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Western Press Review: Bush, Leaving U.S. Turmoil Behind, Heads To Europe For 'Fresh Air'

By Daisy Sindelar/Grant Podelco

Prague, 21 May 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western press today looks at the U.S.-Russia summit as U.S. President George W. Bush prepares to leave for Berlin tomorrow en route to Moscow, where he and Russian President Vladimir Putin are scheduled to sign an arms-reduction treaty and discuss nonproliferation issues. Commentary writers also continue to look at the apparent failure of the U.S. government and security agencies to predict and prevent the events of 11 September.


Commentator Leo Wieland, writing in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," says this week's trip to Europe and Russia by U.S. President George W. Bush will allow Bush to breathe some "refreshing European air" after enduring hostility at home over suggestions his administration could have done more to prevent the 11 September attacks.

Yes, Wieland writes, there are many reasons to wonder why the individual pieces of intelligence never came together. "But with no specific proof," Wieland says, "the insinuations that [Bush] allowed a catastrophe to happen fly in the face of all reason."

Bush's first stop in Germany and the first speech by a U.S. president in the Reichstag are something to celebrate. Wieland says U.S. and German policy interests and objectives are largely in synch from Afghanistan to the Balkans and the Middle East.

Bush also can expect a warm welcome in Russia, where he will sign a treaty with Russian President Vladimir Putin to reduce strategic nuclear weapons by two-thirds. Wieland notes the personal rapport that exists between Bush and Putin and says a new direction in trans-Atlantic relations has brought Russian support in the war on terrorism and the deployment of U.S. troops to Central Asia and the Caucasus.

Wieland says Bush's European tour is an opportunity to clear what he calls the "discordant atmosphere" of recent months by stressing what binds Europe and the United States. "The resentment of the 'old continent' at gung-ho leadership is caused by the United States' sharp elbows in foreign policy," Wieland writes.

Bush, he concludes, will not need the Europeans for everything, but he will need them to achieve many things. Wieland says the U.S. president could help reduce the breach with gestures that could be deemed "environmentally friendly," in all senses of that phrase.


In "The Washington Post," three former U.S. defense officials look at the arms-reduction treaty to be signed this week by Presidents Putin and Bush and say, "Reducing the numbers of nuclear weapons is vitally important and this is a strong step forward, but there is clearly more urgent work to be done."

This -- according to the commentary's authors: former Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sam Nunn, former Secretary of Defense William Perry, and former commander of U.S. strategic nuclear forces General Eugene Habiger -- is eradicating the threats from nuclear material from rogue nations, nuclear theft, and accidental launch.

The authors note that at the last Bush-Putin summit, the U.S. president said the country's "highest priority" is keeping terrorists from acquiring weapons of mass destruction. But, they add, "There can be no realistic comprehensive plan to defend America against today's threats that does not depend on cooperation with Moscow." To this end, they suggest five points of action the two leaders should agree on during this week's summit:

-- Ensuring the safety of both countries' nuclear, chemical, and biological materials and weapons;

-- Launching a global coalition against terrorism that encourages all countries to keep weapons of mass destruction secure from terrorists;

-- Settling on accurate accounting and safeguards for tactical nuclear weapons, which are the "most attractive" to terrorists and yet are not covered by present treaties or agreements

-- Ordering their military leaders to change the alert status of their nuclear forces to reduce the risk of accidental launch or miscalculation; and

-- Pledging to supplement this week's arms-reduction treaty with additional agreements to ensure transparency, verifiability, irreversibility and stability.

"This summit gives President Bush and [the United States] the opportunity to advance our top national security imperatives," the authors conclude. "We are not assured of having this opportunity tomorrow. We must seize it today."


A commentary in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" says that despite the warm words coming from both the Russian and U.S. sides ahead of this week's summit, "the Bush administration's actions are sending a completely different message: The Cold War might be over, but the trade war is just beginning."

Mark Whitehouse, of Russia's "Vedomosti" business newspaper, writes: "In the long run, Russia won't be a safe and stable place unless it is economically sound. What Russia really needs from America and the West is what is already in its own best interest: open markets and a welcome into the world economy. And that's exactly what Russia is not getting."

Over the past decade, Whitehouse writes, U.S. administrations have repeatedly shown a "great propensity" to damage the Russian economy -- from George H.W. Bush's "food aid" program tying credits to imports of U.S. commodities to Bill Clinton's pushing the International Monetary Fund to keep Russia afloat with increasingly large loans the country had no hope of repaying.

Although the current Bush administration has managed to avoid such mistakes, he says, it is still sending the wrong message. It has failed to graduate Russia from the Soviet-era Jackson-Vanik amendment restricting its trade status. The U.S. Department of Commerce has yet to officially list Russia as a market economy. Even worse, Whitehouse writes: "Bush has gone on the offensive. Last week, he decided to drastically boost U.S. farm subsidies, effectively killing a World Trade Organization initiative to lower agricultural subsidies and trade barriers in Europe, a large potential market for Russian farmers." He also condemns the president's decision in March to impose punitive tariffs on steel imports.

With this in mind, he says, "it's hard to believe U.S. officials when they portray their meetings with Russians as valuable transfers of 'know-how' on concepts like free trade and fair play." In dealing with U.S. "strategic partners," Whitehouse concludes, "a little more consideration -- and a lot more consistency -- would go a long way."


An editorial in "The New York Times" today warns that in the continuing debate over the government's possible failure to anticipate and prevent the events of 11 September, "there is a danger that talk will become a substitute for action on the problems that desperately need fixing. That includes the performance of agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency, and even the Social Security Administration, which routinely assigns Social Security numbers to foreigners who submit fake documents."

The paper says the most worrisome element of the current debate in Washington is not what the U.S. president did or did not know, but why the government repeatedly failed to assemble and act on information about potential terrorist plots. "The FBI and CIA independently collected information that, if pooled and carefully analyzed, might have led Bill Clinton or George W. Bush to look more closely at the possibility of an attack within the United States. But the foreign and domestic intelligence data was never cross-referenced and stitched together so policymakers could divine a broader pattern." Although the two agencies now prepare a joint report on terrorist threats every day, the paper says much more remains to be done.

The paper goes on to say the tens of thousands of U.S. Social Security numbers illegally obtained each year can be used as a "first step in building a false identity that permits people, including terrorists, to get credit cards, open bank accounts, and blend into American society." The Social Security Administration, the paper says, has not gotten adequate help from the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which it calls "one of the most dysfunctional organizations in the nation." That, the editorial concludes, "is the kind of breakdown that Washington should be worried about."


John K. Cooley, writing in the "International Herald Tribune," says that when the "hubbub about what the White House did or didn't know before 11 September dies down, Congressional or other investigators should consider the specific warnings that friendly Arab intelligence services sent to Washington in the summer of 2001."

Cooley -- the author of "Unholy Wars: America, Afghanistan, and International Terrorism" -- says that Jordan and probably Morocco advised U.S. and allied intelligence that Al-Qaeda terrorists were planning major airborne terrorist operations in the U.S. "After verifying the authenticity and content of those messages," Cooley says, investigators should find out how seriously they were considered and what actions were taken, if any, as a result.

Cooley says that in summer of 2001, Jordan's intelligence service made a communications intercept that "stated clearly" that a major attack -- code named "The Big Wedding" -- was being planned in the United States involving aircraft.

As for the Moroccan case, Cooley says a French magazine and a Moroccan newspaper last November both reported a story that has since "met a wall of silence." The reports said a Moroccan agent had infiltrated Al-Qaeda and that several weeks before 11 September had informed his chiefs that Al-Qaeda was preparing a big operation in New York in the summer or autumn of 2001. This warning is said to have been passed on to Washington.

Cooley says he has authenticated the Jordanian case himself and that the Moroccan case remains to be proven beyond doubt. "But the moral of both is that no U.S. administration should ever downgrade or dismiss the help it gets from friendly countries, Arab or otherwise," Cooley concludes.


R. James Woolsey, writing in "The Wall Street Journal Europe," says it might be useful to step back from the finger-pointing about who in the U.S. government made what mistakes before September "and look for a moment at who was doing things right."

"Based on what is now publicly known, it looks as if a handful of people were demonstrably prescient before 11 September about terrorists being trained as pilots and crashing aircraft into major buildings in the U.S.," says Woolsey, a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Woolsey cites, among others, two FBI agents, each of whom separately shared his concerns about terrorist pilots with colleagues inside the FBI, as well as an analyst at the Library of Congress, who was asked to assess the psychology of terrorists by the National Intelligence Council in 1999. He also lists Stephen Gale, a terrorism expert at the University of Pennsylvania, who gave the Federal Aviation Administration in 1998 an analysis of how suicide pilots would operate, "and was met with a shrug."

Woolsey says the West will pick up information about terrorist attacks in the future from a number of different sources: "by interrogating prisoners captured abroad; by our armed forces capturing terrorists' computers in Afghanistan; by law enforcement investigations in the U.S.; by tips from friendly intelligence and law enforcement organizations in other countries; and to some extent through our spies and our collection of electronic intelligence."

What is needed, urgently, Woolsey says, is a way for this potpourri of information to be pulled together in one place and assessed by people with a "sixth sense." The most obvious place, he reasons, would be in the newly created Homeland Security office.

But Woolsey says Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge needs more resources than "civil servants on loan from other parts of the government." And to get the job done properly, his charter needs to let him move well beyond coordinating the efforts of various government departments.

The U.S., Woolsey concludes, "must now concentrate on finding, and getting judgments made by, the people who are likely to be right. Put off the recriminations and televised hearings. There's work to do."