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Western Press Review: Guns For Hire In Afghanistan, Bringing Mladic To Trial, Turkey And The EU

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 27 November 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Among the topics discussed in the major Western dailies today are the British government's policy on Iraq; mercenaries in Afghanistan; bringing former Bosnian-Serb commander Ratko Mladic, an indicted war criminal, to trial; the Middle East; and Turkey's bid for EU membership.


The leading editorial in the British "Guardian" today discusses the 25 November House of Commons vote on whether Britain supports UN Resolution 1441 and whether, if Iraq fails to comply, the Security Council should meet again to -- as the motion put it -- "consider the situation and the need for full compliance." The paper says this "sanitized" wording is misleading and criticizes the motion for not addressing the real issues at stake.

The editorial says no mention is made of the possibility of "a looming, all-out, pre-emptive war." The motion makes "no reference to unpredictable regional consequences, and no hint of the cost in lives, money and possible retribution to the British people. Yet these are the crucial issues around which the Iraq crisis revolves," says the paper. "And these are the questions [that] the government still tries to sidestep."

The "Guardian" goes on to say there is a suspicion "that, on this issue, government policy will ultimately be whatever the U.S. wants it to be." But many both inside and outside the government "do not accept that supporting the UN is the same thing as backing [U.S. President] George Bush's next war." The paper calls for more debate, and says only if "incontrovertible proof of serious, serial Iraqi cheating is uncovered by the UN inspectors" will war be "the only option left. Absolutely nothing less will do."


In a piece by Jonathan Tepperman of "Foreign Affairs" magazine that was reprinted by both the "New Republic" and "The Los Angeles Times," Tepperman discusses why the 45 U.S. Special Forces troops guarding Afghan President Hamid Karzai have been replaced by mercenaries. This "fateful decision" has gotten little notice, he says, though it could have "fatal consequences for Karzai and Afghanistan."

Private military contractors "are neither cheaper nor more effective than government workers. Worse, they're unaccountable and hard to control." While at times "ruthlessly effective, [their] tactics often are indiscriminate, which could be disastrous in Afghanistan."

Tepperman ventures a theory as to why private "guns for hire" were chosen for such a sensitive mission. The Pentagon is not required to disclose the details of contracts under $50 million, "and the State Department, which has hired DynCorp in this case, does not have to publicly discuss such 'proprietary contracts.'" And Congress cannot "interfere or set guidelines as it could were actual [army] troops involved." Tepperman concludes: Using DynCorp security forces in Afghanistan "leaves room for deniability in case something goes wrong."

But by hiring a private contractor for this mission "to keep the job quiet," the U.S. administration "has risked the life of a man whom we are very much interested in keeping alive." He asks if plausible deniability really more important then the safety of an ally.


An editorial in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" says the current situation in the Palestinian territories is characterized by Israeli raids against "alleged terrorists." All the towns in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are now under Israeli control. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is displaying muscle also ahead of tomorrow's vote in parliament, in which party members will decide whether he or his party rival, Benjamin Netanyahu, will be the Likud Party candidate in the 28 January elections.

The commentary says Netanyahu, who is a generation younger than Sharon, "could teach fear of the anti-Arab rhetoric." On the other hand, the commentary predicts that Amram Mitzna's Labor Party, which favors peace negotiations, has little prospect for success, since it has still not recovered from its own internal crises.

The Palestinians also intend to hold elections in the new year. But the question arises whether there are any prospects for change in the situation. The commentary says this hinges on developments in Iraq and also on other UN resolutions, especially those concerning an Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories.


A commentary in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" looks at developments in Iraq. It says there are many issues at play, including inspections for weapons of mass destruction, aid programs, and warnings and appeals from UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. And now, UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix has begun his new mission. All these issues can hardly be resolved at once, the paper says.

The editorial says most of the problems depend on the actions of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. "This despot has a record of violence and his character is imbued with violence," it says. "It would not be surprising if he ended his life in a vortex of violence."

But the U.S. is demonstrating equal belligerence with its latest proposal regarding the oil-for-food program. The U.S. is demanding an expansion of the list of prohibited civilian imports to Iraq of goods that could have an alternate military use.

The commentary recalls how the U.S. went to war in Vietnam in 1964 as a result of a provocation in the Gulf of Tonkin. Hussein should be wary of provocations, says the commentary, and "the U.S. must not use a provocation as an excuse for war."


A "Jane's Foreign Report" analysis remarks that, on a visit to Belgrade last week, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that since the overthrow of former President Slobodan Milosevic in October 2000, Yugoslavia has made "significant progress" integrating with the international community and with respect to establishing democratic foundations. But, "Jane's" says, this is "not the whole story."

The day after Annan's statement, also in Belgrade, Carla Del Ponte, chief prosecutor of the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague, criticized Yugoslavia for insufficient cooperation, claiming that former Bosnian-Serb commander Ratko Mladic, an indicted war criminal, is being protected by the Yugoslav army.

"Jane's" writes that "During Del Ponte's most recent Belgrade visit, Mladic was having dinner in a Belgrade restaurant not far from hers." She mentioned this to General Branko Krga, acting chief of the Yugoslav General Staff, who "did not deny it."

The report goes on to remark that in recent weeks, Yugoslav officials have been under pressure from the international community for breaking a UN embargo by supplying arms and technical assistance to Iraq, and for acting as a hub for such transfers from other Eastern European countries to the Mideast.


In a contribution to "The New York Times," author Salman Rushdie looks at some recent high-profile incidents in Muslim nations around the globe. The Miss World contest was moved from Nigeria to London, after a newspaper article suggesting the Prophet Mohammad might have approved of the contest sparked a wave of riots, resulting in some 200 deaths. In Iran, mass protests continue over the sentencing to death of Professor Hashem Aghajari for suggesting that laymen can interpret the Koran without the aid of clerics. A Dutch Muslim woman had to flee the Netherlands after receiving death threats for suggesting that Muslim men oppress Muslim women.

In light of these incidents, Rushdie asks, "Where [is] the Muslim outrage at these events?" As Muslims' "ancient, deeply civilized culture of love, art and philosophical reflection is hijacked by paranoiacs, racists, liars, male supremacists, tyrants, fanatics and violence junkies, why are they not screaming?"

"At least in Iran the students are demonstrating," he says. "But where else in the Muslim world can one hear the voices of the fair-minded, tolerant Muslim majority" speak out against what some others are doing?

Moderate voices of Islam must insist on the modernization of their culture and their faith, he says. "For every such individual who is vilified and oppressed, two more, 10 more, a thousand more will spring up. They will spring up because you can't keep people's minds, feelings and needs in jail forever."


France's "Liberation" daily carries a number of commentaries today discussing Turkey's bid for membership in the European Union. Editor Jacques Amalric says Europe's Turkey debate is marked by cowardly hypocrisy. The Europeans avoid saying what they think and what they fear from Turkey's membership, and instead engage in "despicable semantic contortions, multiplying their promises but being careful not to set a clear date" on which to hold talks. This exacerbates the disappointment of the Turks, he says, as close to 80 percent favor membership in the EU.

A separate piece by "Liberation's" Marc Semo says demographics have much to do with the debate in Europe about Turkey's EU membership. A country of 68 million that is 98 percent Muslim would profoundly shift the demographics of the European Union. Moreover, some in Europe may be uncomfortable that an EU member will border the unstable regions of the Caucasus and the Middle East. Thus he says, the European future of Turkey, a country which has already been a southeastern pillar of NATO for half a century, has unleashed a debate over the true borders of Europe and on the foundations of its cultural identity.


In "Le Figaro," Renaud Girard says that for over a decade, the United States has exercised an amiable but constant pressure on European governments to admit Turkey into the EU. In doing so, he says, the Americans are seeking to reward a nation that has been a constant ally since 1945, during the Cold War as well as now, in their current Middle Eastern strategy. But the U.S. is trying to make Europe pay for this reward, says Girard.

He says it is "curious" that the United States, which requires visas for its Turkish visitors, wants the European Union to open its borders to all Turkish citizens. Turks are not Europeans, he says.

Today, Turkey is on a quest to reconcile Islam and modernity, says Girard. While this is an interesting experiment, it does not concern Europe. "It is not up to Europe to reform the Muslim world," he says, any more than it is Europe's role to influence the Chinese or Indian worlds. If Islamic civilization is seeking reform, says Girard, "it should be the work of Muslims themselves."

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