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Western Press Review: Toward A New Trans-Atlantic Cooperation And The American Political Experiment

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 4 July 2003 (RFE/RL) -- As the United States celebrates its independence day, commentary in the major Western dailies includes suggestions that the U.S. and Europe work to bridge their growing diplomatic divide through logistical cooperation in Iraq; a consideration of the West's regard for personal freedom vis-a-vis the Middle Eastern veneration of virtue; giving Pakistan the support and time it needs to become a regional model of modernization; and reconciliation and reconstruction in Iraq.

THE WASHINGTON POST: Columnist David Ignatius writes: "As the death toll mounts in Iraq, the diplomatic quarrel between France and the United States is becoming inexcusable." He suggests European-American cooperation in Iraq may be the best way to rebuild the country successfully, while also moving trans-Atlantic relations forward after recent tensions.

"The Americans should start by offering French companies [the] opportunity to help in reconstruction." This would be "the quickest way to put the French-engineered Iraqi water and telephone systems back into full operation." Ignatius emphasizes the United States "needs to show results to the Iraqi people, even if they come with a French accent."

At the same time, Ignatius says, Europe should begin putting together a reconstruction mission in Iraq based on its foundering common European Security and Defense Policy. The involvement of an EU military force would help defuse some of the tensions that sprung up between EU members over the Iraq war, as well as smooth over some of the difficulties with America.

The European force "could provide [a] little of the 'soft power' that the United States [is] so obviously lacking in Iraq," says Ignatius. A European project training Iraq's police "would offer a way to provide stability in Iraq without directly embracing the U.S. military occupation."

Ignatius writes: "America clearly needs help in postwar Iraq. The Europeans must recognize that if they continue to stand on the sidelines, savoring America's predicament, they will ultimately find the consequences of an Iraqi failure almost as painful as will the United States."

FINANCIAL TIMES: In a contribution to Britain's financial daily, former Pakistani Finance Minister Shahid Javed Burki says Pakistan has the potential to become a "model of political and economic modernization" in the Muslim world. Burki, also a former vice president of the World Bank, remarks that the West will not find such an example in Afghanistan or Iraq. Nation-building in both countries remains slow, despite recent injections of capital and human resources from the West.

But in Pakistan, President Pervez Musharraf "is responsible [for] creating an environment [in which] groups of Islamic radicals cannot grow deep roots and flourish." This undertaking will need Western "understanding and cooperation," Burki says. But it continues to proceed "on a number of fronts."

Pakistan is now experiencing an economic revival that has seen 5.1 percent growth in the past year (through the end of June). Moreover, this was a broad-based recovery affecting manufacturing, agriculture, and exports, he said. Such trends have the opportunity to lift many of Pakistan's people out of poverty. And, as Burki remarks, "It is useful to recall that it is from the [poverty] pool that most Islamic jihadis get recruited."

The Musharraf administration is also "gingerly" attempting to increase educational funding and secularize schools by re-introducing Pakistan's madrassahs "into the educational mainstream." Moreover, the president-general is attempting to encourage a more representative political system than Pakistan has had under previous administrations.

Burki says the West should encourage Musharraf's slow but consistent modernization attempts, "and give him the benefit of the doubt."

THE NEW YORK TIMES: An editorial today honors the adventurous natures of American explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, who traveled the fledgling 28-year-old United States, mapping its geography and codifying its native species of flora and fauna.

The paper says the spirit "of exploration and newness" that characterized "America's new political experiment [still] marks us now, especially on days like this one, when we celebrate both how far we have come and how far we have to go."

The Fourth of July marks the signing of America's Declaration of Independence from Britain, but also the "fresh" idea "that it thrust forward into the world: the right of a people to assume its own political destiny. The audacity of the declaration's language still astonishes," says the paper. "Yet to survive, the nation needed to re-articulate those principles in a way that was less driven by the crisis of the times and more attuned to the long prospect of the future."

The paper says these "are old familiar notions in America: the urge to strike out for new ground and the urge to settle in and consolidate what we have made." The paper says it makes since that today, the feeling of being settled is stronger than the feeling for exploring. And yet, the real goal "is still to find the undiscovered country we share, to honor Independence Day [on] our own collective voyage of exploration."

WASHINGTON POST: Dinesh D'Souza of the Hoover Institution says behind the physical attacks on America is an intellectual attack. "Ultimately it is not enough to shut down terrorist camps," he says. The United States must also change minds. Yet for now, it is "making few converts in the Muslim world."

The problem, says D'Souza, is that America has not effectively responded to the "Islamic critique of the United States." Egyptian writer Sayyid Qutb argues that Western society is based on freedom, while the Islamic world is based on virtue. But Qutb says freedom is used badly in the West, evidenced by what D'Souza calls its "pervasive materialism, triviality, vulgarity and sexual promiscuity." From Qutb's point of view, virtue is a greater good than freedom.

How, then, can the West respond to this criticism? D'Souza asks. Classical Western thinkers such as Plato and Aristotle would have agreed: "that virtue, not freedom, is the ultimate goal of a good society." And in this, says D'Souza, "they would be quite right."

But he says millions of Americans live virtuous lives in spite of having the option to live otherwise. And D'Souza says their virtue "has a special luster because it is freely chosen." In contrast, authoritarian societies can "undermine the possibility of virtue" because, he says, "coerced virtues are not virtues at all."

D'Souza says salvation for Muslims, Jews, and Christians "is based on the soul's choosing freely to follow God." And it is allowing the freedom to choose virtue that the United States should be advocating to the Muslim world.

THE NEW YORK TIMES: A contribution by former U.S. Deputy Treasury Secretary Stuart Eizenstat says: "Bringing the rule of law to Iraq" is just as essential as political and economic reconstruction. Addressing the wrongs of the former Ba'athist regime will "lay the groundwork for a stable nation."

Many of the Ba'ath Party's victims are from Iraq's major political and religious factions, Eizenstat says. And if "their grievances are not addressed, Iraqi society will bear permanent scars and endure continuing frustrations, leading to growing resentment and cycles of retribution."

The first priority "is to establish a compensation fund for victims of torture, assassination or other human-rights abuses." Similar foundations have compensated over a million victims of Nazi-era abuses. A separate property commission should also be convened to address the claims of tens of thousands that were driven from their homes under Saddam Hussein.

"A historical commission, consisting entirely of Iraqis, should also be established to document for future generations the ways in which the Baath Party committed such vast human-rights abuses," Eizenstat says. And finally, a war-crimes tribunal should be established to bring to trial former high-ranking members of the regime. Such trials "would provide legitimacy for postwar Iraq."

"Establishing instruments for justice may not be as dramatic as patrolling the streets of Baghdad, but it is equally important," says Eizenstat. "Only through these institutions can the administration translate its ambitious goal of a stable, tolerant, democratic Iraq into reality."

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