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Western Press Review: The Twin Kenya Attacks, Preserving Iraqi Culture, And Kissinger's New Post

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 29 November 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Several major Western dailies devote editorial space today to the double attacks targeting Israeli tourists in Kenya yesterday. Other issues include preserving Iraq's past, the "never-ending" tragedy in Chechnya and why the United States maintained high-level relations with Iraq after it used chemical weapons in its war with Iran. We also take a look at the controversy over the U.S. administration's choice of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to lead an inquiry into intelligence failures ahead of the 11 September attacks.

STRATFOR:

A "Stratfor" (Strategic Forecasting) commentary today discusses the twin attacks yesterday in Kenya, in which missiles unsuccessfully targeted an Israeli airliner at the same time as three suicide-bombers attacked an Israeli-owned hotel in Mombasa, killing 13 people.

"Stratfor" says, "Clearly, the two attacks on Mombasa were coordinated; the issue is who carried them out." An unknown group calling itself the Government of Universal Palestine in Exile, the Army of Palestine, claimed responsibility, but the commentary says speculation that the operation was carried out by Al-Qaeda "would seem valid."

"Stratfor" says Al-Qaeda would seem to have three objectives in such an attack.

First, as the United States tries to distance itself from Israeli policies, Al-Qaeda wants to link the two, "driving Washington and Israel closer in order to discredit the United States." Yesterday's events may "force U.S. and Israeli officials to cooperate more closely and perhaps publicly."

Second, Al-Qaeda wants to be seen as being not only anti-American but anti-Israel. Finally, Al-Qaeda is targeting the "periphery of U.S. interests -- not striking the United States or its facilities, [but] trying to draw U.S. forces in multiple directions," in hopes of diluting U.S. efforts.

THE TIMES:

In the British daily the "Times," Tim Hames says if the double attack on Israeli targets in Kenya yesterday was carried out by Al-Qaeda, then several signs highlight the weaknesses of the terrorist organization. He says Kenya was a "soft target," and thus "a reflection of Al-Qaeda's soft resources." The second sign of Al-Qaeda's frailty is the target itself, he says. "An assault aimed at Israelis is hardly imaginative," he writes. The Kenya attacks were a "less than impressive enterprise," he concludes. He calls the Paradise Hotel "a sitting duck," and remarks that the Mombasa airfield was not a challenging target either.

Hames says the terrorist network "is finding it increasingly hard to engage in serious long-term planning for its schemes because infiltration and surveillance have become more focused." It may now be "obliged to rely on local volunteers to conduct such atrocities." Hames warns readers against the trap of exaggerating Al-Qaeda's power. He says the network is not "back in business," as some observers have said. Instead, "it's in its last desperate stage."

THE GUARDIAN:

In the British daily "The Guardian," columnist Martin Woollacott says it has always been true "that many things done in the name of God would be abhorrent to a benign deity." Yet it would be a mistake, he says, to ignore the sociopolitical roots of much of the seemingly religion-based violence we see today. "Religion continues to be a vehicle for political expression and change, whether peaceful or violent," he says. But he suggests it may be other social forces, such as "population growth and rapid urbanization, which are primary, and the religious consequences which are secondary."

It is somewhat true that the popularity of radical Islamists in the Middle East is due to the "inadequacy" of existing governments. And the U.S. shares responsibility for supporting such governments, he says. But it would be more accurate to acknowledge that regional leaders -- both secular and religious -- are "attempting to cope with, or capitalize on, large and destabilizing changes, sometimes in honest and sometimes in dishonorable ways." At times, "both state violence and the freelance violence of rebels, revolutionaries and mobs [draw] on the intolerant side of religious traditions."

Woollacott writes: "Those truly devoted to their religion must continue to try to moderate these effects. There is no denying that, whatever the ultimate causes, killing in the name of religion of the sort recently seen represents a moral breakdown."

THE WASHINGTON POST:

In a joint contribution to "The Washington Post," Ashton Hawkins of the American Council for Cultural Policy and Maxwell Anderson of the American Association of Art Museum Directors urge the United States and its allies to ensure that Iraq's cultural heritage is protected in the event military action is launched against President Saddam Hussein. "Iraq -- ancient Mesopotamia -- is the birthplace of Western civilization," they point out. "Writing, accounting and the government of city-states were all invented there. Early scientific experiments were conducted there," including one that may be responsible for the invention of glass. Moreover, Iraq remains "a revered center of Islamic history and culture."

"At the conclusion of hostilities, should they occur," the authors say, "the United States and its coalition partners will become heirs to responsibilities that include, in addition to the welfare of Iraq's people, the task of protecting Iraq's holy cities and ancient sites. Measures should be taken to ensure absolute respect for the integrity of Iraq's sites and monuments," and a new Iraqi civil administration should quickly be established to provide lasting security.

Hawkins and Anderson say the United States "should not allow [its] primary objectives in this region to overshadow [its] cultural responsibilities." Ultimately, they write, "we may well be judged by how we behave toward Iraq's patrimony in the course of any military action and occupation we may undertake."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE:

In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," Joost Hiltermann of the International Crisis Group says that the United States maintained high-level negotiations with Iraq even after it was clear Baghdad had used chemical weapons.

Current U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, as a special envoy for the Middle East under former President Ronald Reagan in December 1983, met with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and then-Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz. "Iraq had broken off diplomatic relations with the United States in June 1967. Now both sides hoped that the talks in Baghdad would facilitate a resumption of formal ties."

But Hiltermann says it had been known to Washington since "at least as early as October 1983" that Iraq "had started to use chemical weapons on the battlefield," primarily mustard gas, against Iran. Rumsfeld had an opportunity to raise this issue with Baghdad on his visit, but "he failed to do so," says Hiltermann.

He writes that again in February 1984, Iraq used "mustard gas but also the highly lethal nerve agent Tabun." In November 1984, "shortly after Reagan's re-election, diplomatic relations between Washington and Baghdad were restored."

Hitermann says the American public "should demand a full accounting for the support its leadership provided Iraq in the past, including its green light to chemical weapons use -- weapons that Washington is belatedly claiming should be destroyed."

THE NEW YORK TIMES:

In "The New York Times," David Phillips of the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations discusses postwar possibilities in Iraq. He notes that an advisory committee focusing on developing "a federal democratic Iraq post-Saddam Hussein" may well emerge from a conference of Iraqi exile groups scheduled for London in early December.

Phillips says the competing exile groups are now acknowledging "the need to have Iraqis inside Iraq play a prominent role in rebuilding the nation." The committee should "represent the country's ethnic and religious groups and include prominent members of the Iraqi diaspora. It must not, however, be exclusively a body of exiles."

After any potential military action, Phillips says "a strong American-led international security force will be essential for public order." But once "the immediate dangers of disintegration and communal violence have passed, the advisory committee should [discuss] security arrangements and civilian administration."

Phillips says any transitional government "cannot afford to dissolve the existing Iraqi civil service... [Preserving] a role for regional officials and administrators would be necessary to the continuity of essential governmental services, like providing sanitation and health care."

A population census, internationally supervised elections, and a draft constitution should then follow. Phillips says, to avoid an open-ended commitment, the U.S. administration "must focus on fostering Iraqi leadership. Cooperative nation-building is the key to a smooth transfer of power."

THE NEW YORK TIMES:

A "New York Times" editorial today discusses the appointment of former U.S. National Security Adviser and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to head up an investigative commission looking into intelligence failures preceding the 11 September attacks.

The 10-member commission, to be made up of five Democrats and five Republicans, "must be fiercely independent and unafraid to challenge some of Washington's most powerful institutions," the paper says. But in choosing Kissinger to lead the investigation, U.S. President George W. Bush has "selected a consummate Washington insider. Mr. Kissinger obviously has a keen intellect and vast experience in national security matters. Unfortunately, his affinity for power and the commercial interests he has cultivated since leaving government may make him less than the staunchly independent figure that is needed for this critical post."

The editorial says, in fact, "it is tempting to wonder if the choice of Mr. Kissinger is not a clever maneuver by the White House" to undermine "an investigation it long opposed."

The paper says it "seems improbable to expect Mr. Kissinger to report unflinchingly on the conduct of the government...[He] would have to challenge the established order and risk sundering old friendships and business relationships." The investigative panel cannot be hesitant "to call government organizations and officials to account." And there is "no place for the kind of political calculation and court flattery that Mr. Kissinger" practiced while in his previous posts.

THE GUARDIAN:

In the British "Guardian," Julian Borger notes that Henry Kissinger is regarded in some circles as a war criminal, adding: "There are countries he can't travel to for fear of arrest." Borger says Kissinger, the "prophet of realpolitik, who once famously claimed that power was the ultimate aphrodisiac, now has a chance to live out his dreams again." Borger calls him a man of ideas "whose time has come once more in the harsh light of post-September 11 politics."

In that light, says Borger, "the secret bombing of Cambodia, which [Kissinger] orchestrated with Richard Nixon, could be argued to be the ultimate act of preemption, a concept on which the Bush administration's new national security doctrine is based. The same goes for his role in helping oust [President] Salvador Allende from power in Chile, and his replacement by General Augusto Pinochet." The new attitude toward national security in the age of terrorism now favors just this type of "early action against potential threats, before they pose direct danger."

Borger writes: "Kissinger now has another chance to be a player in the great game of international strategy, a game in which truth will inevitably be traded off against perceived national interest, a barter at which the American Machiavelli is a master."

LE FIGARO:

In a contribution to France's "Le Figaro," historian Elena Bonner says the current conflict in Chechnya is truly a war without end. She cites a series of Russian documents -- declassified in the 1990s and then later reclassified -- that record sieges, battles against Chechen "rebels," hostage takings and deportations in the North Caucasus stretching back decades.

In 1922, a battle for national independence was already going on. In 1925, Russia was seeking to "disarm" Chechnya and "took 300 bandits hostage," according to one document. On 31 January 1944, a resolution of the State Defense committee decided to deport the entire Chechen-Ingush population to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Bonner says a month later, in less than 24 hours, half a million people were put in freight cars and deported. On the way, she says, over one-third of them died. In March of that year, a decree by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet liquidated the Chechen-Ingush Republic. "No people, no problem," Bonner wryly remarks.

Today, she says, there is again war in the North Caucasus -- not one waged by imperial Russia or the Stalinist USSR, but by the so-called "new and democratic" Russia. "This Russia is only 11 years old, but the war in Chechnya has already been going on for eight years," she says. "But it is always, in fact, the same war" the country has been fighting for decades.

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