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Western Press Review: Objectivity At War, Afghan Nation-Building And The Moscow-Moldova Renaissance

Prague, 19 February 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Editorials and commentaries in the Western media today discuss a variety of topics. Among them are the lessons to be learned from Kosovo for nation-building in Afghanistan; journalistic objectivity in a time of war; the U.S. military operation in the Philippines; and Moscow's interests in Moldova. Other analysis centers on debating Germany's role on the world stage and the trans-Atlantic alliance, among other issues.


In a contribution to "The Washington Times," publisher Veton Surroi of Kosovo's daily "Koha Ditore," who was also a former member of the Kosovar delegation at the 1998 Rambouillet peace negotiations, outlines some lessons to be learned from Kosovo for nation-building in Afghanistan.

First, he says, Afghanistan is not a state. There are no administrative institutions and no laws -- "only the power of the gun behind clan or interests of ideology." Surroi says the international community must create a functioning Afghan state, as years of war have created a society that cannot build a state on its own. Also necessary, says Surroi, is that the rule of law must be established immediately, while NATO should help form an eventual Afghan army.

Surroi goes on to say that an Afghan state cannot function as a unit, for it is multiethnic and fractious, with power often wielded by minorities. Any political arrangement should allow for territorial and nonterritorial federalization, he says. Minority communities "should have the right to a degree of self-rule, while at the same time recognizing the central authority," he writes.

Surroi also advises the international community not to be hesitant about performing certain vital functions temporarily. "[It] should immediately take over basic utilities, radio and TV. If the international community does not do it, the different factions of Afghanistan will...." he says.


In the "Chicago Tribune," senior editor of "In These Times" Salim Muwakkil looks at maintaining journalistic objectivity in a time of war. He says that currently, some American journalists covering the war on terrorism "have abandoned themselves to the patriotic passions of the times so enthusiastically and so uncritically that they apparently have forgotten their role as the Fourth Estate. Those who criticize this flagrantly unprofessional behavior have been ignored, ridiculed, or condemned for lack of patriotism," he says.

The author says these journalists, with their overt patriotic fervor, "fail to ask this crucial question: How can one claim to be an impartial chronicler of events in a conflict while loudly proclaiming allegiance to one of the parties?"

Muwakkil says that, in addition to the fact that such displays go against the idea of journalistic objectivity that is the hallmark of the profession, "the corporate media's patriotic displays also are endangering the lives of their colleagues. This open willingness to abandon journalistic ethics is a new phenomenon within the U.S. news media. It's certainly understandable for journalists to feel attached to their home nations. But in their professional work, those personal links should be de-emphasized. In a war zone, that detachment is even more necessary. A journalist's overt identification with one of the combatants in a conflict easily leads to charges of spying."

Muwakkil concludes that journalists should subordinate "their tribal colors [to] their professional garb."


In the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," Berthold Kohler discusses Germany's role on the world stage. "Only a few months after the events of 11 September," says the commentary, "much is as it was before: the Europeans complain about the authoritarian position of the [U.S.] superpower and the Americans accuse the Europeans of talking big but acting small."

Kohler says both these convictions are exaggerated and both existed before the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. It has to be reiterated that only America has the will or is in a position to act as peacemaker in the world and is doing so in the interests of its allies.

German attempts to assert resolutions regarding weapons inspections in Iraq are in vain, says Kohler. "Berlin must come to terms with the idea that neither Baghdad nor Washington will listen to Germany's weak voice nor even Europe's slightly more strident tones," he writes.

This is not merely a dispute over the tactics for fighting terrorism, he says. What is at stake are "the fundamentals of Germany's postwar foreign policy," based on a firm alliance between America and Europe.


In "The New York Times," Nicholas Kristof writes on the recent deployment of U.S. troops to Basilan Island in the Philippines to combat the Abu Sayyaf Muslim extremist group, in what he calls "part two of America's war on terror." He remarks that it seems the American mission on the island "has almost nothing to do with Basilan. [The] real aim of the American mission is political: to demonstrate momentum in the war on terror [and to] find an enemy that can be quickly beaten."

Kristof says Abu Sayyaf "will soon be wiped out on Basilan [but] the group may become even stronger in [the] nearby Sulu islands. [One] clue that the American aim in the Philippines is a feel-good declaration of victory more than a defeat of terrorism is that we have no plans to pursue anyone to Sulu. Likewise, we have no plans to mess with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which has much stronger ties to terrorism and to Al-Qaeda, but which has thousands of fighters and is thus more formidable."

Kristof says the irony is that "American troops are desperately needed -- not in the Philippines but in Afghanistan. Yet the White House keeps stiffing the interim Afghan leader, Hamid Karzai, as he pleads for troops as part of an international security force to keep that country from disintegrating again."


"Jane's Intelligence Digest" looks at the renewal of Russian interest in Moldova and its geostrategic interests there. "Jane's" says Russia is "supporting an authoritarian Communist regime in Moldova because it will bring Moscow geopolitical influence in a strategic region of the Commonwealth of Independent States. [Control] of this area will also allow Russia to project its influence into Southeastern Europe and the Balkans," says the digest.

Formerly a member of the pro-NATO GUUAM group, Moldova also shares a border with Romania, a NATO candidate seeking admission at the November summit. "Jane's" writes that the new, Communist-dominated leadership of Moldova "has moved swiftly to reintroduce elements of the nation's Soviet past. [Economic] reforms have been suspended indefinitely and agriculture is to be recollectivized. All talk of the country uniting with Romania [has] now been dropped."

Moldova's foreign policy has undergone a similar shift, from the idea of a return to Europe "to the strengthening of an eastern orientation toward Russia and the CIS -- a key objective of Putin's strategy to restore Moscow's influence throughout the former Soviet Union's territories."

Moldova is set to become the scene of a geopolitical tug-of-war between Romania and Russia, says "Jane's." Whether Russian President Vladimir Putin "can achieve his goals in Moldova will depend on domestic resistance to Russian reoccupation," it concludes.


In France's daily "Liberation," Gerald de Hemptinne writes from The Hague on the ongoing trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Gerald discusses the testimony of the first witness for the prosecution, given yesterday, which "directly challenged Milosevic for his role in the atrocities committed in Kosovo." Kosovar Albanian politician Mahmut Bakalli spoke of the withdrawal of Kosovo's autonomous status by Milosevic in 1991, then of the repression of the Kosovars and the war in the spring of 1999, which entailed the displacement of 800,000 of the province's ethnic Albanians. "Milosevic's role in this tragedy will be analyzed with a magnifying glass in the next few months," writes de Hemptinne.

He continues: "The accused, for his part, ended his defense statement, the cornerstone of which will be the responsibility of the West -- the United States and the European Union in particular -- in the destruction of Yugoslavia, through their support for the separatists and terrorists in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo."

But de Hemptinne says that according to the prosecutor, Milosevic supplied Bosnian Serb extremists on the other side with financial, political and logistical support. As for his alleged "command control" over actions carried out by other Serb leaders, de Hemptinne cites Milosevic as saying in his defense that only a person not understanding the level of "vanity" of Serbian politicians, and the extent of their resistance to outside intervention, could possibly propose this theory of Milosevic's involvement.


In "The Wall Street Journal Europe," editorial page deputy editor Michael Gonzalez looks at the changing political map of Europe. He says that Paris and Berlin no longer exercise a disproportionate influence on EU policy. He says that now, the prime ministers of three EU nations -- Tony Blair of Britain, Italy's Silvio Berlusconi, and Jose Maria Aznar of Spain -- "share the vision of bringing economic liberalism back to Europe. In their way stand the French and German governments, both socialist and sworn enemies of labor-market liberalization, in effect the ability to hire workers without undertaking huge severance pay obligations should business hit a slump."

Gonzalez cites German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder as saying that Europe does not want "an American-style labor market" because it believes that a higher level of social security and certainty is the right path. Gonzalez adds, however, that "Germany has nothing of the sort," as its unemployment hovers near 10 percent.

"Not long ago, Franco-German opposition would have been enough to quash any insurgency within the EU on labor policy," Gonzalez writes. He cites some observers as saying that now, "Britain and its new partners can overcome the Paris-Berlin axis on matters of EU policy." He says Berlusconi, Aznar, and Blair "share many traits. They are three popular leaders with firm majorities behind them [and] fractured opposition parties." Their countries' economies are also thriving, he says, "which gives their ideas credibility."

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