Accessibility links

Breaking News

Western Press Review: Coalition-Building In Middle East To Macedonia And Chechnya

Prague, 5 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Several commentaries in the Western press today look at the difficulties inherent in forming an antiterrorism coalition that includes nations in the Middle East and the delicate diplomatic balance that this entails. Other issues addressed include the situation in Macedonia and the ongoing conflict in Chechnya.


In the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," columnist Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger considers the difficulties faced by Arab nations in joining the U.S.-led coalition against terror. He says the political price they are having to pay is immense. Frankenberger writes that Arab nations "walk a dangerous tightrope between anti-American sentiment and the battle against terrorism under U.S. leadership. No country in the Middle East is prepared to permit military strikes to be launched from its own territory against the Islamic terrorist network and the Taliban [--] not Oman, and certainly not Saudi Arabia."

He says that Saudi Arabia, as the birthplace of Islamic extremist Osama bin Laden, faces particular difficulties: "The leaders of Washington's key ally in the Gulf region are aware of the consequences they would face if the kingdom were now to take sides in a war against an Islamic state and an Islamic terrorist 'godfather' already revered as a national hero in his own country."

Frankenberger goes on to say that the United States should not expect too much from its allies in the Middle East. Instead, he writes, "What it must do is strengthen diplomatic, political and other cooperation. As the leader of the anti-terror alliance, the United States must not overtax its partners in an already delicate situation."


An editorial in Britain's "The Independent" discusses the evidence presented by Prime Minister Tony Blair yesterday (4 October) regarding the complicity of prime suspect Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda network in the 11 September attacks. The paper says that, despite its "obvious weaknesses, [the] dossier is more than enough to justify action against Al-Qaeda." The circumstantial evidence alone, it says, "would be sufficient to bring a case against Mr. bin Laden, even if [it] would not be enough to secure a conviction in court."

But "The Independent" goes on to warn against broadening the aims of any operation against bin Laden. It says that unless the antiterrorism coalition's goals remain focused and clearly stated, they have little chance of being achieved. It writes:

"[There] is a real danger, as in any military action, of widening the range of targets. Already it seems that the 'war aims' are being extended to include the toppling of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and its replacement with an unknown government less likely to tolerate terrorism. [This] is undoubtedly an odious regime which denies fundamental human rights to much of its people. But attempting to put right those wrongs is very different from trying to bring the planners of the murderous suicide hijackings to justice."


An editorial in "The New York Times" writes: "With bloodshed between Israelis and Palestinians now seen as an obstacle to enlisting Arab states in an anti-terrorism coalition, the Bush administration's interest in settling the Mideast conflict seems suddenly more urgent. That is a promising turn."

The editorial says that U.S. President George W. Bush's stated support this week for a future Palestinian state "could prove constructive -- provided his words are part of an evenhanded American effort to damp down the violence and encourage renewed peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians."

"With neither side apparently able to break the cycle of violence on its own, Washington has a duty to become more actively involved," it writes. "Invoking distant visions of Palestinian statehood can be part of that effort. But the more urgent need is to find ways to help make the latest cease-fire effective and lasting."


A piece in "The New York Times" by columnist R.W. Apple Jr. looks at U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's trip to the Middle East this week to build up support for the U.S.-led war on terrorism. Apple says that Rumsfeld's visit is "part of a major effort to coordinate [antiterrorist] coalition policy more effectively in advance of initial operations." But the U.S. effort to gain support in the Arab world faces many difficulties, says Apple.

He writes: "Rumsfeld is trying to patch together a coalition of unaligned and potentially unstable countries for a mission that is not yet fully defined. The central strategic conundrum is this: The more the United States presses moderate, often autocratic, leaders in the Middle East to help in its campaign, the more it jeopardizes them. If they go too far, they risk, at best, being labeled American stooges, and at worst, losing power to Islamic militants in their own societies." Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt have already pledged their support, but each faces resistance to the U.S. mission within their own countries.

Apple says that many other questions also await answers. "The most important relates to the Taliban government in Afghanistan, which has aided and abetted Mr. bin Laden's operations. Should the United States seek to oust it?" he asks. "If so, how, overtly or surreptitiously? And if the Taliban goes, who should replace it?"


In "The Washington Post," Charles Krauthammer debates the ultimate goal of the war on terrorism. While narrow war aims are often preferable, he says, a broad objective is the only one that will stem the terrorist threat. Finding Osama bin Laden and putting him on trial would create a "media circus," says Krauthammer. Nor would killing him solve the problem. "Kill him and another will arise," Krauthammer writes, adding: "In fact, we already know who the successor is: Osama's second in command, Ayman Zawahiri." And if the Al-Qaeda network is taken down, "other networks will form -- as long as there are states in the region ready to nurture, protect and use terrorists."

This, Krauthammer continues, is "why the war on terrorism cannot be just about individuals. It must be about governments. [Even] the State Department [has] come around to the idea that getting Osama is not enough. The Taliban regime must fall too."

Furthermore, he adds, it is time to go after state-sponsored terrorism on a broad scale. He writes: "This does not mean invading every country. It means getting some regimes to change policies and others to fall -- whether by economic and diplomatic pressure, internal revolt or, as a last resort, military action. At a time like this, the imprudent ones are those who simply want to lop off one tentacle of the terrorist threat." But doing that, he concludes, "will give us satisfaction, a sense of accomplishment, and an entirely false sense of security."


An analysis in the "Financial Times" by Roula Khalaf traces the roots of the Al-Qaeda network and says four main factors explain its appeal to Muslim populations. First, Khalaf says, Al-Qaeda is the result of the search for a new cause by veterans of the U.S.-supported Afghan battle against the Soviets in the 1980s. She writes: "When the war was over, they joined the subsequent battles in Bosnia, Kashmir and Chechnya, fighting alongside other Muslims. Along the way, they turned against the U.S., which was perceived as having abandoned them after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan and as having adopted a Middle East policy seen as a new form of colonization."

The second factor is the rise of mainstream and other non-violent Islamic movements, some of which eventually became a threat to the established socio-political orders. Some of these establishments resorted to repressing these movements, resulting in a radicalization of views. A third element is the number of Arab migrants to the West, who feel victimized and oppressed daily by the demands of cultural integration. Khalaf writes: "The social profile of the migrant recruit can be disenfranchised, marginalized youth [who] are attracted by Mr. bin Laden's focus on political issues."

Finally, the failure of many Arab governments to deliver on political pledges and the resulting disenchantment has translated for some, Khalaf says, "into anger towards the U.S., which supports domestic regimes but is seen by ordinary Arabs as following a foreign policy of 'double standards.' Arabs criticize the U.S. for maintaining United Nations sanctions against Iraq while ignoring Israel's obligations under UN resolutions" to cease settlement of the occupied territories and revise its Palestinian policy.


"The Washington Post" carries dual editorials addressing two regions of conflict that have been somewhat eclipsed by the events of 11 September. The paper carries one editorial calling the disarmament of ethnic Albanian rebels in Macedonia "a rare diplomatic success." It says that although the Macedonian parliament must still pass significant constitutional reforms giving greater rights to Albanians, as well as amnesty to the rebels, the "process appears to be working." But it says the success thus far highlights the importance of continued U.S. engagement in the Balkans.

The paper writes: "Macedonia is demonstrating how a close European-American partnership can yield real results in a part of the world that has bedeviled the West for a decade. Now policymakers need to begin thinking about answers for the larger questions of the Balkans, such as how the political aspirations of Kosovo's Albanians will be addressed, and how stable governments and borders can be created in the former Yugoslav republics of Serbia, Bosnia and Montenegro."

It says that "After 11 September, solving such festering regional problems has become more rather than less important. Muslim extremists have tried for some time to establish footholds in the Balkans. Europeans may need to take on still more responsibility as operations against terrorism are undertaken in Central Asia."


A second editorial in "The Washington Post" looks at the conflict in Chechnya, and says, with irony, that Russian President Vladimir Putin has "made remarkable progress" in his attempts to equate his brutal military campaign in Chechnya to the new war on terrorism. The paper writes: "Chechnya is not a terrorist syndicate or an Islamic movement but a nation conquered by Russia in the 19th century that for more than a decade has been seeking to regain self-rule. Its leader, Aslan Maskhadov, is not an Islamic extremist [but] a pro-Western politician who was democratically elected in 1997, two years before Mr. Putin chose to reverse a peace accord by sending 80,000 Russian troops to invade the republic."

The editorial says that most important, however, is the fact that the brutal atrocities of the Chechen conflict have been perpetuated "not by international terrorists or the rebels but by Mr. Putin's own Russian forces. Russian and Western human rights groups have extensively and meticulously documented hundreds of war crimes by Russian troops."

The editorial continue: "It is thanks to such tactics [that] a handful of rebel formations have appeared.[Russia's] rejection of Chechen political rights and its refusal to negotiate with Mr. Maskhadov, combined with its massive and systematic human rights violations, have led to endless war and anarchy that have provided an opening for the foreign terrorists."


There is more to Russia's rapprochement with the West than meets the eye, says Daniel Broessler in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung." Since the attack on the U.S., Putin has declared on several occasions that the two countries have a common enemy. Yesterday's plane crash in the Black Sea has only strengthened the connection for Putin, who was quick to call the incident the result of a terrorist act. Broessler writes: "[Putin] is aware of the global aspect of terrorism, and he was the first world statesman to recognize this fact."

Putin's speedy and unequivocal support for the United States in its hour of need showed that "Putin has presented himself as a master of meandering. He has raised flexibility to the level of statesmanship." Before this, he was desperate to reinstate Russia's rapidly decreasing position as a world power overshadowed by America. Now, Broessler says, "Putin no longer fears America's proximity. He is searching for the closest of contacts to the U.S., EU and even NATO. His line is unambiguous, his motives are incontestable."

Broessler says that even skeptics must recognize that Putin has sided with the U.S. not merely for tactical reasons. He writes: "In identifying the common enemy, Putin has seen both the chance and the need to fundamentally improve his relationship with the West."


An editorial in the Swiss "Neue Zuercher Zeitung" says Putin's talks in Brussels this week left both sides happy. Putin can look forward to the establishment in Europe of new security cooperation agreements, and high-ranking German politicians are almost delirious at the thought of Russia's membership in NATO and EU.

But, the editorial says, "One can't help getting the impression that something might go radically wrong in communications with Moscow." It may be natural to include Russia in an antiterrorist coalition, even though the Russians will be of little practical assistance. But such cooperation should not blind the West to the nature of Russia's engagement in Chechnya. The fact that Islamic extremists have joined the rebels in the Caucasus is, above all, the result of Russia's policy of force -- not its justification.


An article in "The Economist" this week says that the United States and the antiterrorism coalition will not just be fighting military battles, but also must wage what it calls "a propaganda war" for public opinion. It writes that the term "propaganda" has come "to have a derogatory meaning, of the dissemination of untruths. [But in] this case, America's task is [to] disseminate truths, about its motives, about its intentions, about its current and past actions in Israel and Iraq, about its views of Islam. For all that, however, this part of the war promises to be no easier to win than the many other elements of the effort."

The weekly says that this battle for public opinion "will be vital if the coalition of allies is to be maintained [amid] the inevitable setbacks; and it will be most vital of all if defeats of these particular terrorists are to be followed up, as they should be, by a wider effort to make the ensuing peace more secure, within Central Asia and the Middle [East]."

The weekly goes on to note that countries in the Arab world "are nervous about hasty action. Governments there are concerned about their own publics' opinions, and the views of powerful factions within their countries." This, the article says, "argues for caution, and for careful preparation. Most of all, though, it argues for the release of some of the evidence for the guilt of Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda network."


Alain Frachon, writing in France's "Le Monde," asks: "Has the geopolitical landscape really changed? Has the fight against terrorism become the organizing principle of international relations, one that would relegate to the background a multitude of other conflicts?"

After the events of 11 September, he says, many did not hesitate to declare such a general shift: the fight against terrorism became the priority of priorities, it reoriented the diplomacy of a number of states. The attacks on the U.S. made it necessary to ignore the old divisions and to conclude new alliances, while the United States assembled a most eclectic coalition against terrorism -- including not only the European allies but Russia, China, many of the Arab states, the Palestinians, Iran, Pakistan, and even Sudan.

But, Frachon asks, "did the attempts by Washington convince the members of the coalition to relegate to the background their own interests of state, when these do not mix with the fight against terrorism?" His answer: "Nothing is less certain."

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this Press Review)