what needs doing far better than the rest of us."

He says competent Afghan leaders "are finding it necessary to insist that they -- not the uncoordinated array of national and international donors -- should set and implement Afghanistan's reconstruction priorities. Afghans may need help with the basic tools, but they can rebuild their country on their own." Tomsen remarks that Afghans "have a history of nation-building longer than that of some donor nations." They rightly believe that "self-help, including self-governance, will construct the most solid foundation for a peaceful future."


In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," Simon Chesterman of the Project on Transitional Administrations at the New-York based International Peace Academy discusses instituting a sustainable development framework for Afghanistan. He looks at the Afghan Assistance Coordination Authority, which is chaired by interim Afghan leader Hamid Karzai and functions like a cabinet office for issues relating to development.

The authority has at times flown in the face of usual development procedures, refusing to let development agencies and nongovernmental organizations initiate their "prepackaged programs" in Afghanistan. The authority reasons that "unless aid packages with recurrent expenditures fit into a national development framework, they will be unsustainable."

Chesterman says along with the ministries in the interim government, the authority is in the process "of producing a development budget that will guide donors and agencies. This turns the usual way of doing development on its head," he says. But some of the largest donors "have refused to have their money pooled into a trust fund for the whole of Afghanistan."

Chesterman goes on to say that trying to minimize the foreign presence in the country while encouraging Afghans to take the lead in rebuilding is "good politics," as is encouraging people "to see the solutions to their problems as lying in the embryonic institutions of the state...."

This, he says, is also Afghanistan's "best chance for stability and relative prosperity."

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