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Western Press Review: 'Collateral Damage' And Responsibility In The War On Terror

Prague, 4 July 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary today discusses "collateral damage" and responsibility in the war on terror, the International Criminal Court, and today's Independence Day holiday in the United States.


An editorial in "The Boston Globe" says that in withdrawing U.S. support for the International Criminal Court, U.S. President George W. Bush scorned an institution that the United States had been instrumental in creating. Vetoing a UN Security Council resolution to extend the peacekeeping mission in Bosnia further compounded this error, the paper says. "Even [America's] most steadfast allies could not help seeing in the veto an assertion that the world ought to accept one standard of justice for Americans and another for nationals of all other countries."

The "Globe" says that many of the fears expressed by the U.S. are erroneous. The court "is empowered to prosecute only accused perpetrators whose own governments are unable or unwilling to prosecute them. And there are already agreements with the court protecting UN peacekeepers from prosecution," the paper writes.

The "Globe" concludes, "By endangering a crucial UN mission in Bosnia to allay a groundless anxiety about the International Criminal Court, Bush has made the United States look every bit as unilateral as the country's critics contend it is, and he has allowed the United States to be utterly isolated on the world stage."


In Britain's daily "The Guardian," Simon Tisdall discusses the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan in light of two tragic accidents. In April, four Canadian soldiers were accidentally air-bombed by their American allies. On 30 June, in an incident now under investigation, an Afghan engagement party was hit in the course of a U.S. air strike. Tisdall says incidents such as these are routinely dismissed as inevitabilities in warfare. But he writes, "If the U.S. were to stop throwing its weight around in an increasingly -- and literally -- aimless way, such horrors might be avoided."

Tisdall goes on to question the clarity of the U.S. military objective in Afghanistan. He says it must be surely clear that all notable Al-Qaeda and Taliban members have long since fled to Pakistan and elsewhere. But concluding the Afghan military campaign would prove politically tricky for the U.S. administration, Tisdall says. The Afghan campaign "has become a showcase for his administration's post-11 September international coalition. As the U.S. is attacked on all sides for arrogant unilateralism, the coalition represents the White House's one attempt at multilateralism. U.S.-dominated, deeply unequal, arm-twisting multilateralism perhaps, [but] multilateralism all the same."

He says that as Britain prepares to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, "Washington's need to demonstrate global support is verging on the desperate."


In "The Washington Post," columnist Jim Hoagland also weighs in on the issue of "collateral damage" in wartime and admitting responsibility. He says such incidents are "inevitable in a military operation as complex and destructive as America's war on Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. But callousness or indifference to civilian losses is not." Hoagland says the U.S. administration "needs to show Afghans, Americans, and the world that it understands that difference."

"A statement of regret is the minimum of decency that can be expected from the U.S. government in such circumstances," Hoagland writes. In addition, he suggests that official reports on such occurrences should be quickly released to the public. If U.S. forces are found to be at fault, Hoagland says the administration should acknowledge this responsibility and compensate the victims or their families.

Hoagland goes on to say that significant changes on the front lines of the Afghan campaign need to be factored into U.S. strategy. Military and political goals must be reassessed, he says. The air campaign "is now producing diminishing returns. It will be increasingly necessary to use ground troops, rather than bombing first and asking questions later." Most significant concentrations of Taliban and Al-Qaeda troops have fled to Pakistan, he says. And the U.S. Pentagon must acknowledge this reality as it moves forward in its campaign.


An editorial in "The New York Times" discusses today's U.S. Independence Day holiday. Traditionally a day for outdoor cookouts, picnics, and parades, the paper says part of the charm of this holiday has always been "the diffidence with which it is celebrated, more for the fireworks and parades than for the rhetoric of nationhood."

But the paper says this year is likely to be different, following the upsurge in American patriotism after the 11 September attacks. The editorial remarks that American freedom is "part of the grain of everyday life," something that is taken for granted rather than experienced acutely at any one moment. "Freedom isn't the perpetual existence of all possible choices. Freedom is the ability to choose whom and what you will become according to your own [wish]. Every Fourth of July reminds us of the importance of that choice, how it has been made in the past and how the choosing looks to us at this moment. Every Fourth of July carries us back to a summation of sorts. But this will be one of those Fourths that feels utterly different. It will stand apart in the run of years because it absorbs not only the whole of this nation's history but also the significance of one day late last summer."


An editorial in Britain's "The Daily Telegraph" looks at ongoing tensions between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. The paper says, "The impasse, based on a complete lack of trust between New Delhi and Islamabad, persists." Recent claims by Indian officials that infiltration into Kashmir by Islamic militants is on the rise have served as a reminder of how close to war the two nations remain. The paper says continued efforts by Western officials will be needed "during what promises to be a tense period leading up to elections in Kashmir in the autumn. Neither a significant withdrawal of troops from the border nor the resumption of bilateral dialogue is likely before then, but it may be possible, provided infiltration is contained, to persuade the Indians to make further placatory gestures."

The paper says the "most promising way forward lies in the technical monitoring that the Americans have proposed." This would provide "a means of testing the claims and counter-claims of either side, and of bringing appropriate pressure to bear." But for now, the paper says, the region remains "alarmingly vulnerable" to extremist activities.


France's daily "Le Monde" discusses the unanimous adoption yesterday of UN Resolution 1421, which extends by 12 days UN peacekeeping missions in Bosnia. This resolution will allow the UN to maintain for the time being its activities in the region, including maintaining law and order and training a police force to eventually take over. The adoption of this text resulted from the impasse created within the Security Council, as 13 out of 14 members rejected two successive versions of a U.S. proposal presented on 30 June. The U.S. proposal sought to guarantee American citizens immunity from the new International Criminal Court, which came into effect on 1 July. After the proposals' rejection, the U.S. used its veto to block an extension of the Bosnian mission and threatened to pull its peacekeepers out of other international missions as well.

The paper says a new form of the U.S. proposal was not sustained by the Security Council when it met again yesterday to decide on the Bosnia mission. It cites one diplomat as saying the U.S. representatives indicated that they would consult with Washington and return with a new proposal also seeking to protect U.S. citizens from the reach of the international court.


In a contribution to France's "Le Figaro" daily, the director of an independent informational website on the Middle East (, Elisabeth Schemla, discusses President George W. Bush's speech last week on U.S. Middle East policy. She says Bush has defined "a new American strategic doctrine" that is both logical and cynical at the same time.

Since 11 September, she says, Bush has made clear that he is declaring all-out war on Islamic terrorists as his foreign policy priority. Schemla says that Bush has also proved that he is not content with words: he has "liquidated" the Taliban regime, sought to soothe Indian-Pakistani tensions, tracked down terrorist organizations and dismantled their financial networks, and made a historic alliance with Russia, particularly regarding petroleum exports.

Ultimately, says Schemla, Bush's rhetoric in the war on terror is exactly the same as that used by his predecessors against the Soviet Union during the Cold War. He seems to be exclusively driven by the interests of his country, she remarks. In his Mideast speech, he used harsh words for the Palestinians and their leaders in the Palestinian Authority. But he also offers the Palestinians a historic opportunity to rid themselves of the recent destructiveness, which has proved ineffective in its efforts to undermine Jewish nationalism, and "to finally reach maturity."