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Western Press Review: U.S. Options In Iraq, The Environment, And Why Democracy Fails

Prague, 24 July 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Press commentary in the major Western dailies today looks at a possible U.S.-led war in Iraq, withholding funds from the UN's Population Fund, why democracy is not always the answer and the destruction of the global environment, among other issues.


In "The Boston Globe," columnist James Carroll says the U.S. government is on a "slow but certain" path to a major war with Iraq. "Such open maneuvering," he says, "could not have happened when U.S. power was balanced, and therefore checked, by the Soviet Union, nor when that power was mitigated by Washington's regard for world opinion." Today, it seems "the only conceivable check on the sole superpower is the will of its own people." Carroll calls on U.S. citizens to take up the debate on war with Iraq, warning that U.S. President George W. Bush, "in his highly personal [and] irrational" campaign against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, may have "set the very world on a course toward disaster."

Carroll goes on to ask a multitude of questions regarding a U.S. war in the Gulf. Has the bellicose rhetoric of the Bush administration already eliminated alternatives to war? The option of using "containment and deterrence" methods -- which worked for decades against the Soviet Union -- depends on the cooperation of other nations. Has Bush's warlike rhetoric already destroyed that cooperation? he asks, adding: And wouldn't a war with Iraq, "with its risk of inflaming the 'clash of civilizations' and its likely weakening of ties" between the U.S. and its allies, make the U.S. more vulnerable to terrorist attacks?


A "Financial Times" editorial discusses some of the findings of the UN's most recent human development report. In many developing countries, instituting democratic practices "has produced only meager improvements in the everyday life of most individuals, politically as well as economically," the paper says. The UN surmises that in many nations, this is because democracy is being practiced ineffectively. Sometimes the ballot box is rigged outright or voters are intimidated. Or perhaps the mistaken assumption prevails "that democracy stops at the polling booth." Democratic systems "take root and confer their full benefits only if citizens are able to exercise their rights, engage in debate, influence decisions, and hold governments to account." These freedoms must be ensured "by an infrastructure of strong institutions that are fair, open, and responsive to popular will."

The "Financial Times" says the impulse for attaining an open and representative system must come from within a country itself. "The rest of the world can encourage that process," the paper says. "It cannot impose it."


An editorial in "The Washington Post" today says U.S. President George W. Bush "claims to be compassionate," and has declared that "fighting global poverty is part of his struggle against terrorism." But the paper says his administration's decision this week (22 July) to withhold $34 million from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) -- or 12 percent of its budget -- contradicts these stated goals. This decision will result "in poor women getting fewer health services, which is hardly compassionate. It will also weaken efforts at population control, an important component of the broader fight against global poverty."

The U.S. administration explained that it was holding the money pending an investigation into whether UNFPA funds were being used for coercive birth control methods in China, or as part of its forced sterilization policies. State Department investigators have duly concluded that there was no evidence the funds were being thus misdirected. But the paper says the administration canceled the funds anyway, "because that's what antiabortion conservatives wanted." In basing this decision on internal political considerations, the editorial notes, the administration "disdained [the] findings of its own investigators."


In France's "Le Figaro," Pierre Rousselin discusses the assassination yesterday of Hamas military chief Salah Shehada. Rousselin says in itself, the elimination of a man responsible for the deaths of dozens of Israelis "would not arouse particular indignation." But the missile attack that killed Shehada was targeting a civilian residential building and resulted in the deaths of 14 civilians, including some very young children. It's a pity Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon chose to strike a district swarming with people, writes Rousselin. These additional civilian victims are now going to "feed a thirst for vengeance," and bring renewed tragedy.

The Israeli government has justified its actions by explaining that "kamikaze" leaders hide within the population. "This is true," says Rousselin, "but it excuses nothing."

There had been some significant progress toward peace lately, he says. Discussions had restarted, and the diplomatic climate seemed more promising. Once again, says Rousselin, the appearance of a light of hope brings yet another slaughter that calls everything into question. He says, "Without the resolute intervention of a third party, this vicious cycle will never be broken."


In a contribution to "The Washington Post," international law specialist Madeline Morris of Duke University discusses the International Criminal Court, which came into effect on 1 July of this year. Morris says that although this court is "designed with the noblest of goals," the ICC "lacks democratic legitimacy: Only one-third of the world's countries have become parties to the treaty that created the ICC, and yet the court claims the right to exercise prosecutorial authority over people from any country."

She says it could be argued that it is worth "sacrificing our democratic values to prevent or reduce genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. But we must soberly confront the fact that recent international tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda did little to halt the atrocities. Indeed, crimes continued unabated in both regions even while the tribunals were under way," she says.

Morris says it is possible a permanent international court like the ICC would have more effect than past tribunals. But perhaps not, she says. "As heart-rending as the crimes are, and as deeply as we wish to stop them, we should think long and hard about endorsing a system we know to be undemocratic when its benefits remain so speculative."


An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" looks at the meeting last week between French President Jacques Chirac and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The "Journal" says Chirac "neatly undercut the EU's bargaining position over the Russian [exclave] of Kaliningrad" by insisting that Kaliningraders should not need visas to travel through Lithuania and Poland to get to Russia after the 2004 scheduled EU expansion. The EU is afraid that visa-free travel through EU member states will undermine its border security.

The Kaliningrad issue has been a source of EU-Russian contention, and the "Journal" calls it "an important test of the EU's ability to play power politics." Chirac's statements were "unhelpful" in this endeavor, the paper says, adding that "France cannot credibly claim it's concerned with Kaliningrad" anyway.

The paper notes that Chirac also backed down from France's "traditional, and until now commendable, criticism of human rights violations in Chechnya." The "Journal" speculates that perhaps Chirac wanted to strike "a special bond" with Putin, "a la [U.S. President] George W. Bush." But the paper says this "outdated version of French diplomatic theater only undermines French interests in the long run."


Today's "International Herald Tribune" carries a contribution by Claude Martin of WWF (World Wildlife Fund) International, a Swiss-based environmental monitoring group. He says since the 1980s, humanity's use of natural resources has exceeded the regenerative capacity of the planet. Today, this "ecological footprint" -- the total area humans need to sustain their activities -- is about 20 percent too great. "At the current rate of consumption, the ecological footprint of all humankind will reach twice the regenerative capacity of Earth by 2050."

Four fundamental changes must be made to redress this imbalance, says Martin. First, resources must be used more efficiently in the production of goods and services. Next, resources must be consumed more efficiently. Third, population growth must be controlled, and finally, we must "protect, manage, and restore natural ecosystems to conserve biodiversity and ecological services."

Martin says bringing the human impact on the environment back in harmony with the capacity of the Earth to regenerate is the challenge for the World Summit for Sustainable Development opening in Johannesburg next month. "The delegates should remember that the year 2050 is within the lifetimes of most of our own children."