Prague, 27 November 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western press today takes a hard look at the prospects for success of this week's conference near Bonn that aims to hammer out a framework for a post-Taliban government in Afghanistan. There is also analysis of the lengths that the U.S. seems willing to go in its efforts to bring suspected terrorists to justice, putting at risk fundamental American rights. Other topics examined include the U.S. recession and the controversial announcement of the first cloning of a human embryo by a U.S. medical research company.
In an editorial, Britain's "The Independent" says there comes a time in any conflict when everything seems to come together at a single crossroads, when "the outlines of a resolution are clarified and the combatants face their starkest choices. The conflict in Afghanistan has reached just such a juncture."
While the remnants of the Taliban hold out in Kandahar, and the U.S. moves ground forces into position, some 30 Afghan delegates from inside and outside the country gather near Bonn starting today for the purpose of forming an interim government.
On the face of it, "The Independent" writes, prospects for an accord look dim. With the fighting not yet over, it might be judged too early for such talks. But under the circumstances, says the paper, it is arguably almost too late. The collapse of the Taliban was so sudden, and the ability of the Northern Alliance to fill the power vacuum was so swift, that it risks making the objective of a fully representative Afghan government less and less attainable.
"Dominated by Tajiks and with a fair sprinkling of Uzbeks, a Northern Alliance administration would leave the largest ethnic group in the country, the Pashtuns, with no representation at the center of power," "The Independent" writes. "It would thus create precisely those conditions that fostered the rise of the predominately Pashtun Taliban in the first place."
At stake in this week's talks in Bonn is not only the future of Afghanistan but the stability of the entire region. The greatest responsibility, the newspaper says, rests squarely with the Afghan delegates themselves. They must put old disputes aside and consider those not directly represented at the talks. And the Northern Alliance has a special burden. "They must yield enough to convince other groups that their voices will be heard, but not so much that their own side rejects the agreement they have tried to make. After a generation of civil war, it is a tall order."
A "Stratfor" analysis takes a pessimistic view of this week's Bonn conference. "Little can be expected from the Bonn meeting, as Afghanistan has too many interested parties with too many disparate agendas," the commentary says. "Some sort of settlement will eventually be made, but it will only be a matter of time until Afghanistan devolves into its historic state of low-level chaos."
The "Stratfor" commentary notes the stark differences between the country's complex ethnic factions and the dozens of semi-autonomous "field commanders" who feel they should have some say in any new arrangement. In addition, "several significant factions aren't even attending the meetings, making negotiations next to impossible." Add to this the cracks that are beginning to emerge within the Northern Alliance itself, and it's only a matter of time, according to "Stratfor," before negotiations fall apart.
"The issue," it concludes, "is not how long it will take for an effective civil government to be formed, but how long it will be until the country slides back into factional warfare and backstabbing -- and whether the United States can wrap up its military operations before the infighting begins."
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
In "The New York Times," columnist William Safire criticizes U.S. President George W. Bush's decision to allow the Pentagon to form military courts to try non-U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism. Safire calls this decision a "dismaying departure from due process."
The Uniform Code of Military Justice, Safire writes, demands a public trial, proof beyond reasonable doubt, unanimity in death sentencing, and appellate review by civilians confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
"Not one of those fundamental rights can be found in Mr. Bush's military order setting up kangaroo courts for people he designates before trial to be terrorists," Safire writes. "Mr. Bush's fiat turns back the clock on all advances in military justice, through three wars, in the past half-century."
Safire predicts that Bush's denial of traditional human rights to non-citizens will backfire and will, in practice, actually weaken the war on terrorism. He says that Bush has undermined the antiterrorist coalition by ceding to nations overseas the high moral and legal ground long held by U.S. justice.
"On what leg does the U.S. now stand," Safire asks, "when China sentences an American to death after a military trial devoid of counsel chosen by the defendant?"
An editorial in Germany's "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" comments on the presence of U.S. ground forces in Afghanistan. For the first time since the Gulf War, the newspaper writes, American soldiers are going to fight on the land rather than bombing and aiming rockets from "secure heights."
There can now be no doubt, the editorial observes, that the war in Afghanistan is entering a new phase and that the U.S. is not likely to leave Afghanistan for a long time.
The U.S. is sending a signal that, with the consignment of Marines on the ground, it is "prepared to risk the lives of its own soldiers rather than relying on the questionable allies of the Northern Alliance." This signal, the newspaper continues, may also influence the various Afghan fractions now assembled in Bonn attempting to hammer out a formula for the country's future administration.
An analysis in "Eurasia View" warns that quick military success in the U.S.-led campaign in Afghanistan does not assure automatic victory in the wider war against terrorism, particular among Afghanistan's northern neighbors. Ariel Cohen of the Washington-based Heritage Foundation think tank writes that "[even] the possible future elimination of Osama bin Laden will not rid Central Asia of the factors that fuel the terrorist threat in the region. These include the glacial pace of economic reform, widespread poverty, narcotics trafficking, human rights abuses, and the growing influence of Islamic radicals in mosques and other religious establishments in the Ferghana Valley."
He adds that the presence of the U.S. military has proved more of an irritant than a balm in Central Asia, particularly in Uzbekistan, where anti-American sentiment and religious extremism both appear to be on the rise despite what appears to be a long-standing U.S.-Uzbek partnership.
Cohen writes: "Pentagon officials recently revealed that the groundwork for military cooperation in Central Asia was laid long before 11 September. For example, the U.S. Defense Department has been working with Uzbekistan's military establishment since the early 1990s." He cites once U.S. defense officials as saying, "We wanted the Uzbeks to think like Americans, to influence officers and soldiers."
In recent years, U.S. military aid focused increasingly on antiterrorism training as well as border patrol technique and antidrug operations. Such assistance paid off, Cohen says, after 11 September, when the need to deploy U.S. forces in Afghanistan became clear. Now, he adds, it appears certain that U.S. and British special forces will stay in Central Asia for the foreseeable future.
However, he says, "the underlying causes for terrorism need to be addressed by the indigenous governments and the international community, not by foreign military involvement. Reform and reconstruction are vital, but they are beyond the mandate of the U.S. military."
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:
Robert Shiller, a professor of economics at Yale's International Center for Finance, writes about the shaky state of the U.S. economy in a commentary in "The Wall Street Journal Europe."
Shiller says the business outlook for the coming year and beyond is unusually uncertain because "the two dominant events that put us where we are have never occurred together before." The first such event was the end of the so-called "irrational exuberance" over the "new economy" that defined the stock market from 1995 until 2000, but which was followed, he says, by a fall whose drama can only be compared to the 1929 stock market crash.
The second event was 11 September and the threat of more such terrorist attacks. The attacks sparked patriotic feelings among Americans like those felt during a war but without the economic stimulus of a major military mobilization.
Shiller says it is natural to want to look at past recessions for clues as to what will happen in the current recession, but he says that is not possible this time. "Every recession is different," he writes, "and this one is really different."
Shiller asks numerous unanswerable questions, among them: Will consumers further cut their spending in response to terrorist threats? Will they continue to cut back travel and vacations? Will businesses become too pessimistic to launch new campaigns, sink money into new plants and equipment, and hire and train new employees?
"These are questions that cannot be answered by reference to patterns observed in past recessions," Shiller concludes. "We are not doomed to repeat history. What happens next depends on the choices we make now. It depends on the kind of economic stimulus package [the U.S.] Congress gives us. And it depends on our own individual decisions to get on with business despite the present uncertainty."
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG:
Two analyses take somewhat opposing views of the significance of this week's announcement by a U.S. medical research company of the first cloning of a human embryo for the purposes of therapeutic cloning -- cloning of human cells for medical treatments, not to create human babies.
Analyst Georg Paul Hefty, writing in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," says that as long as there are inquisitive minds, human embryos will be at the mercy of those who may not only kill them but even abuse them first. This is why, he writes, that humanity must harness these researchers' pioneering fervor and put it to more responsible use.
"What appears to have been the first successful attempt to clone a human proves that many researchers have no qualms about doing whatever is humanly possible, even it that means creating and destroying human life in the process," Hefty says. "It is not the improbability of success that makes 'therapeutic' cloning ethically and socially dangerous, but rather the opposite. Its success would call into question a concept of human dignity it has taken centuries to develop."
Hefty says it is likely that without Germany's own laws protecting embryos, which explicitly prohibit therapeutic cloning, German researchers would be following in the footsteps of the U.S. scientists.
"The days when scientists and ordinary folk had a common code of ethics are long gone," he concludes. "All that we now have in common is that we are all bound by the constitution and the law. Perhaps some in the U.S. will realize this, too."
THE WASHINGTON POST:
"The Washington Post," in an editorial, says any step toward the "scary goal" of cloning human beings touches off an understandable frenzy. U.S. President George W. Bush called on the U.S. Senate to vote for a ban -- already passed by the House -- on any research into therapeutic or reproductive human cloning technologies.
But the paper says this week's announcement is "less than meets the eye. It's far from clear that therapeutic cloning, even if successful, would fall into the category of creating and then destroying a potential human life." The experiment announced this week falls far short of the point at which an adult cell would develop sufficiently for its stem cells to be harvested and grown into replacement organs or tissues.
Whether cloned human embryos could ever develop safely into healthy individuals "is as much a scientific question at this point as a philosophical one, and it's too soon to close off the debate by classifying all such research as illegal," says "The Washington Post." "Barring all research into therapeutic cloning can't be justified. Proponents of such a step argue that any progress toward therapeutic cloning would make reproductive cloning more probable. The reverse is likelier: Driving the research underground guarantees that only the most unscrupulous will advance these technologies."
THE WASHINGTON TIMES:
"The Washington Times" says the success of the Northern Alliance on the ground in Afghanistan, combined with U.S. airpower, could be replicated in Iraq if the U.S. government puts equal force and determination behind the effort. "It is an option," "The Washington Times" says, "the Bush administration ought to consider seriously in its war on terrorism."
"The Washington Times" says the U.S. must take steps now that will contribute to the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime. The U.S., it says, should be far more aggressive in supporting the Iraqi opposition and laying the groundwork for democracy in Iraq by giving the Kurds in the north a higher level of security from a possible attack by Saddam, including providing them with antimissile weaponry.
And the U.S. must pressure countries in the region to stop participating in what it calls "Iraq's oil-smuggling schemes," singling out Syria for pocketing up to $1 billion. It should point out that Iraq's oil smuggling revenues go toward bolstering Saddam's fortune, not for humanitarian needs. And the White House, "The Washington Times" says, "should highlight Saddam's poor treatment of his own people, and illustrate how Syria's oil-smuggling relationship with him empowers a butcher of Muslims."
The U.S., it concludes, "must start sowing the seeds of change in Iraq today."
Fareed Zakaria, editor of the international edition of "Newsweek," writes in the magazine that over the last decade, every time the United States has engaged in a strategic bombing campaign, it has achieved its goals. And that after each war, influential experts and journalists have emphasized that the central lesson of the operation is that airpower alone doesn't work.
"With the Taliban in ruins and American allies in control of three quarters of Afghanistan," Zakaria writes, "expect to start hearing arguments about how our victory had little to do with bombing." Except that that would be wrong, he says. "It's time to face facts," he says. "American airpower today is an amazing weapon of war."
"One of the main reasons airpower is constantly scoffed at -- even as it succeeds in test after test -- is that many people believe that the limited, precise targeting we are moving toward isn't really war," Zakaria says. "The chief criticism of the Afghan campaign was that it was not lethal enough. 'Why aren't we carpet-bombing troops?' we were asked. But carpet-bombing has never been very effective; otherwise Vietnam would have been a thundering success."
The unease about antiseptic warfare goes beyond bombing itself, he continues. Throughout the war in Afghanistan, commentators have worried that by not using ground troops, the war was too easy, that it had lost any sense of struggle or sacrifice. But surely, Zakaria asks, if America can achieve its objectives without placing too many of its soldiers in harm's way, wouldn't it be crazy to do anything else?
While the air war may continue, the U.S. is now deploying significant numbers of troops on the ground in Afghanistan, too, a fact that Britain's "The Guardian" newspaper ruminates on.
The newspaper says the recent deployment of some 1,000 U.S. Marines at an airstrip near Kandahar "marks a key moment in the unfolding of the crisis. To the dates of 11 September, when the terrorists struck, and 7 October, when the U.S. bombing began, we must now add the date of 25 November, when President George W. Bush sent the first U.S. ground troops on to Afghan soil. For America, which has hitherto fought the Taliban on the ground only through proxy local forces, this is now a different kind of war."
The American objective is obviously to enable the Marines to launch and support raids against remaining Taliban positions and the Al-Qaeda terrorist network, says "The Guardian." But the reality, it writes, "is also that there will now be many hundreds of American troops in the middle of a heavily mined, booby-trapped and often hostile military environment."
The most important consequence of 25 November is that U.S. troops are now likely to be killed. Bush has repeatedly told Americans to brace themselves for such a possibility.
"No one really knows how today's America will cope with the sight of body bags and grieving families and what the political consequences of them will be," "The Guardian" concludes. "But we are likely to find out all too soon."
(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)