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Western Press Review: Nation Building From Afghanistan To Iraq And The 'Berlusconi Presidency'

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 1 July 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Our review of commentary and analysis in the Western press today begins with a look at Bosnia's dubious experience with Western nation-building efforts and Italy's ascension to the rotating EU Presidency. Elsewhere, as ongoing unrest hinders the West's most recent attempts at nation building in Afghanistan and Iraqi resistance to the U.S. presence gathers force, will the United States maintain its commitment to successfully rebuilding Iraq?

THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR:

In a contribution to "The Christian Science Monitor," journalist Sara Terry takes exception to recent statements by U.S. officials calling Bosnia a "successful" example of nation building. "To call Bosnia a success story," she writes, "is to ignore all the ways nation building has failed to take root."

Terry continues: "To be sure, the presence of the international community has made a huge difference in a country that was nearly torn apart by nationalistic rivalries. Thousands of homes destroyed in the war have been rebuilt with international aid; a multitude of social-service and civic-minded programs funded by foreign donors have helped seed a local network of homegrown, nongovernmental organizations; and the international community [has] pushed -- sometimes forced -- legal reforms aimed at ending ethnic and religious discrimination." But she says Bosnia is "no success -- not yet."

The country's postconflict and postcommunist economy "is still a shambles," she says. Unemployment is at 49 percent, and electoral processes have failed to deliver much-needed "visionary" leadership. Voter turnout for the last election fell to half in last year's polls, and nationalist parties were voted back in.

Terry says Bosnia could eventually be a success story, but "not if the U.S. or the international community pats itself on the back and walks away, moving on to create a new chapter of 'successful' nation building in some other shattered country."

THE NEW YORK TIMES:

As Italy assumes the rotating EU Presidency from Greece today, several commentaries in the European press have criticized businessman and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi for both his iron grip on Italy's media and the legal decision last month granting him immunity from prosecution during his tenure as prime minister. Berlusconi has been facing bribery charges over his alleged dealings during a high-profile privatization.

Writing in "The New York Times," Frank Bruni says, "Berlusconi's legal troubles may not be over, at least not in the long run." His trial has been formally suspended but judges have ordered a review of the immunity law.

But even with bribery charges out of his way for now, "the six months of [the EU] presidency could be perilous." Berlusconi has "tense" relations with some of his counterparts in the rest of Europe, and the European press "has already begun to bemoan and besmirch his leadership."

THE TIMES:

An editorial in the London daily says in contrast to the low-profile leadership styles of some European heads of state during their tenures at the helm of the rotating EU Presidency, Italy's turn at the helm has been, from the start, "the Berlusconi presidency."

"The Times" says Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's "tycoon prime minister," has the "determination to make his mark as a modernizer," which should "be seen as an asset. The EU is all too full of grey politicos. The constitutional quarrels ahead call for persuasive leadership -- and the presentational skills required to convince bored and cynical electorates that the result really will make 'Europe' more comprehensible, and more accountable too."

Moreover, says the paper, "As a convinced Atlanticist on good terms with [U.S.] President [George W.] Bush, Signor Berlusconi is well-placed to do some trans-Atlantic fence-mending."

THE NEW YORK TIMES:

Author Khaled Hosseini writes from Kabul reminding us that the international community's pledges to Afghanistan are far from being fulfilled. And in the capital, disillusionment is setting in as locals become convinced that the nongovernmental and UN organizations that came to help have spent millions of dollars in aid money on their offices and cars.

Hosseini writes: "When the Taliban fell, Afghans around the world rejoiced. In December 2001, a United Nations-sponsored conference in Bonn resulted in the formation of an interim government. A month later, the international donor community gathered in Tokyo and pledged nearly $5 billion over five years to rebuild the country. Afghanistan was reborn."

But the hopes of that "giddy" period "are a distant memory in the Kabul of 2003," Hosseini says. "Security is the most urgent problem. It is tenuous at best outside Kabul. Taliban forces are regrouping. Disarmament is a distant dream. Afghanistan last year was once again the world's leading opium producer. One child in four still dies before the age of 5. Major roads remain unbuilt. Women are still harassed and threatened. The provincial warlords battle one another while scoffing at the central government."

It was a pervasive lack of security that originally gave rise to the Taliban, as their hard-line methods appealed to a populace wary of persistent crime and disorder. Today, Hosseini writes, "for brutalized Afghans hoping for a better life," disillusionment is once again "slowly seeping in."

THE NEW YORK TIMES:

Also in "The New York Times," Sarah Chayes of Afghans for Civil Society says Western nation-building efforts in Afghanistan are in danger of failing because the United States won't stop "hedging its bets."

Locals in Kandahar are perplexed that U.S. officials fund Transitional Authority Chairman Hamid Karzai while also funding his political rivals, Afghanistan's local warlords. The U.S. used these regional strongmen to help depose the Taliban regime. And "because they had reaped weapons and cash in the bargain, the warlords were able to impose themselves as provincial governors, despite being reviled by the Afghan people."

Their positions have further "been reinforced by international donors who, for convenience's sake, distribute much of their reconstruction assistance through the warlords." Chayes writes, "In the interest of offering Afghanistan a chance at a future, and opening the door to a new kind of relationship with the Muslim world, the United States should back any future decision to remove the warlord-governors."

THE TIMES:

In a contribution to the London daily, former Supreme Allied Commander in Europe General Wesley Clark says the grandiose dreams for the Middle East -- "transforming Arab society, inspiring democracy, finding the key to peace in the Middle East" -- first rely on "whether we can handle the challenges of dealing with the here and now in Iraq."

It will not be possible to maintain the Anglo-American occupation through sheer force, he says. "Winning in Iraq requires working with the existing forces in that society, not against them. Representative Iraqi institutions [need] to be established to work with the U.S. and U.K. civilian administrators. These institutions must leave no one out, including former Baathists. [The] internal squabbling and scheming must be forced out into the open and the press invited in."

Iraqis must also "be put in uniform and on to the streets alongside the U.S. and British forces as soon as possible, and thousands of translators must be brought in." Clark suggests there should be "a prohibition of searches in the absence of translators."

Failure in Iraq will be expensive, he says, "and a premature pull-out will exacerbate regional conflict and undercut the war on terror. Honesty is important, Clark says, and "when the Iraqis ask us to go, the mission is over."

LE MONDE:

An item in France's major daily says armed attacks against Anglo-American forces in Iraq are on the rise from Baghdad to Al-Fallujah. Meanwhile, public support for the war in Britain and the United States is on the decline as the concern takes hold that Western troops might be there for longer then expected. Two-thirds of Britons are beginning to suspect that Prime Minister Tony Blair has lost control of the situation, according to a Mori poll published today. In the United States, only 56 percent in a Gallup poll responded that it was worth going to war, as U.S. military personnel continue to suffer almost daily losses. In April, 73 percent supported military action in Iraq.

But the U.S. administration refused this week to discuss the specter of the troops being "bogged down" in Iraq, a situation that calls to mind the U.S. experience in Vietnam. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld instead insisted that Iraq was an integral part of the global war on terrorism and that those who did not agree with this assessment were, for the most part, the terrorists.

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