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Western Press Review: Debating 'Regime Change' And Civil Liberties As Victim In The 'War on Terror'

Prague, 8 August 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Western media commentary and analysis today discusses indications that the U.S. is preparing to launch a military offensive in Iraq, global population issues ahead of the World Summit on Sustainable Development in South Africa, Ukraine's relations with the West, and the circumvention of civil liberties in the United States under the rubric of its "war on terrorism."


In "Newsweek" magazine, international edition editor Fareed Zakaria discusses the possibility that the U.S. is preparing to launch a military offensive in Iraq. Zakaria says it is "time to move beyond vague declarations about regime change -- which is a wish, not a policy -- and start building support for military action." Zakaria suggests that if the U.S. administration seriously outlined its case for military action and its goals for a postwar Iraq, it would even receive UN approval.

He goes on to note that President Bush's father, former U.S. President George H. W. Bush, managed to get the backing of 28 nations when he launched the 1991 Gulf War following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. That coalition included France, Egypt, Syria, Pakistan, and even Russia, which "broke with seven decades of obstructionism" in lending its support. The UN also authorized the action. Zakaria says today, "All this is seen as window dressing by some in Washington."

But the United States "derives much of its standing in the world because, unlike other dominant powers in history, it has been concerned about international norms." Zakaria concludes by saying President Bush should take a diplomatic tip from his father's conduct during the 1991 confrontation with Iraq, and start building an international coalition.


The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" today discusses U.S.-Saudi Arabian relations, calling them "complicated and explosive." For decades, they have been guided by strategic and economic interests. "Is Saudi Arabia now an enemy?" the paper asks. Washington now accuses Saudi Arabia of fostering terrorism; its political credit has diminished. Oil for reasonable prices can no longer serve to placate what is politically unacceptable and dangerous, the editorial says. Saudi Arabia, which served as an ally in the Gulf War, is not proving a dependable partner in a possible war against Iraq this time around. The commentary says Saudi Arabia is apprehensive of such a war, fearing the consequences for itself in the event of a change of regime in Baghdad. Whether or not the new situation in the Middle East will be determined by Iraq's future, the "FAZ" says America must also clarify its position on Saudi Arabia.


In "The Christian Science Monitor," Werner Fornos of the Population Institute looks at overpopulation and global poverty ahead of the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa (26 August-5 September). Fornos notes that 1.1 billion people in the less-developed world lack access to clean, drinkable water. Moreover, global disparity in wealth remains vast, and "160,000 people migrate from rural areas to towns and cities every day" in search of better circumstances. These people then face being "crammed too closely together in inner-city slums or shantytowns that lack access to basic sanitation."

Fornos says there are 25 million environmental refugees in the world fleeing resource depletion, or ecological degradation and disaster -- a number he notes is equivalent to the entire population of North Korea.

But against this "bleak backdrop," Fornos says preparations for the Johannesburg meeting have not dealt sufficiently with population issues, which he says should be at the very core of the summit's deliberations. The Johannesburg meeting must "call for urgent action to ensure universal access to voluntary family planning and reproductive health services, and the empowerment of women as partners in development," he says. Fornos calls on summit participants to resolve to win "the race to protect the world's environment and resources from the forces destroying them."


In a contribution to Britain's "Financial Times," Charles Grant of the Center for European Reform says the NATO alliance should not devolve into an organization that is more political than military. NATO "should provide a forum for North Americans, Europeans, and Russians to talk about matters of common concern, such as proliferation, missile defense, the Balkans, and the modernization of Russia's armed forces," he says. "There is no other body that can keep the U.S. directly involved in European affairs. And no other organization is so well suited to engaging Russia's security establishment." Grant says in the future, if Russia becomes more Westernized, "and if the European Union's common foreign and security policy becomes more solid, NATO's political organization is likely to rest on three pillars: the U.S., the EU, and Russia."

Grant predicts that the expected enlargement of NATO this November will reduce the alliance's military cohesion. But he advises NATO to maintain its military organization, as this encourages "interoperability" among NATO members and alliance partners, allowing them to work in concert in either peacekeeping or fighting. While the EU may be taking over more peacekeeping on the continent, he says difficult situations such as Kosovo require the involvement of NATO "and thus, implicitly, of the U.S."


A commentary in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" says the war in Afghanistan is not over by a long shot. In spite of a contingent of 5,000 international peacekeepers in the capital Kabul, fighting continues on many fronts: "Nobody trusts anyone, [and] there is unabated hate" among Afghanistan's many ethnic, tribal, and political factions.

U.S. President George W. Bush has always maintained that the war on terror was a long-term affair, and the paper says he was right. This war has to be waged on two fronts, it says: with bombs and by rebuilding the country. Otherwise, the roots of terrorism will sprout once more: poverty, lawlessness, the abuse of human rights, and ethnic hatred. And this does not only apply to Afghanistan, says the paper, as the same might be said of any military campaign in Iraq. For the future in general, it says, it would be wise to treat Afghanistan as a practice ground.


"The New York Times" says the Bush administration "seems to believe, on no good legal authority, that if it calls [U.S.] citizens [enemy] combatants in the war on terrorism, it can imprison them indefinitely and deprive them of [access to] lawyers." While hundreds of people have been detained by U.S. investigators since the 11 September attacks, the paper focuses on the case of Yasser Esam Hamdi, a U.S.-born descendant of Saudi parents. Hamdi, who was captured fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan and is being held in Norfolk, Virginia, has been denied his constitutional right to see a lawyer and has not been charged with any crime.

The Bush administration has suggested that such legal matters, including the right of federal courts to review the documentation in Hamdi's case, are subservient to "the right of the executive branch to oversee the waging of war." But the paper says "declaring American citizens to be enemy combatants, and therefore not entitled to basic constitutional protections, is a clear matter of domestic civil liberties."

The editorial says the Bush administration may be using the Hamdi case to establish that it has "the exclusive power to decide who is an enemy combatant." The government would then "be free to seize anyone it wants simply by saying the magic words 'enemy combatant,' and the courts will be powerless to release such people from prison, or even provide them with lawyers."


In "The Wall Street Journal Europe," staff writer Leila Abboud looks at some of the misgivings being expressed by American allies faced with a possible U.S.-led military action in Iraq. She notes that Germany and Saudi Arabia publicly expressed this week that they do not support an attack on Iraq. Even Jalal Talabani, leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan -- an Iraqi Kurd group expected to provide support for U.S. military action -- has said his people would not "blindly" support an invasion.

Abboud says much of the reluctance comes from domestic political pressures, both in Europe and the Middle East. The public in many nations has expressed opposition to a U.S. campaign in Iraq. The Bush administration's "heightened rhetoric" has also made European leaders "skittish," she says. "Many Europeans see the Bush administration's new doctrine of 'preemptive strike' as a threat to international law and justice, and don't want to see Iraq become the proving ground for the concept. They also worry that the U.S. doesn't have the staying power to ensure regional stability and rebuild Iraq."


Today's "The Washington Post" says Ukraine has "abruptly dropped its longstanding policy of balancing itself between the West and Russia. Its government recently requested talks on becoming a full member of both NATO and the European Union."

The "Post" says that in both Europe and United States, the reaction to this prospect has been "guarded." But Ukraine is too significant a country "to be kept on the back burner," the paper says. The U.S. and Europe "must formulate a clear answer." With its size and strategic location in Eastern Europe, Ukraine "is a natural member" of the supra-national organizations spanning the European continent. Without it, the "Post" says the ideal of a Europe "whole and free" would be incomplete. And "without an anchor in these institutions, the country's long-term stability and even its viability as an independent nation could be seriously threatened."

The prospect of NATO membership -- with its "comprehensive and detailed reform programs" for prospective members -- could "provide a structure for long-term change" in Ukraine. The paper says the NATO alliance is "the best vehicle that exists for managing what is, ultimately, a transition vital to long-term European security."


In regional daily "Eurasia View," Irakly Areshidze from the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute of Johns Hopkins University says Russia is "taking advantage of Georgia's domestic turmoil" and pressuring Tbilisi to allow Russian troops to deploy on Georgian territory, "ostensibly to prevent incursions by Chechen rebels."

But Georgian officials reject this suggestion and are resisting Russia's demands. Areshidze says many observers in Tbilisi believe Russia's actions "are motivated more by a desire to retain a strategic foothold in Georgia than to contain the Chechen insurgency."

Tbilisi does admit that "small numbers of Chechen fighters have utilized Georgian territory" -- but officials insist Georgia's security forces can prevent any border infiltration by Chechen insurgents. Tbilisi has also refused Russian demands to extradite Chechen fighters, on the grounds that Russia had not provided sufficient evidence against them.

Areshidze says many analysts and politicians in Georgia believe Russia's recent moves may also be "designed to send a signal to the United States that Moscow will take steps to prevent the erosion of its influence in the Caucasus."

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