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Western Press Review: Searching For Motives For Anti-U.S. Terrorist Attacks

By Joel Blocke and Annie Hillar

Prague, 11 August 1998 (RFE/RL) - Friday's terrorist attacks on two U.S. embassies in East Africa continue to evoke much commentary today in the Western press. With the death toll from the blasts in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam now well over 200, commentators and analysts seek the reasons for the terrorists' actions and assess their importance.

NEW YORK TIMES: Washington failed to safeguard diplomats

In its second editorial in four days on the subject, the New York Times says that, "as Washington mourns those who died in Kenya and Tanzania last week and begins the difficult hunt for the terrorists who spilled so much blood, it must reckon with its own failure to safeguard American diplomats. Not enough," the paper says, "has been done to improve security at American embassies and consulates, especially in places like Africa where the threat of terrorist attack was considered low." The editorial continues: "In an era when terrorism presents as great a threat to the security of Americans overseas as do foreign armies, spending...more than one percent of the annual defense budget on embassy security is hardly unreasonable. Nor is the safety of American diplomats less important than the esthetic quality of embassy buildings....That does not require an intimidating fortress." The paper adds: "Congressional leaders ought to find the money for these improvements as soon as Congress reconvenes in September....Other proposed responses under discussion in Washington are less appealing, including the misguided idea that the United States should retaliate against suspected terrorists even without hard evidence of their involvement in a specific attack. Such revenge fantasies would do more to incite terrorism than to deter it."

The editorial concludes: "Equally dangerous is the idea that the White House should lift the presidential ban on government-sanctioned assassination so the CIA can arrange for the murder of suspected terrorists. Democracies that employ the techniques of terror risk becoming indistinguishable from the terrorists they pursue."

NEW YORK TIMES: U.S. foreign policy full of empty bluster

In a commentary in the same paper today, foreign-affairs columnist Thomas Friedman notes that, "in the wake of the U.S. embassy bombings in East Africa, the White House kept putting out the same sound bite on every network: An unnamed senior official was quoted as saying: 'We will not forgive and we will not forget.'" Friedman calls that "a noble sentiment" but, he adds, "there is only one problem. If you look at the Clinton Administration's foreign policy over the past two years, there has been a consistent pattern of forgiving and forgetting." The commentary cites recent U.S. policies toward Iraq, Israel and Kosovo as examples of what Friedman considers Washington's talking but not acting tough. He then writes: "Albright has all the right rhetoric for a secretary of state with an activist president behind her. But activist rhetoric without an activist president looks like empty bluster. We end up with all the disadvantages of being the world's richest and most powerful nation -- everyone makes you a target -- without any of the advantages, like feeling as though we are shaping world events our way."

Friedman concludes: "It seems in recent months as though we have gone from a one-superpower world to a no-superpower world, and that is something no one should forget or forgive."

HEARST NEWSPAPERS: Africa attacks postpone other foreign policy measures

Writing for the United States Hearst Newspapers today, Paris-based columnist Bernard Kaplan says that "the Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam terrorist attacks...have made allied intervention against the Serbs in Kosovo less likely in the near future and have put off yet another showdown with Iraq." He adds: "The bomb blasts probably also mean there will be reduced U.S. pressure for the time being on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to cede control of additional West Bank territory to the Palestinians." Kaplan writes in explanation: "Few governments find it easy to deal simultaneously with more than one major foreign crisis. This is especially true of the U.S. government, which depends to such a large extent on popular support at home for its foreign-policy initiatives."

Kaplan goes on to say: "Nobody has to remind President Clinton that Americans will now have little interest in cracking down on Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic over his repression of the Albanians in Kosovo or even in twisting the arm of Iraq's Saddam Hussein violating United Nations sanctions stemming from the 1991 Persian Gulf War. The U.S. public's concern has shifted. People are burning with anger over last Friday's bombings, which have so far killed at least 210 and injured more than 5,000."

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: Africa blasts not the beginning of a new age of terrorism

The daily Christian Science Monitor, published in Boston, comments today: "Last week's tragic, unconscionably cruel bombings of innocent East Africans and Americans have produced dire forecasts of a new age of unpredictable, strike-anywhere-anytime terrorism. The more scholarly take their cue from Samuel Huntington's 1996 book, 'The Clash of Civilization and the Remaking of World Order,' which argued that at the end of the cold war a Pandora's box of ethnic and religious collisions would spring up to challenge world stability." The Monitor's editorial continues: "But...the cowardly, blind vengeance that so tragically struck the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania is neither unprecedented nor the harbinger of a new era of unstoppable attacks....Intelligence agencies and police painstakingly tracked down and brought to justice such past would-be assassins of the peaceable global village. We are confident U.S. and international investigators will do the same to those who killed so many totally innocent people in East Africa. In doing so," the paper sums up, " they will assure people worldwide that this is not the start of a new age of terrorism. Society is used to fighting local crime. It now is learning to fight international crime."

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: Incompetence of Kenyas government after the bombing revealed

Across the Atlantic, two German newspapers today comment on what they consider the sorry state of Black Africa. Writing from Nairobi for the Frankfurter Rundschau, Christopher Plate says that Kenya's Government showed what he calls "massive incompetence" in the aftermath of the terrorist bombing there. He writes in a commentary: "It is becoming increasingly clear how differently the Kenyan people have reacted to the catastrophe: on the one side 'the man in the street' and unquestioning assistance, on the other the Kenyan Government of Daniel arap Moi and the question visitors to Kenya know so well: 'How much is it worth?'" Plate writes further: "On the side of the government, the ministries, the police and the fire brigade, there is scandalous incompetence, lack of coordination and panic. Increasing numbers of Kenyans are asking themselves if the Government's pathetic showing will have political consequences. But nobody is seriously reckoning with this. Guilt, or even just the question of what could have been done better, do not seem to be in this regime's vocabulary."

The commentary adds: "The government members at the scene, the many ministers with their entourages of advisers and bodyguards, and the high-ranking soldiers and policemen do not appear to show any shame for the miserable performance they have given here. As if it were theirs for the asking, they have sat back while the tireless Israeli rescue specialists and British soldiers stationed in Kenya have selflessly given their help."

DIE WELT: No end in sight to violence in Africa

In Die Welt, Thomas Knemeyer speaks of what he calls "Africa's Postponed Future." In a commentary, he writes from Cape Town: " Poor Mother Africa! The rest of the world only notices the continent that gave birth to humanity when it is being scourged by famine, pilloried by civil war or -- as now -- when terrorists throw bombs at embassies." For the time being, he says, "there is no sign of a renaissance on the African horizon. In the Congo and in Angola, fighting has broken out anew. In Sudan, the Islamic regime and Christian rebels are letting hundreds of thousands die because the two opponents only care about grabbing or holding power in Africa's largest flatland country, not about the commandments in the Koran and the Bible." Knemeyer goes on: "Ethiopia and Eritrea are waging a largely bloodless border war against each other, a war all the more senseless because both countries are allies of the U.S. In Guinea-Bissau, part of the army has revolted against President Joao Vieira. In Sierra Leone, Rwanda and Burundi horrifying massacres have continued.... And the bloody, unbroken feud between Tutsis and Hutus in central Africa rages as fiercely as it ever did." He sums up: "The African renaissance has gained a foothold only in southern Africa --if anywhere at all."

EL PAIS: All terrorism is political

Spain's El Pais daily today writes: "U.S. information services say that they already have concrete leads --it's the least they can say. Inevitably, too, they resort to the religious element, that is, to one of the (world's) various angry fundamentalist creeds." The paper's editorial says "thats taking the wrong track," explaining: "All terrorism is political. One doesn't kill for Allah, Christ or Yahweh, but for directly material objectives onto which are grafted a sainted and spiritual significance."

The editorial continues: "One kills to end the Arab-Israeli peace process, or because there is no such process; to impede or stop the 'Great Satan' U.S. menace from its ultimate planetary hegemony or because it isn't menacing enough; to unite or destroy nations....These forms of terrorism aren't born from religion, although religion can exacerbate them, but from more or less concealed political opposition."

FINANCIAL TIMES: United States increasingly vulnerable to terrorist acts

Britain's Financial Times yesterday said that the terrorist attacks in East Africa "pose monumental challenges for President Bill Clinton." In an editorial, the paper wrote: "Not only does (Clinton) have to explain the failure of the world's most sophisticated security apparatus and intelligence network. He also has to prepare the nation for what could be a long and arduous process of bringing those responsible to justice." According to the paper, "the U.S. record in determining responsibility for terrorist attacks has been poor (in the past. And today) in the post-Cold War era, the U.S. role as the world's policeman makes it increasingly vulnerable to terrorist acts, especially from groups angered by what they perceive as American support for illegitimate leaders." The editorial continues: "Dealing with this threat will require a reassessment of intelligence policy, which now relies heavily on technology such as satellite surveillance. It should shift back to traditional work with informers and infiltration."