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Western Press Review: The Trans-Atlantic Divide, Afghan Civilian Casualties, And EU Enlargement

Prague, 22 July 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary and analysis today and over the weekend looks at continued reports of civilian deaths from the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan, the challenges ahead for EU hopefuls, the dismissal of German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping, the growing diplomatic trans-Atlantic divide, and debating U.S. action in Iraq.


In the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," columnist Karl Feldmeyer discusses the sudden dismissal last week (18 July) of German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping. Feldmeyer says that under normal circumstances, "the damaging report that was Scharping's undoing would not even have been enough to foster concrete accusations." But during a close race ahead of September elections, Scharping made negative headlines once again -- perhaps threatening the Social Democrats' election chances. This "was apparently reason enough" for German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to ask for his resignation.

But Feldmeyer says there is no clear motive for such a sudden move, although there had "always been disagreement between the two men." Right after the damaging report was printed, rumors arose that the story had been ordered. Feldmeyer surmises that Schroeder "was keen on getting rid of Scharping before the election, even willing to make up an excuse to do so." Chancellor Schroeder "obviously thought Scharping's dismissal would do less harm than if he were to remain in office." Feldmeyer concludes that this may have been an act of election-year desperation. Chancellor Schroeder "apparently sees his election hopes severely threatened."


Today's "Financial Times" carries a piece by Stefan Wagstyl, the first of a series on business and EU enlargement. He says that in the more than 12 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, "a combination of economic reform, local entrepreneurship, and extensive foreign investment has transformed business conditions" substantially in the eight former Soviet states currently negotiating for accession to the EU: the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, and Slovenia. But much remains to be done if the region is to benefit fully from accession. In particular, he says, locally owned enterprises must work "to compete with existing foreign-owned competitors and the new investors expected after accession."

The most important economic challenge will be sustaining growth "in countries where average gross domestic product is only 40 percent of the EU average." But long-term prospects for growth are good, says Wagstyl, "because of the region's low-cost labor, its skilled workers, and its proximity to Western European export markets." Even so, the short-term outlook can be bleak, he says. In addition, these nations still have much to do with regard to fighting corruption among politicians, judges, and other officials.


The "Chicago Tribune" carries an item by syndicated columnist Georgie Anne Geyer in which she says diplomats working on the Mideast peace process may agree on goals but differ on methods. The United States has all the right goals -- the end of Israeli occupation, a two-state solution -- but there is no clear outline for making it happen. The Europeans have more far-reaching and workable ideas, she says.

At last week's meeting of the diplomatic "quartet" -- officials from the U.S., EU, UN, and Russia -- the Europeans brought proposals from German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer "that would create an international protectorate for the Palestinian territories, which would speed up a radical reform program and lead to full statehood sooner than the Bush proposals."

The Europeans also suggested Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat should appoint an official with executive powers to oversee Palestinian political reforms and establish security cooperation. "The Europeans were telling Washington, in effect, 'We'll deliver on the Palestinian side -- you deliver on the Israeli side.' But by midweek, there was nothing but disputatious disagreement," she says.

Geyer says by all accounts, the U.S. plan -- "really more a rhetorical declaration than a practical, workable plan -- remains mired in one concept: that Israel must have iron-clad security before anything serious can move on the Palestinian side."


In "The New York Times," Steven Erlanger says European leaders are coming to "a moment of truth" about their relationship with the United States. He says, "American contempt for a weak Europe is producing pressure for more unity, more outspoken independence, and a clearer understanding that Europe must spend more money on its military forces if Washington is going to take it seriously."

Real interests are diverging and even pro-American leaders in Europe are openly differing with Washington, Erlanger says. He says Europe was "shocked" over the U.S. stance on the International Criminal Court. There is also "puzzlement" over the U.S. concentration on Iraq "as the Israeli-Palestinian relationship deteriorates, and confusion over how to move forward in the Middle East with Yasser Arafat ruled out," as the Americans insist.

Erlanger says some Europeans are even discussing an increase in defense spending, with the understanding that "the superpower in Washington will only take them seriously when they can project hard power to back up their foreign policies."

He says some argue "a more competitive relationship with Washington [would] be healthier, because it would be more realistic" than pretending that the trans-Atlantic allies share more goals and outlooks than they do.


An editorial in France's daily "Le Monde" says that if one is to consider the Caucasus an integral part of Europe, it must be acknowledged that the continent is now hosting one of the worst conflicts since World War II.

Russian President Vladimir Putin describes the Chechen campaign as an antiterrorism operation, but the paper says this is a thin rhetorical spin on operations that have been criticized by the United States and Europe. Putin cannot hide the massive incursions of the Russian Army and the systematic violence against civilian populations.

Now, says the paper, French President Jacques Chirac seems to be forgetting all this and has pledged his support for Putin, also under the guise of fighting terrorism. But no one is forgetting what is going on in Chechnya, the paper says: "There is a constant blockade on Western journalists...[and] sweeping operations continue daily, just as do the kidnappings and 'disappearances.'"

Chirac "cannot ignore this violence," says "Le Monde." There is a total absence of political negotiations to end the conflict, and France is now supporting a "scandalous" war. There are some causes that rise above strategic and diplomatic considerations, says the editorial.


The 21 July edition of "The New York Times" this week takes an in-depth look at the hundreds of civilian casualties that have resulted from U.S.-led military operations in Afghanistan. Dexter Filkins says the American air campaign, based as it is on a "high-tech, out-of-harm's-way strategy," has led to the deaths of hundreds of civilians.

Reviews of the locations of some of the errant attacks suggested that American commanders have sometimes relied on mistaken information from local Afghans in choosing their targets. U.S. reliance on air strikes instead of ground operations has also made double-checking information difficult.

"The Pentagon often relies on information from warlords and other Afghans whose loyalties are unclear in a country riven by decades of war and tribal rivalries." Such information "may be complete or inaccurate, and sometimes even deliberately misleading," Filkins says.

Filkins adds that the recent errant attack in Oruzgan Province has "crystallized a sense of anger" that is "undermining the goodwill the United States gained by helping to dislodge the Taliban." And this anger on the part of Afghans may eventually undermine U.S. attempts to root out the remaining Taliban and Al-Qaeda forces in the region.


In "The Wall Street Journal Europe," David Phillips of the Council on Foreign Relations says most of Iraq's neighbors would prefer the status quo in Baghdad to a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

"They violate international sanctions on Baghdad with impunity and, as a result, are awash in cheap oil smuggled out of Iraq," he says. The Iraqi Kurds are similarly wary of a U.S.-led operation, but for other reasons. They have known both the wrath of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and betrayal by the West, says Phillips.

"Since the Kurdish uprising was brutally suppressed in 1991, Iraqi Kurds have worked hard at recovery and reconstruction. After a decade of development and self-rule, they have a lot to lose from a half-hearted effort" to remove the Iraqi leader.

Iraq's neighbors and regional leaders must be convinced of the U.S.'s seriousness about effecting a "regime change," says Phillips. "Assuring Iraq's neighbors that regime change would advance their interests fosters common purpose. It would also advance international cooperation and accelerate the demise" of Saddam Hussein's regime, he says.