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Western Press Review: The Le Pen Phenomenon, Investigating Jenin And U.S. Policy On Iraq

Prague, 2 May 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary today discusses the surprising popularity of France's right-wing politician Jean-Marie Le Pen, investigations into what took place at the Palestinian refugee camp at Jenin, trans-Atlantic relations for the future, "phase two" in the war on terrorism, persistent challenges in Afghanistan, and developing U.S. policy on Iraq.


An analysis today by the "International Herald Tribune's" John Vinocur looks at the unexpected success of France's far-right presidential candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen, who faces incumbent President Jacques Chirac in a final round of voting on 5 May.

Vinocur suggests that what he calls Le Pen's "quasi-racist, near anti-Semitic verbal turns that have provided the single thread of his career" are representative of large swaths of the French political spectrum and thus cannot be dismissed as an aberration. Vinocur says that however repugnant Le Pen's views may be to a majority of France's electorate, "some of his ideas, apart from those on race and immigration, are too close in tone to those of significant segments of everyday French political life" to be dismissed.

Vinocur says Le Pen's suggestions that France is being victimized by internal and external forces are not very far from the views that other parties espouse "when they insist that the powers of globalization, capitalism, or the United States are at the source of French problems."

He says Le Pen appears to have "cleverly taken aim at French political reflexes on globalization, so-called Anglo-Saxon capitalism, and the American role in the world as building blocks in selling his pitch."

Vinocur goes on to propose that Le Pen must be understood as a unique product of French political life, and that misinterpreting the Le Pen phenomenon could prove to be a mistake with lasting consequences.


Columnist Stefan Kornelius in the German daily "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" comments on the UN Security Council's lack of agreement in response to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's decision to disband the fact-finding mission to the Palestinian refugee camp at Jenin.

Annan told the council yesterday that he will disband the team today because Israeli officials continue to raise objections to the mission and have barred it from deploying in Jenin. Palestinians allege that Israeli forces carried out a "massacre" in the Jenin camp last month; Israel says its forces targeted armed militants in a legitimate antiterrorist operation.

"When an investigation is launched, the aim is to examine the situation and then pass judgment. In the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, the process is taking place in reverse: first there is condemnation, and subsequently, a commission is expected to confirm this conclusion." He says not only the conflicting parties but also a considerable number of those elsewhere are pursuing this warped logic.

"There is no genuine interest in what actually happened in Jenin," he says. Kornelius predicts that those relying on the UN mission will inevitably be disappointed. He says the UN is far from neutral on the Middle East conflict, that Annan has openly shown his sympathies for the Palestinian civilian population. Thus, says Kornelius, it is no wonder the Israelis resent his attitude.

Now it is up to Annan to rethink the UN role, as no investigative mission is likely to command the sufficient legitimacy and authority to issue a verdict that is acceptable to both parties.


In "The Washington Post," C. Fred Bergsten of the Institute for International Economics advocates that the United States and Europe, as the world's only economic superpowers, should start thinking of themselves as an informal "Group of Two" -- as leaders of the global economy rather than as "petty antagonists" in trade disputes over steel, bananas, or other minutiae.

He says their "incessant and growing battles over agriculture, aircraft, bananas, beef, dispute settlement modalities, genetically modified products, mergers policy a la GE-Honeywell, regional preferential deals, retaliation methods, sanctions, steel, subsidies, tax policy, and many others threaten trade war rather than promising systemic improvement."

Further, these trade-related issues "represent only a piece of the acute trans-Atlantic differences on economic issues, many of which have broader ramifications in security and foreign policy," he says.

Creation of a G-2 will require "a basic change in mind-sets on both sides of the Atlantic," Bergsten writes. "Much of the problem lies in Europe, which has largely failed to get its representational act together except for trade and competition policy."

The U.S., in turn, is unwilling to cede global leadership and often acts unilaterally. Bergsten suggests that both sides "need instead to start thinking in terms of cooperating and indeed coordinating consistently, both to minimize the problems they cause each other and to provide progressive leadership for the world."


In Germany's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," regular columnist Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger says that while French voters are sure to re-elect President Jacques Chirac in the final round of voting on 5 May, rather than his right-wing opponent Jean-Marie Le Pen, "his re-election cannot undo the shock of the first vote. When 18 percent of the electorate in a key European country -- a country whose elite has long considered itself the motor behind European unity -- adopts a clearly anti-European stance, it is a serious matter," writes Frankenberger.

He says such a "vehement anti-European attitude" does not exist only in France, and it is time to discover its cause. Frankenberger asks: "Is it the gap between Brussels and the people? Is it their fear that their national identity will be trampled in the wake of the Europeanization of politics and the economy?"

Frankenberger advises that supporters of Europe should examine the "explosive potential" of this trend in European politics.


An editorial in "The Boston Globe" says that the war begun by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in August 1990 has never ended -- neither for Iraq, nor for the U.S. and its regional allies, "who are the primary targets of Saddam [Hussein]'s chemical and biological weapons and will come into the cross-hairs of his nuclear weapons as soon as he acquires them."

The editorial says now that the U.S. administration of President George W. Bush is openly discussing toppling Saddam's regime, "it is crucial that policy-makers reflect as carefully about the political outcome of regime change as about the military means to achieve it. There are Iraqis of diverse religious, ethnic, and regional backgrounds who have long opposed Saddam [Hussein]'s dictatorship in the name of a democratic vision of Iraq, one that would respect minority rights and human rights and would devote its rich natural and human resources to peaceful economic development. The United States should be supporting those democratic [opponents], not another clique of generals liable to perpetuate Saddamism without Saddam."


In the British daily "The Guardian," Rory Carroll discusses some of the continuing conflicts within and between rival ethic groups and tribes in Afghanistan. He says these rivalries are Afghanistan's other war, turning bloodier by the week. Gardez is a case study in such conflicts.

Pacha Khan Zadran was appointed governor of Paktia Province in January by the Afghan interim government. But when his forces approached Gardez, the province's regional capital, they met with heavy resistance. Many in Gardez consider Zadran a bandit, known for his brutality even before the current conflict. Subsequently, the interim government appointed Taj Mohammad Wardak to replace him. Zadran reacted by planning an assault on the town.

But Carroll says the Americans have some leverage over Zadran. Recognizing his control over the countryside, they have supplied him with money and trained his men to aid the hunt for Al-Qaeda, "despite evidence that [Zadran] called in air strikes against rivals falsely identified as guerrillas." American forces "have urged Zadran to back off," says Carroll. But U.S. forces have also "avoided close involvement since their priority was to fight Islamist guerrillas, not guarantee security. It was up to the interim government to resolve the problem."

Carroll concludes that U.S. aversion to nation-building, "combined with European reluctance to risk soldiers and spend money," means UN calls for peacekeepers to be deployed outside Kabul to stabilize the countryside will go unheeded.


In a contribution to "The New York Times," former U.S. Central Intelligence Agency chief of counterterrorism operations Vincent Cannistraro says the U.S.-led war on terrorism has entered phase two -- a phase characterized by increased international police and intelligence work with less of a military role. But Cannistraro adds that this new phase "requires close and sustained international cooperation," perhaps even more so than the initial military phase in Afghanistan.

So far, he says, the new multilateralism is working. He notes Spain has arrested 23 Al-Qaeda suspects and the Dutch, French, and Italians have all identified and apprehended other members, while Germany has uncovered a web of interconnected cells and assemblies of militant Islamists. "In all," he says, "some 1,600 Al-Qaeda suspects have been arrested in over 30 countries."

Cannistraro notes some U.S. Defense Department officials are arguing "for broadening the antiterror war by confronting Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and others -- in effect, leading a global war against politically inspired violence. [But] such moves risk inviting new enemies to kill Americans even before we have completed our mission to stop all [Al-Qaeda] operations," he says.

Cannistraro says the U.S. needs to be aware that broadening the antiterrorism mission to include regional terrorists without global reach "will do little to deter the next round of terrorism here in America, and may even enhance the danger."


An editorial in France's daily "Le Monde" discusses yesterday's May Day demonstrations in France against right-wing presidential candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen. The paper says demonstrations are a valid form of political engagement: "In a democracy, they are no less legitimate than participation in an election, signing a petition or membership in a political party."

All these methods have been used against Le Pen by increasing numbers of the electorate, and young people in particular, who strongly condemn xenophobia and racism and fervently support human rights. "Le Monde" says the 1 May demonstrations were the apex of this movement, evidenced by the number of anti-Le Pen demonstrators taking part and given additional symbolic meaning by the traditional labor day celebrations that are also a celebration of democracy, which it says is threatened by the advance of Le Pen's extreme right.

"Le Monde" says some may charge the demonstrators with being naive, of neglecting the complexity of political realities. But the paper says this view does not acknowledge the fact that all significant political battles temporarily eclipse the differences among those fighting for a common cause, and emphasize -- for a time -- the common values that unite, rather than divide, them.

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