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Western Press Review: World Outraged by Terrorism in Spain; Debate Grows Over U.S. Plans For Democracy in Mideast

Prague, 12 March 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The editorial pages of the world's newspapers are filled with expressions of outrage, shock, and defiance over the terrorist bombings in Madrid which killed almost 200 people yesterday. Some commentators also debate whether U.S. plans to build democracy in Iraq and the Mideast are realistic.


Britain's "The Daily Telegraph" notes in an editorial that yesterday's attacks show that the nature of terrorism has changed in recent years from small-scale bombings to efforts to carry out massive operations that rivet the world's attention.

The paper says that "whether ETA, Al-Qaeda or some combination of international homicide merchants was responsible for the Madrid outrages, the warning for liberal democratic societies is clear: the global stakes for terrorist activity have been dramatically raised."

"The Daily Telegraph" continues, "For any group of national malcontents or international zealots to make an impression on the public consciousness -- and get a suitably spectacular set of headlines -- it must now stage an incident of massive proportions."

The paper says that the only defense against ever more ambitious acts of mass terror is continual awareness of the danger that increasingly well organized and "fiercely professional" terrorist groups pose. The editorial concludes, "We are now only as safe as we are vigilant."


The U.S. daily "The New York Times" also says it remains uncertain who authored the bombings in Madrid. But it says no matter who was behind them, the attacks demonstrate the need for the world to unite in confronting what has become a global wave of terrorist activity.

The paper says that "whether the bombers came from the Basque terrorist group ETA, as the Spanish government initially presumed, Al-Qaeda or elsewhere, comparisons to the attacks of 11 September 2001 are inevitable and appropriate."

"The New York Times" editorial continues: "The list of terrorist outrages around the world has been grimly lengthening since 11 September. Fanatics have sown carnage in places like Bali, Mombasa, Baghdad, Jerusalem, Moscow, Jakarta, Casablanca, Riyadh and Istanbul."

The editorial concludes that "at a time like this, trans-Atlantic squabbling about the nature of the terrorist threat and how to fight it seems tragically misplaced. Terrorism threatens all of us, everywhere, every morning. Terrorists respect no national boundaries, political systems, ideologies or religions. The fight against them must be just as multinational."


France's daily "Le Figaro" says that the latest incident of mass terror illustrates that the goal of terrorist groups today is to kill as many people as possible and -- for that reason -- they have no right to be considered as having political aims.

Commentator Pierre Rousselin writes that "much as on 11 September 2001 in the United States, yesterday's carnage in Madrid represents an unprecedented escalation in the long history of terrorism in Spain."

The writer says that "these chain attacks in the early morning against jam-packed commuter trains have no other goal than to cause the largest possible number of casualties. They show to what point those responsible, whoever they may be, are nothing but a foul band of murderers."

Rousselin concludes: "to treat [the terrorists] as anything else, to assume they have some vague political goals because they struck three days before [Spain's] elections, is to fall into a trap from which there is no escape. Now more than ever, the war against terror has to be implacable and enlist us all."

Looking at events outside of Spain, several commentators today focus on the continuing debate over U.S. plans to promote democracy in the Middle East.


David Ignatius, a columnist for the U.S. daily "The Washington Post" writes that efforts to impose democracy upon Arab countries from the outside are doomed to failure.

Instead, he argues, U.S. policymakers should listen to what Arab reformists and revolutionaries have to say and look for ways to support acceptable parts of their agendas -- thus assuring that change comes from within. "To state the obvious after the reversals of the past year in Iraq, the idea of Arab democracy is meaningless unless it begins at home, driven by an Arab agenda for change, rather than by outsiders. If it is seen as another attempt to impose the West's agenda, then the planned U.S.-European Greater Middle East Initiative will fail -- and deservedly so."

The writer concludes: "The Arabs want to make their own history. The time for change has come, as they know better than anyone.... If America can help the people of the Middle East take ownership of their own process of change -- now, that would be revolutionary."


Britain's daily "The Guardian" says that the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush has adopted ambitious and overly hasty plans for promoting democracy in the Middle East largely in an effort to boost Bush's own re-election prospects in November.

Commentator Martin Woollacott writes that "as the presidential campaign sharpened in America, it was to be expected that the Bush administration's Middle East policies, already misguided in critical ways, would be further distorted. There is the race towards an arbitrarily chosen date this summer on which sovereignty will be handed to the Iraqis, a change that may prove either cosmetic or convulsive, perhaps both."

He continues: "there is also the push to subsume Ariel Sharon's plans for unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and a unilateral division of the West Bank into a supposed resumption of the peace process" and "the effort to create a grand scheme under which the industrialized countries are to aid in the democratization of the whole Middle East."

Woollacott says that what all these steps by the U.S. administration have in common, besides fighting John Kerry's bid as challenger, is "their limited substance, their intention of involving America's allies in a show of alleged progress, and the fact that they could prove counterproductive."

He concludes that "to be in too much of a rush in Iraq, to be in no hurry to tackle the real issues in Israel and Palestine, and to want to see a kind of instant celestial choir-singing democracy over the region suggests at best a dangerous lack of seriousness: the first needs to be done more slowly and surely; the second both more quickly and differently; and the third more discreetly."