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Western Press Review: Debating A Response To The U.S. Attacks

Prague, 19 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Several commentaries and analyses in the Western press today examine the different options of the United States and its allies in responding to last week's attacks on New York and Washington. Many commentators urge a deliberate and measured response, warning that any hasty, ill-considered retaliation will do more harm than good. Other analyses consider the aftermath of the attacks in broader terms, and looks at how the events of 11 September have changed the world.


A "Washington Post" editorial says: "Military force must certainly play a role in the coming campaign, and Afghanistan now looks like one place where it may be needed." The paper goes on to say the United States must take effective action against Islamic extremist Osama bin Laden, and stop him from operating training camps for what it calls "aspiring terrorists." If the Taliban rejects demands for bin Laden's extradition, the Post says, "some kind of military pressure should be brought against it."

The editorial continues: "A quick offensive of missile or air strikes in the coming days, however, could do more harm than good. Both Mr. bin Laden's organization and the Taliban leadership reportedly have dispersed or gone into hiding. There is little infrastructure left to destroy in the Afghan capital Kabul or other cities. There are, however, hundreds of thousands of miserable Afghan civilians, already starved for food and shelter, who could be further harmed by indiscriminate bombing. Potential U.S. allies in the long-term struggle, particularly in the Arab world, could quickly shy away from cooperation if the United States is seen to launch another unilateral air campaign against a Muslim country."

The paper observes that the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush seems to be preparing for a "larger, slower and surer" campaign. It writes: "Afghanistan already has been bled nearly dry, and the world has grown skeptical of hasty resort to air strikes following previous incidents of terrorism." The Post advises: "President Bush should not rush."


In the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," columnist Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger considers the political implications behind the Taliban's decision over whether to allow bin Laden's extradition. Frankenberger, looking at the apparent reluctance of the Taliban to reach a decision, asks: "Is this an indication that a split is developing in the [regime]? Or are those in power in Kabul just playing for time by laying down conditions for an extradition, in order to give the impression that they are ready to be conciliatory?" In the end, he says, "it is hard to imagine that the Taliban will bow to the U.S. ultimatum. Their spiritual leader Mullah Mohammed Omar has said quite clearly that Mr. bin Laden will not be extradited. A military confrontation therefore seems likely."

Frankenberger goes on to suggest that Europeans should get used to the idea they may be called upon to lend their military support. He adds that those nations and individuals who argue against a retaliatory strike on humanitarian grounds must realize that a strategic offensive will not be the only method used in this battle. He writes: "This war will be fought in many places and with many weapons. Those who confine themselves to righteous indignation will have to decide whether they want to help fight this war or whether they -- in intentional or unconscious solidarity with groups like the Taliban -- want to help perpetrators pass themselves off as victims."


The "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" carries an editorial commenting on Russian-American relations. Since the end of the Cold War, it says, there have been many questions and few answers. Now, "at the outset of the 'gray war,' the reverse is happening: The Americans only have one question, to which the Russians are giving many replies." As a result, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov will be faced with a pointed question during talks today and tomorrow with U.S. officials: "Are you for us or against us in the fight against terror?"

Russia's position since the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington has wavered between broad statements of support and an apparent unwillingness to open air space or military bases for use by the U.S. Russia's foreign policy is currently suffering from a "lack of orientation," says the paper. A new orientation, it suggests, will cost little and gain much. In the past, Moscow has felt it grew smaller the more it conceded to Washington. Russia, the paper says, "must overcome this complex. Only then will it become a self-confident partner."


In "The New York Times," columnist Thomas Friedman writes from Jordan that the United States needs the help of moderate Arab states to fight the war on terrorism. "And for now," he writes, "most of these Arab leaders are ready to cooperate with us -- because enough of their publics are tilted our way. But the moderate Arab leaders are praying that the United States will proceed carefully and surgically, because they know that public opinion here, even after all the American deaths, is by no means solidly pro-American."

Friedman quotes Jordan's King Abdullah as saying that the U.S. and Arab nations must work closely together. He also quotes him as saying: "The terrorists are trying to break down the fabric of the United States. They want to break down what America stands for. The terrorists actually want to provoke attacks on Arabs or Muslims in the United States, because if the American communities start going after each other, [then] you destroy that special thing that America stands for. That's what the terrorists want."

Part of the U.S. strategy against terrorism, Friedman concludes, should be to lend political and economic support to moderate Arab nations. He writes: "Terrorists thrive in failing, stagnant, weak states with illegitimate regimes -- not countries on the rise."


In the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," Holger Steltzner considers the economic implications of the attacks on the United States. Since U.S. markets reopened on 17 September for the first time since the attacks, heavy losses were reported on stock exchanges around the world. These losses, Steltzner says, should not be taken lightly.

He writes: "[The] risks to further global economic development are too great for market players simply to carry on as usual, and [interest] rate cuts by central banks around the globe, coupled with powerful injections of liquidity for the banking system, are more than just a tranquilizer for nervous market operators. These concerted measures are critical to investor and consumer confidence in monetary policymakers' power of action."

These responses are important signals, he says, which indicate that "at a time of crisis, international cooperation between central banks and government financial strategists is working."

Steltzner goes on to say that while no economist can put a precise figure on the economic impact of the terrorist attack, "it is already apparent that the coming weeks and months will see businesses issuing a flood of further profit warnings." There is much to suggest that the U.S. economy will slip into recession, he says, even while there is reason to hope that instead of a protracted downturn, the recession will be both mild and brief.

Yet again, he says, "American consumer confidence will be crucial." Steltzner adds that "European stock exchanges take their lead from Wall Street, and at this time of crisis they are not suddenly going to develop momentum of their own."


An editorial in France's "Le Monde" says that in response to last week's attacks, "the target has been chosen." Bin Laden is wanted "dead or alive," according to U.S. President George W. Bush. But this target will be a difficult one, it says.

"It will not be enough to destroy the bin Laden network in Afghanistan, nor the [system] that he has with the Taliban regime," writes "Le Monde." In order to successfully target Osama bin Laden, one must dismantle his extensive financial network. To do this, the paper says, one must pursue "the financial havens which allow for the diversion of dirty money and its laundering; they ensure porousness between the legal world and the world of crime and terrorism. It is this absence of transparency that bin Laden takes advantage of," the daily writes.

Targeting bin Laden demands that the United States makes some meaningful revisions in approach if it hopes to successfully apprehend him, concludes "Le Monde."


In Britain's "Financial Times," Alexander Nicoll and Stephen Fidler consider the prospects for success of a military attack on the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which many believe is a likely next step for the United States. They write: "The U.S. would count intervention in Afghanistan a success if it prevented the country being used as a base for a terrorist network led by [Osama] bin Laden or anyone else. But this feat could be only one step towards the more ambitious goal declared by Mr. Bush and Tony Blair, the British prime minister: to eradicate terrorism. That is a much taller order -- perhaps impossible," say the authors. "It would require an effort on a global scale to do something the British, Spanish, Indian and other governments have been attempting to do for decades with, at best, mixed success."

The authors quote John Chipman, director of the London-based think-tank the International Institute for Strategic Studies, as saying: "Most will dearly want America to succeed, not only so that they too can be freed from the scourge of terrorism but also because if America fails in such a task, the concept of world order will be relegated to the realm of imaginative literature."


A "Washington Post" editorial suggests ways in which the U.S. administration should proceed with respect to Pakistan's government in securing its cooperation with an intervention in Afghanistan. The challenge for the Bush administration, it says, is "to move Pakistan to the point where it can support military action against its erstwhile allies [the Taliban,] without itself being toppled by a domestic backlash."

"Some kind of backlash seems certain," the Post continues. "Pakistan's radical Islamic groups have already staged demonstrations to protest cooperation with the United States. The Bush administration needs to consider ways of managing this reaction that go beyond the usual fallback of doling out financial assistance."

The editorial suggests that open collaboration with Pakistan is the best method of securing its aid. The Bush administration, it says, "should allow Pakistan's government enough time to play out its Afghan diplomacy, so that Pakistanis are convinced that the alternative to military reprisals has at least been tried. It should share as much evidence as is prudent with Pakistan, so that the reasons for naming Mr. bin Laden as the chief suspect behind last week's atrocities become clearer. And the administration should seek as far as possible to target its military action. In the aftermath of slaughter, Pakistanis sympathize with American suffering. But if the United States is perceived to be killing civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan's cooperation will become more difficult."

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)