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Western Press Review: Iran's Turmoil, The U.S.-EU Terror Divide, And Georgia's Military

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 30 July 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Much of the analysis and commentary in Western dailies today focuses on the questions regarding a U.S. military operation in Iraq and the continuing campaign in Afghanistan. Other topics include the trans-Atlantic divide over the war on terrorism, Iranian political turmoil, and Georgian resistance to an ongoing U.S. operation to train its military.

THE NEW YORK TIMES:

An editorial in "The New York Times" says with the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush "openly threatening to overthrow [Iraqi leader] Saddam Hussein, a public airing of the pros and cons of intervention is long overdue." The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee is to commence hearings on Iraq this week, and will hear from experts on the crucial issues at stake: "the nature and urgency of the threat from Iraq, the range of possible American policy responses, and the consequences and responsibilities that are likely to flow from a potential military victory."

The paper says toppling Hussein from power "could trigger internal rivalries and possible fragmentation inside an Iraq divided between mutually suspicious Arab Sunnis, Arab Shiites, and Kurds." A war with Baghdad would be a major effort, and "should be initiated only with the widest possible understanding and support." Any military attack would seek to destroy Iraq's capabilities before it could launch an unconventional strike against U.S. troops or other in the region, such as Israel or Kuwait. "But a quick victory cannot be guaranteed," the paper says. Military action in Iraq might also have serious economic consequences. And, the paper says, "this time no Saudi financial help can be expected."

CHICAGO TRIBUNE:

In the second of a four-part series in the "Chicago Tribune," senior correspondent R.C. Longworth looks at some of the differences between European countries and the United States regarding the war on terrorism. He says the U.S. sees terrorism as "an evil to be eradicated" once and for all. European governments believe it is "one problem among many -- a serious problem, to be sure, but not an obsession and probably one that can be controlled but not solved."

The trauma of the 11 September attacks remains vivid in America, says Longworth, but in Europe the memory has faded. "Much of the sympathy remains, but European governments [are] unwilling to subordinate all aspects of policy to the fight against terrorism." The Europeans are also unwilling to elevate the fight against terrorism to the status of "war." Most European officials believe military action "must be coupled with 'soft' solutions to fight poverty and disease, to ease the conditions that they believe breed terrorism."

As the U.S. looks to Iraq in its next campaign to eradicate the threat of attack, other differences emerge. Longworth says almost no European leader believes Saddam Hussein has ties to Al-Qaeda "or any direct relationship to the war on terrorism." And "all believe that any attack on Iraq is likely to destabilize the Middle East and cause more harm than good."

THE BOSTON GLOBE:

An editorial in "The Boston Globe" says America's initially successful operation in Afghanistan to drive the Taliban from power is now at risk of incurring a political backlash over the unintentional deaths of Afghan civilians. U.S. military commanders and political leaders must realize this, the editorial says, and do more to prevent civilian casualties.

"The Boston Globe" says the reasons for such mistaken attacks are clear. In order to avoid American casualties on the ground, U.S. strategy relies on Afghans to point out where Al-Qaeda or Taliban members are present. The paper says too often these tips are mistaken. At times, informants might seek to use U.S. forces to wreak revenge on another tribe or a rival. Or they may be selling bad information out of opportunism, lacking any actual tips. But the paper says, "Errors of either kind can no longer be tolerated." If these mistakes continue, Afghans "will come to view their liberation from the Taliban as another hostile foreign intervention."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG:

In the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," Stefan Kornelius examines the differing foreign policy approaches of President George W. Bush and his Secretary of State Colin Powell. The paper says whereas Bush favors direct action and is highly acclaimed in the U.S. for this stance, Powell has learned from experience in Vietnam and the Gulf War that there are also gray areas. The difference in approach between the two statesmen has escalated in the past weeks to such a degree that there are rumors of Powell's resignation.

Powell, however, is relentless in pursuing his policy and exhibiting his "persistent qualities," be it in the Indian-Pakistani crisis or the Middle East conflict. The question now, writes Kornelius, is "how long the foreign minister can afford to pursue his self-willed policy" by revising the president's directives and calling for negotiations rather than making demands. He unequivocally calls for U.S. involvement and harmonization with its allies. In this respect he is pursuing the U.S. foreign policy tradition that sides with the more magnanimous and does not insist that American ways of thinking have to apply to the rest of the world. "His persistence is his strength because in this manner he is actually supporting the president's position," says the commentary. But Kornelius adds that it is questionable how long the U.S. president will subject himself to such support.

EURASIA REVIEW:

An analysis in "Eurasia View" says pro-Russian elements within the Georgian military are frustrating the government's attempts to carry out structural reforms under the U.S.-supported Train and Equip Program.

Irakly Areshidze, a visiting fellow at the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute of Johns Hopkins University, says the 19 July resignation of Colonel Nika Djandjgava and several colleagues "focused attention on divisions within the military." Djandjgava is widely viewed as a pro-American advocate of the reforms and was responsible for coordinating activities under the program. He and more than 100 others submitted their resignations "to protest inadequate financing, ill-advised personnel policies, and deficient leadership within the Defense Ministry."

But Areshidze says, "Many senior officers, who began their military careers during the Soviet era, tend to be wary of U.S.-supported reforms." However, junior officers, particularly "those who have participated in NATO training programs, generally welcome reform efforts."

The U.S. has urged Georgia to streamline the staff at the Ministry of Defense, "develop cohesive plans for tactical combat operations," and drastically reduce the size of the armed forces. Areshidze says it was hoped such cuts "would force many older, pro-Russian officers into retirement, and encourage the rapid promotion of NATO-trained military leaders."

JANE'S ISLAMIC AFFAIRS ANALYST:

An analysis in the 1 August edition of "Jane's Islamic Affairs Analyst" says there are signs that an "impending explosion" in Iran "is drawing nigh." The entire system of rule by the mullahs is at stake, it says.

In the 9 July resignation of Ayatollah Jalaledin Taheri, who "Jane's" calls "a mild-mannered cleric of impeccable revolutionary credentials," he delivered an attack on the Iranian leadership. Among other things, Taheri called for a properly republican system of changing the leadership and the right to criticize the government.

The analysis notes that in a survey carried out by the Iranian Interior Ministry, "96 percent of a sample of 16,000 people interviewed in Tehran stated they were dissatisfied with the regime, with almost half of the sample saying that reform was impossible, and that the regime must therefore be removed wholesale."

"Jane's" goes on to discuss what it calls a "third force" that will emerge to alter Iranian politics: the 18 million-strong portion of the Iranian population that is under 30 years old with few employment prospects, who "have seen nothing but the dictatorship of the mullahs."

Accounting for a third of the population, "Jane's" says by the time this demographic becomes the unemployed majority, "fed on the Internet and satellite television, the pressure to remove the mullahs will be unstoppable."

THE INDEPENDENT:

In Britain's "The Independent," Rupert Cornwall writes from Washington that a vision for Iraq's future is as unclear today as ever. He calls war "a jarring and horrible matter in which hundreds, probably thousands of people will die...." But so far, "real debate has been nonexistent," he says.

The U.S. "has not said what it believes a successor regime in Baghdad will look like, let alone who will lead it. War, therefore, might force America to station tens of thousands of troops in Iraq to keep the country together." The U.S. would thus become enmeshed in the very "nation building" that President George W. Bush has so disparaged -- and perhaps even "in overt colonialism," says Cornwall.

And as the U.S. seeks to maintain Iraq's postwar stability, it "might find itself fighting the Kurds in the north and the Shiites in the south -- the very people who have been its implicit allies against Saddam [Hussein]. And around the Arab world, hatred of 'American imperialists,' and the regimes which back them would only grow, creating new generations of radicals and potential terrorists. Has Washington thought any of this through?" he asks.

EURASIA REVIEW:

Regional analyst Ahmed Rashid, writing in "Eurasia View," says attempts by the United States to train a new multiethnic Afghan army have yet to make clear how this army will remain stable. Rashid cites local observers as saying the United States "first needs to reconcile its support for a new army with its practice of funding regional warlords who want to undermine it."

The U.S. is counting on warlord militias to eventually either join the new army or cede power to it. Afghanistan's "reconstruction and job creation depend on the government's ability to lure men away from warlord militias and into civilian life," he says. Soldiers often have little or no civilian job skills. According to Rashid, the Afghan government estimates that "75,000 armed soldiers work for warlords, that over 100,000 armed irregular combatants and war veterans have dispersed around the country and that an unknown number of other fighters remain armed."

The plan for the Afghan army reasons that most would lay down their arms if they had real economic alternatives. But without more jobs and commerce, U.S. army training might create a security problem rather than solve one, if soldiers not incorporated into the army are recruited and paid by "informal" regional armed groups.

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

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