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Western Press Review: Nation-Building, Russia's Economic Revival, Strained Relations

Prague, 30 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary and analysis in the Western press looks at the risks threatening to undermine "nation-building" efforts in Afghanistan and Uzbekistan's role in the "war against terror." Other topics include the climate-change conference taking place in Marrakesh, Russia's economic revival, and the strains in U.S.-Saudi relations brought about by the antiterrorism campaign.


In "The Washington Post," Jackson Diehl says that the U.S.-led campaign in Afghanistan risks failure for the same reasons as the disastrous 1992 intervention in Somalia's civil war, which ended with 29 highly trained U.S. soldiers being killed in what some critics called a feckless and misguided campaign. Political and military objectives, Diehl writes, should be considered in union. In Somalia, he writes, "[the] mission went wrong when the political and military objectives sharply diverged, along with the people running them." Another factor that undermined U.S. efforts in Somalia -- and now threatens the Afghan mission -- is "a lack of U.S. will to provide the resources or military clout needed to stabilize the country." In Somalia, he writes, the U.S. was unwilling to provide enough funding to create a functioning government or the necessary troop presence that would have prevented Somalian warlords from seizing power.

Diehl says that, as in Somalia, U.S. President George W. Bush "has let the political and military tracks diverge -- the bombing may be precisely targeted on the Taliban, but it has no political endgame to guide it."


An editorial in Britain's "The Independent" says that governments and the media "have an unfortunate but time-honored tendency to blame each other when things are perceived to be going wrong." It writes: "Now that the American-led 'war on terrorism' seems to be running into the sand, our first instincts in the media corner are to question the intentions and competence of our political leaders. Ministers, meanwhile, are quick to blame journalists."

The editorial says that in many ways, the media "has sacrificed authority and accuracy on the altar of round-the-clock news. The proliferation of statements, press conferences, and interviews, not just on the airwaves but in the columns of daily newspapers, all contribute to a barrage of noise that may indeed distort parts of the picture."

The paper concludes that: "[T]here will always be friction between governments and the media at times of military conflict: the imperatives of the two are too different to make for coziness. [But] in this campaign the messages from officials have been especially blurred and contradictory. This has raised justified questions about the precise means and objectives of the campaign. Asking such questions is our job -- and we will continue to ask, until we are given answers."


A "Financial Times" editorial says that Russia will be "one of the world's fastest-growing economies this year" and notes that the nation is even repaying its debt to the International Monetary Fund early. The paper writes: "The causes of the economic revival are threefold: the extraordinary weakness from which the economy has grown; the rise in oil prices; and structural reform." In addition, the editorial says, "President Vladimir Putin's ruthless strengthening of central government has improved corporate governance: the rule of law has forced Russian companies to stop simply stealing from shareholders or bankers. Tax reform has improved collection rates and removed many distortions. Urban land reform laws have passed though the parliament. And pension reform is pending."

The editorial adds, however, "much remains to be done. Reform of the financial system, dominated by state banks, has hardly started. Education and health-care systems remain weak. Complacency could set in. But the Russian economy has changed and the government deserves credit for its revival."


In the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," Karl Grobe analyzes Uzbekistan's role as a U.S. ally against the Taliban in Afghanistan. He says the most important post-Soviet state in Central Asia made a significant gesture in being notably absent from a recent meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which Uzbekistan joined only recently. The country's new partnership with the U.S., Grobe writes, may preclude its other relationships with more immediate neighbors.

The geographic position of Uzbekistan, he says, is of paramount importance for the coalition against terrorism. The trouble, he adds, is that the U.S. does not seem to be aware of what is at stake and is ignoring the human rights question of its "new protege." Grobe warns that a "partnership with dictators such as [President Islam] Karimov is dynamite, and will only be fully understood when it explodes."


In Belgium's "Le Soir," Michel de Muelenaere considers the prospects for the conference on climate change, which opened on 29 October in Marrakesh, Morocco.

De Muelenaere notes that after suffering a defeat at a conference in The Hague in November 2000, and after the U.S. rejected it as "fundamentally flawed" last March, the Kyoto Protocol was rescued at the last minute at a conference in Bonn in July. But the protocol lost much in this adventure, he says. Its scope was considerably reduced, as Europeans granted many concessions to unite a maximum number of industrial nations to the cause.

"Nevertheless," writes de Muelenaere, "Many consider a moth-eaten protocol better than nothing."

The participants have not yet reached agreement on several issues, the author notes. Russia wants to use so-called carbon "wells," such as forests and agricultural land -- which trap carbon dioxide -- to help it reach its emissions goals. The developing countries seek stricter obligations for industrial nations. And de Muelenaere says the delegates should also solve the question of how to verify the amount of gas emissions released by the signatories.

And will the United States, asks de Muelenaere, change its position on Kyoto, now that it seeks to woo allies for its coalition against terrorism? In the short term, probably not, he says. But he concludes that ultimately, the U.S. may have to shift its position.


An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" says the United States has accepted many concessions and contradictions in the interests of keeping the Saudi regime -- and the supply of oil -- stable. Now, the war on terrorism is showing that the building strains on U.S.-Saudi relations cannot hold, it says.

The paper writes: "If a more radical regime is going to take hold in Saudi Arabia, better to face that fact sooner rather than later. Coping with an overtly hostile Saudi government would at least have the virtue of clarity that doesn't exist today."

The editorial continues: "The U.S. is so fearful of 'instability' that it's afraid to criticize the current regime, much less encourage it to move in a more democratic direction. [The] U.S. has looked the other way while the Saudi ruling family has stifled even moderate challenges to its power. This in turn has bred radical Islam as the only outlet for dissent, which the Saudis have attempted to buy off with cash for fundamentalist mosques and schools..."

The result of this policy, the newspaper says, is "not only terrorism against America but a threat to the survival of the Saudi royals too. The only thing the admirers of Osama bin Laden hate more than the United States is the House of Saud itself. Does Prince Abdullah really believe [that] if somehow peace came to Palestine then bin Laden would leave them alone?"


In "Eurasia View," EurasiaNet contributing editor Alec Appelbaum says Russia is becoming "a more alluring source of energy for the West." But increasing Russian oil exports would probably come at the Caspian's expense, he says, even though prominent Western companies have already made large investments in the region.

"Indeed, all multinationals insist they will remain committed to developing Caspian Basin energy resources and export routes," he writes. But "[the] reaffirmation of oil companies to Caspian projects does not contradict the idea that Russia will gain economic advantage at the Caucasus' expense," Appelbaum adds. "It's good strategy for these companies to search for alternate sources of energy, far from the Middle East. Such a signal keeps investors and consumers confident.

"But Caspian activity has never really been a replacement for Persian Gulf routes," he writes. Appelbaum quotes energy consultant Peter Fusaro as saying that more than half of America's oil already comes from the Western hemisphere. Firms invest all over the world, so they never place too much at risk in one country.

Appelbaum writes: "In large measure, the Caspian region remains dependent on Russian investment and cooperation for its economic future. [An] increasingly attractive alternate [energy] source may well be a strong Russia."


A contribution to "The Wall Street Journal Europe" by author Michael Ledeen says, "An event of world-historical potential is under way in one of the largest and most powerful countries of the Middle East, yet almost no one seems to have noticed. Ever since the night of Oct. 12, the citizens of Iran have repeatedly demonstrated against the murderous Shiite theocracy that has oppressed them for the past 22 years. [These] events are unprecedented in the history of the Islamic Republic," says Ledeen. "They involved hundreds of thousands of people [from] all walks of life and of both sexes."

Ledeen continues: "It has long been clear that the Islamic regime has lost any semblance of popular support, and has maintained power only through the systematic use of terror against its people." Islamic radicalism, he says, "flourishes in corrupt, pro-American countries in the Middle East, but is hated in an anti-American, fundamentalist country like Iran."

Ledeen writes: "The future of freedom lies with the Iranian people, not with the Islamic regime in Tehran, just as it lies with the Syrian, Palestinian and Iraqi people, not their [rulers]. Sad to say, many of our most influential diplomats have been arguing for an alliance with the mullahs, which would represent a betrayal of brave people fighting for democracy in the streets of every major Iranian city, not to mention a betrayal of our own values."

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