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Western Press Review: Bush's Speech, Chalabi's Mysterious Fall From U.S. Good Graces, And The Single Economic Space

Prague, 26 May 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Much of the commentary in leading dailies today discusses U.S. President George W. Bush's 24 May speech, in which he set out a five-point plan for establishing security and fostering the creation of a representative government in Iraq. While some laud the U.S. president for publicly addressing some of the unresolved issues in his Iraq policy, others contend that Bush failed to suggest any new strategies or clearly lay out how he planned to achieve his stated goal of a democratic Iraq. The fall from grace of erstwhile U.S. ally Ahmad Chalabi, leader of the Iraqi National Congress, a former emigre opposition group, is also the subject of much press interest, as many observers question why Washington has seen fit to condone an investigation into Chalabi's affairs at this time. We also take a look at the progress of the Single Economic Space agreed between Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus.


An editorial today says U.S. President George W. Bush's speech on 24 May "successfully...articulated a five-step process for handing over sovereignty, rebuilding infrastructure, maintaining security, garnering international assistance and moving toward free elections and representative government." His message was designed mainly to "demonstrate his resolve" to the Iraqi people as well as to the U.S. Congress.

But the paper says the U.S. president must also assuage the fears of the American people by making clear that progress is being made and that success in Iraq is vital to U.S. security interests. Even some supporters of the war have suggested that the importance of staying the course in Iraq "hasn't been successfully communicated to the public."

"[What] we are doing in Iraq needs to be clarified," the paper says. "The president's approval rating is now the lowest it has ever been, and this is in large part due to creeping public opinion that the situation in Iraq may be spinning out of control."

"The Washington Times" says U.S. citizens "[need] to understand that freedom and democracy in Iraq set an example for the greater Middle East and end Iraq's availability as a base of operations for terrorists."

And should eventual U.S. success in Iraq call for a prolonged -- or increased -- military commitment, a "better popular understanding of U.S. policy would make it easier for Americans to accept possible military escalation."


The New York daily's David Brooks says President Bush's 24 May speech "made it clear that military victories alone will not secure Iraq. America keeps winning victories, but somehow the violence just keeps on coming."

And "[the] longer Americans keep control, the bigger the mess grows," says Brooks.

In his speech this week, "the only real way to secure Iraq, Bush argued, is through self-governing democracy. Only representative self-government denies the terrorists the pretext they need to kill. [It] is only through self-government that Iraq can become secure."

But Brooks says it is "a huge gamble" to assume "that the solution to chaos is liberty," that cornerstone of American political belief. Bush's speech seemed to maintain "with absolute confidence that the Iraqis are democrats at heart."

Bush is now "putting this tenet of America's national creed to a fearsome test in the worst possible circumstances. For the past year, Americans have committed horrible blunders. And if this gamble fails, it won't be only the competence of U.S. officials that will be called into question -- it will be the American creed itself."

If the United States "muddles through in Iraq and some semidemocratic nation slowly emerges," Brooks says "it won't be because of American skill. It will be because the democratic creed is so strong it can withstand the highest incompetence."

And if it all turns out well, "then Iraqis will feel they control their lives." But Brooks says right now, "that happy outcome feels a long way away."


The daily's Brussels-based edition discusses last week's raid on the home and offices of longtime U.S. ally Ahmad Chalabi, a member of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council and leader of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), an emigre opposition group during the reign of Saddam Hussein. Chalabi has been accused of passing high-level U.S. government secrets to Iran, but the paper says there is clearly "much more going on here than a fight over one man's credibility."

The editorial calls the raid "curious" and notes: "None of his accusers is ever on the record, and no one has explained how Mr. Chalabi would have access to such U.S. secrets. But someone in the U.S. government clearly wants to damage him."

The paper cites a classified, Pentagon-sponsored intelligence assessment that said Chalabi's INC was "directly responsible" for providing information that has helped achieve U.S. goals in Iraq and that has saved the lives of many U.S. soldiers.

"Does this sound like the work of 'con men' opposed to U.S. interests in Iraq?" the editorial asks dryly.

The paper suggests Chalabi "is a pawn in a much larger battle that is strategic, ideological and personal." The INC and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) have often differed over Saddam-era intelligence estimates. And ideological struggles continue over Iraq's future governance. Chalabi's support for moderate Shi'a leaders "puts him at odds with Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN special envoy to Iraq."

There are "many people, in the UN and U.S. government, who were only too happy to see Mr. Chalabi humiliated in that raid and then trashed," the paper says.

"The mystery is how any of this serves U.S. interests," the paper writes. "Iraqis have now witnessed America turn quickly against, and even ransack the home of, one of its longtime allies. This will not make more of them eager to take our side."


A contribution to the Paris-based daily by Husain Haqqani, a former official serving in several Pakistani governments and now of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, also discusses Ahmad Chalabi's sudden and mysterious fall from Washington's good graces.

Haqqani points out that the Chalabi affair "is not an isolated incident of the United States making a mistake in its choice of overseas friend, nor of deserting him." The United States "has embraced numerous characters of dubious integrity, from President Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines to the Shah of Iran."

"Perhaps the Chalabi affair will prompt some thinking in Washington" about how to avoid choosing bad allies. Washington also "needs to figure out a way of cutting ties with undesirable allies without deepening the impression that America does not stand by its friends."

Chalabi was an exile "adopted by a U.S. faction because he provided it with arguments that advanced their strategic vision. But even if the intention behind the neoconservative vision for war in Iraq -- the creation of an Arab democracy -- was noble, its Iraqi architect, Chalabi, was far from an above-board ally." Haqqani says a nation "like the United States, which claims a moral purpose in the world, cannot afford to let ends justify the means."

Chalabi's supporters in Washington "chose to whitewash Chalabi's record. His lack of support among Iraqis was glossed over. The inability to verify his intelligence was ignored. And no one in the U.S. government or the U.S. media adequately questioned Chalabi's past financial dealings."

This "unqualified support" is more evidence that U.S. relations often lack nuance, Haqqani says. "Ideally, America's friends abroad should share America's proclaimed values." And the United States should offer only its qualified support when it is "forced to join hands with unsavory characters for strategic reasons."


Author and former UN public information official Ingrid Lehman, now a fellow at Harvard University's Shorenstein Center, discusses the U.S. administration's attempts to carve out a larger role for the United Nations in the transition from occupation to a sovereign Iraq on 30 June.

She says that, while there is still "no common understanding of what 'sovereignty' would really mean in Iraq under present conditions," it is already clear that "after rejecting a role for the UN for more than a year, the Bush administration now wants it to assume responsibility for the transition process." But the UN "is treading carefully and may well take far less of a role than the leading one the U.S. so suddenly seems to want for the organization."

Lehman says it is "little wonder" that the UN -- "having been warned by Mr. Bush that it would 'fade into history as an ineffective, irrelevant, debating society' if it did not support his war plans -- is not rushing back to Baghdad." And she questions whether this sudden U.S. desire for renewed UN involvement is part of Washington's exit strategy.

"Setting the UN up for failure is a tactic that has become all too common" in U.S. policy, she says. Its missions have often involved filling a "policy vacuum," inheriting mistakes from other international actors or becoming involved in missions for which it lacked necessary support.

"Thus, as the Bush administration again courts favor with the UN, it seems to many observers like another attempt to put the monkey on the UN's back," Lehman says. And the UN, "having shouldered more than its share of intractable burdens in recent years, needs to be very careful how it approaches this latest challenge."


A Stratfor analysis today looks at the progression of the Single Economic Space (SES) agreed between Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus. The elimination of trade barriers is due to take effect soon, "but progress will remain slow on many fronts," says Stratfor. The union aims to coordinate monetary, tax and other fiscal policies as well as allow the free movement of goods, labor and services across member borders. Russia has also agreed to lift the value-added tax on oil exports to SES members.

The SES seeks to emulate the European Union model, and its four members "hope that their integration will help to smooth the path for acceptance into the European Union itself -- although this is a long-term prospect indeed," says Stratfor.

The United States and even some SES leaders have opposed, to varying degrees, these countries' reintegration with Russia. But Stratfor says, "[all] four countries -- which share many common ties, including language and long-standing economic interdependencies -- stand to gain much from integration, not the least of which is the prospect of hearty increases in economic growth. This group of four sees the [SES] as an opportunity to progress toward eventual membership in the European Union and the World Trade Organization."

Progress is steadily being made within the SES, and "stems largely from the realization among governing elites in these countries that their own membership in the European Union is likely a decade, if not 20 years, down the road." Despite the "initial reluctance" of Commonwealth of Independent States members to rejoin Russia, many of their leaders "now believe it is time to start counting on one another -- not to bank on Brussels to strengthen their economies."


The British daily's leader today takes a look at the draft resolution on transferring sovereignty to Iraq presented on 24 May at the UN by the British and U.S. governments. The resolution remains vague on whether Iraqi sovereignty will be "genuine or cosmetic," says the paper. And how will the UN ensure that Iraqis approve of what is happening in their country?

Also at the heart of the matter are questions pertaining to the foreign troop presence and how long they will remain in the country. "A transfer of sovereignty will mean little to ordinary Iraqis if they continue to see heavy-handed foreign troops all over their streets, at checkpoints, in convoys, and in action against their cities. In many parts of Iraq foreign forces are seen as the problem rather than the solution. They incite violence rather than reduce it. Even before the scandal of [Abu Ghurayb], their actions were creating resentment, anger and kindling a desire for revenge."

And the draft UN resolution fails to address these issues. "In one breath the U.S. and UK governments say foreign troops will stay no longer than needed. In another, they ask the UN to endorse a full year's mandate for the foreign forces with an option of further renewal." Unless a date is set for a withdrawal of coalition troops, "there is no incentive to rebuild Iraq's forces quickly. Nor is there any pressure to produce a clear and phased plan for Iraqi forces to take over from U.S. units."

A coalition withdrawal "could be reversed if security conditions [worsen], or if Iraqis ask for the troops to stay longer. In the meantime, a clearly expressed determination for the troops to leave makes psychological and political sense."

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