Prague, 11 March 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Western media commentary today centers on a possible U.S.-led military campaign against Iraq, as well as the Pentagon's "Nuclear Posture Review," leaked to the "Los Angeles Times" over the weekend, which seemingly outlines a new U.S. philosophy on the use of nuclear weapons. Other subjects of discussion include presidential elections in Zimbabwe, human rights in Uzbekistan, maintaining unity within the Yugoslav federation, and the ongoing crisis in the Middle East.
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
An analysis by staff writer John Cushman in "The New York Times," reprinted in today's "International Herald Tribune," discusses a secret report by the U.S. Pentagon, the contents of which were leaked to and printed by the "Los Angeles Times."
The "Nuclear Posture Review" appears to outline something of a U.S. policy shift toward a more open attitude regarding the use of nuclear weapons. The report provides a list of seven potential nuclear targets: China, Russia, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Libya, and Syria. The report -- provided to the U.S. Congress in early January -- says nuclear weapons could be used in three types of situations: against targets able to withstand a non-nuclear attack; in retaliation for attack with nuclear, biological or chemical weapons; or "in the event of surprising military developments."
Cushman notes that, traditionally, the Pentagon's "chief use for nuclear weapons has long been to deter, not defeat, an enemy." While this remains the policy, he says, unlike the old Cold War strategy of deterrence stemming from the risk of "mutual assured destruction," the Pentagon's new approach signifies something different: "That is, a unilateral assured destruction, so that no dictator could seek safety for himself or his weapons of mass destruction in some deep bunker where no conventional weapon could destroy them."
Cushman acknowledges that critics of this new thinking will argue it is a dangerous move toward a first-strike policy. He adds that the U.S. was not overly concerned with the diplomatic fallout from the report because it was never expected to become public. But Cushman says even the Cold War standoff with the Soviet Union relied on making "massive retaliation a credible threat." Cushman writes, "Deterrence ultimately requires both the right kind of weapons and the expressed willingness to use them."
LOS ANGELES TIMES:
In the "Los Angeles Times," staff writer Robin Wright looks at some of the challenges facing the U.S. as it considers launching a military operation against Iraq. U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney is currently on an 11-nation trip to Britain and the Middle East, during which he will reportedly seek to gauge support for just such an operation. But Wright says the more involved the U.S. administration becomes in considering its options, "the more daunting the obstacles appear."
A conventional military campaign "could be far more difficult than any U.S. operation in recent decades," he writes. "Virtually every angle of the prospective operation faces many challenges."
Militarily, he says, a "crucial preliminary step" would be to "neutralize significant numbers of the Iraqi military," perhaps through encouraging defections. The U.S. would also need to mobilize Iraqis to successfully manage a post-Saddam Hussein regime.
"On the diplomatic front," Wright says, "Washington must carry through with two ongoing efforts at the United Nations involving Iraq if it hopes to prevent a major international backlash." The U.S. must seek a resolution on modifying current economic sanctions, "in the hopes of increasing the flow of goods to the Iraqi people while curtailing their government's ability to acquire war material."
The second variable, says Wright, is to get a team of UN weapons inspectors back into the country. Wright concludes that the "toughest assignment" for the U.S. administration "could be winning the support of other countries."
A "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" editorial looks at presidential elections in Zimbabwe, where Zimbabweans are voting for a third day today after a High Court judge ordered a one-day extension. The newspaper says President Robert Mugabe is trying to win votes through every possible method, "by using force, threats, intimidation, muzzling the press, changing laws, false ballots, and the manipulation of voting papers and polling stations."
In spite of all these efforts, the commentary says, Mugabe has miscalculated, as thousands of voters waited overnight from Saturday into Sunday (9-10 March) to cast their votes. The editorial says that considering the enormous turnout, it is quite possible that, despite all of Mugabe's manipulations, the opposition may win.
But the paper adds that even such a victory is not likely to bring peace to Zimbabwe. "All the predictions indicate that Mugabe will not accept defeat," the newspaper concludes, "and the military still stands squarely behind him."
THE WASHINGTON POST:
In "The Washington Post," Jim Hoagland looks at the misgivings that the objectives of the U.S.-led war on terrorism will eclipse concerns regarding human rights in Washington's new military ally, Uzbekistan. Hoagland says Uzbek President Islam Karimov's "harsh and pervasive repression of political dissent has made Uzbekistan a pariah state for more than a decade. Even in the rough neighborhood of the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, the Uzbek president's crackdown on Islamic moderates and fanatics alike has seemed extreme."
He says that following the 11 September attacks, many have assumed that human rights "would lose any meaningful role in U.S. foreign policy." But Hoagland says it is just as possible "that it will work the other way, that the expanding American presence in Central Asia, the Caucasus, and Africa will push repressive governments in more moderate directions."
Karimov arrives in Washington today to be thanked by U.S. President George W. Bush for his cooperation with the U.S. in its Afghan campaign. Hoagland writes that Karimov "will use this rare high-profile welcome to seek U.S. help in what he will describe as a fresh political and economic start." He says Karimov "has earned a hearing, but it must be skeptical and conditioned on political actions at home matching his words in Washington."
In Britain's "The Independent," Mabel Wisse Smit of the Open Society Institute in Brussels discusses the European Union's attempts to keep Serbia and Montenegro together within a Yugoslav federation.
Likening the federation to a troubled marriage, she says EU leaders are "determined to keep this unhappy couple together. [They] are afraid that unraveling the Yugoslav federation would open the way to Kosovo independence" and increase tensions in an already divided society.
But Smit says the troubles within this partnership are numerous. The two republics' economies are essentially independent of one another. In addition, the division of powers in a proposed union is a point of contention. Montenegro seeks equal representation in shared institutions -- an idea rejected by Serbia, which is 18 times its size.
Smit says European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana may be undermining attempts to integrate the republics into the EU by "alienating the very segment of the Montenegrin population most supportive of the EU.... [With] its threats to punish Montenegro in the event of a referendum [on independence], Brussels is aligning itself with those political forces in favor of preserving the federation, even though their pro-reform and pro-European credentials are suspect."
Smit concludes that the EU "is so eager to make these unwilling partners renew their vows that it might ignore the host of details on which the two republics disagree. That would mean blessing a union that is only to end sooner rather than later," she says.
There are signs of hope in the Middle East despite the death and terror, says Jacques Schuster in "Die Welt." Both Israel and the Palestinians are so exhausted by the violence that they are searching for an alternative to war. Although the future is far from clear, he says one thing is apparent: "The Middle East is returning to negotiations."
Schuster cites several reasons for a change of heart on both sides. It seems that the recent proposal made by Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Abdullah, offering a recognition of Israel by all Arab states in exchange for a return of the territories Israel occupied in the 1967 war, has come at the right moment. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has modified his insistence on a full week of calm before agreeing to a truce. The United States and Arab countries are increasing diplomatic efforts. The U.S. is renewing its involvement by sending special envoy Anthony Zinni back to the region with the goal of implementing last year's U.S. peace plan.
None of this may bear fruit, Schuster writes. Nevertheless, the starting point seems promising. The United States, he says, is likely warning the region of the dangers posed by Iraq, and preparing it for what seems increasingly probable -- that the next U.S. target in fighting terrorism will be Saddam Hussein. Schuster says the 1991 Gulf War provides a precedent that the advent of a conflict between the U.S. and Iraq can lead to negotiations between Israel and Palestine.
A "Le Monde" editorial also discusses the situation in the Middle East. It says Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon "maintains a mortal illusion.... He has, for a long time, believed that he can break the Palestinian national movement" by making them accept permanent settlements in the West Bank and in Gaza.
The paper says that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat can be accused of using double language, but not Sharon. "The prime minister, his chief of staff, his minister of defense, all say, write and proclaim -- loud and clear -- that they will achieve a military victory over the Palestinians, that there is an armed solution to the current conflict."
But the paper says this strategy is "crazy." "Every armed raid increases [the] candidates for terrorist suicide missions. The Palestinians, who no longer have much to lose, also maintain a mortal illusion: they believe they will wear down the Israelis in the territories....[But] they are mistaken," says "Le Monde."
The French daily goes on to note that U.S. special envoy Anthony Zinni is to return to the region this week to attempt to negotiate a cease-fire. But the Bush administration has allowed Sharon free rein since the beginning, says the paper. Now, hated by the Arab world, the U.S. knows it must make some sort of gesture before it launches any possible operations against Iraq. The paper says this latest diplomatic attempt betrays "a pathetic short-sightedness of vision, but it is, regrettably, the only hope."
THE BOSTON GLOBE:
A editorial in "The Boston Globe" from 10 March discusses what it calls "the other Afghan conflict" -- the interethnic fighting and rivalries that continue to plague the nation. The Taliban regime was characterized by the majority ethnic Pashtun's dominance over the country's other ethnicities.
"Now that the Americans, relying on Tajik and Uzbek allies of the Northern Alliance, have chased the Taliban from power, armed Tajiks and Uzbeks in the north have been taking revenge, robbing Pashtun villagers, raping women, destroying houses, and taking grazing lands. This cycle of ethnic vengeance must be broken swiftly," says the paper. "The cycle must be stopped not only because it replaces one type of injustice with another but because the logic of revenge [will] eventually ruin all chances for Afghans to attain the social peace, economic development, and decent governance they desperately need after 22 years of internecine conflict."
The "Globe" advises the West to take a more active role in nation-building. It also suggests that "an expanded force of international peacekeepers -- from 5,000 to at least 30,000 -- should be deployed in key cities around the country. An Afghan police force and army should be trained as quickly as possible and must be adequately funded. Taking Afghanistan away from Al-Qaeda permanently will require that the country's liberators put an end to the cycle of ethnic vengeance."
An editorial in the "Chicago Tribune" considers the role of the media in wartime. It notes that since the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the U.S. Pentagon has created official press pools in order to limit the free access of journalists. It adds that the Pentagon "has clamped tighter media restrictions on its Afghan campaign than on any other conflict in American history."
The paper remarks that part of this is understandable, as "many of this war's murky missions are covert operations." But the result is that the public is left ill-informed about the war. "Oddly, Afghan fighters have been more accessible to American journalists than has the U.S. military. The information Americans get about their own troops comes later, sometimes in contradictory forms, and always filtered, spun, and polished through several layers of Pentagon bureaucracy. The result has been to add confusion to the usual fog of war and to needlessly increase the mistrust between the military and the media."
The "Tribune" goes on to say that "there is no compelling reason to exclude journalists from some missions of special operations groups. That is all the more true during large-scale battles...." Journalists, it writes, "must bear witness to war -- to have a full, fair, and real-time view of what happens, and to report it to the public as soon as they can do so...."
(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)