Prague, 13 August 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Western media commentators today discuss the gap between rhetoric and policy on Afghanistan, the muted U.S. reaction to the sentencing of pro-democracy activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim to seven years hard labor in Egypt, Turkey's human rights reforms and the bid for European Union membership, and building a legal case for U.S. military intervention in Iraq.
THE WASHINGTON POST:
An editorial in "The Washington Post" says that there is a "mismatch" between the rhetoric and the policy of the U.S. administration regarding Afghanistan. While the rhetoric draws lofty comparisons with the Marshall Plan and the U.S.-funded rebuilding of Europe after World War II, the actual policy is a "lowest-common-denominator effort to buy short-term peace by cutting deals with warlords."
The rhetoric promises "support for democracy" and vows that the U.S. will not repeat its 1992 error of allowing Afghanistan to descend into civil war. Yet the reality acknowledges the problems "of feuding chieftains and impotent central authorities" and says these are problems the Afghans must solve themselves.
Transitional Authority President Hamid Karzai is desperate for a peacekeeping force deployed beyond the Kabul capital to "help break what Karzai calls 'the culture of warlordism.'" Instead, U.S. policy on the ground allows special forces "to work with the warlords and their militias, not to challenge them," while searching out Al-Qaeda remnants.
The U.S. assumed a responsibility in Afghanistan when it destroyed the Taliban regime, says the "Post." To shirk that responsibility now and allow "warlordism and cruelty to reign" would undermine America's campaign against terrorism and Afghanistan's future.
In Britain's "Financial Times," John Chipman of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies says if the U.S. decides to go to war with Iraq, it will need to set out a compelling legal argument for doing so. A new UN Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force "would settle all the arguments," he says.
"Alternatively, if the U.S. is able to argue that there is an imminent threat of the use of WMD [weapons of mass destruction] by Iraq and that an attack offers the last reasonable chance to prevent such use, it could adduce a right under general international law for preemptive action." But this argument would be complicated, he says, as "divining intentions is hard -- and defining imminence of risk and uniqueness of opportunity would be controversial."
Chipman says a "comprehensive military, political, economic, and postwar diplomatic strategy" would need to be implemented to ensure that any Iraq campaign was a well-considered project for "reordering [the] Middle East on better terms." But he says first, "developing the strong legal case for any action "is a necessary condition for everything that may follow."
In "Eurasia View," journalist and analyst Mevlut Katik notes that amid Turkey's current political and economic turmoil, parliament has adopted reforms to enhance its civil liberties and hasten integration into the European Union. Turkey hopes the EU will announce its willingness to hold formal accession talks with Ankara when European leaders meet at a Copenhagen summit in December.
The new laws allow teaching and broadcasting in Kurdish and outlaw the death penalty, two of several EU preconditions for Turkish accession. They also ease restrictions on public demonstrations, lift penalties for criticizing state institutions, outline new media freedoms, and allow non-Muslim religious organizations to buy property. But Katik says while EU officials in Brussels have welcomed Ankara's decision, they have indicated that accession aspirations will depend more on how the legislation is actually implemented.
Katik also notes that the EU Adaptation Laws could heighten social tensions in Turkey and raise concerns about the state's cohesion. "Kurds now free to learn Kurdish, for instance, may find themselves marginalized and question their national allegiances," he writes.
But more importantly, Katik says: "The Turkish majority may also come to realize that enhanced freedoms do not divide the country. If it can produce a coherent and energetic government to enact its laws, Turkey may extend European democracy closer to Central Asia, restoring a tradition of tolerance that dates back to Ottoman times."
LOS ANGELES TIMES:
In the "Los Angeles Times," Boston University professor and Mideast analyst Augustus Richard Norton looks at the muted reaction by the United States to the sentencing of pro-democracy activist and scholar Saad Eddin Ibrahim. Ibrahim was sentenced to seven years hard labor by an Egyptian court in a decision Norton calls "a verdict against the dream of peaceful political reform in Egypt."
Ibrahim believes "that democracy is the long-term solution to the Arab world's malaise," and that free elections would provide "an opportunity to hold government accountable." But Norton says the United States, which often considers itself the world's leading proponent of democracy, "meekly expressed only 'disappointment'" over Ibrahim's sentencing.
Its oft-mentioned and "amorphous" war on terrorism "tacitly licenses friendly dictatorships to imprison peaceful opponents," he says. "The issue at hand is only incidentally about a jailed scholar -- who is also a naturalized U.S. citizen," he points out.
Norton writes: "The United States' standing in Egypt and the world is now contaminated by Washington's feckless approach to political reform and its tolerance of repression and dictatorship. The Ibrahim case presents a fitting moment to debate whether a serious adjustment in policy is needed...."
In the 12 August edition of "The Nation," Dilip Hiro discusses some of Iraq's recent diplomatic advances throughout the Mideast region. Hiro says that Iraq is embarking on a "well-tailored policy of reconciliation with its neighbors," undertaken by Foreign Minister Naji Sabri. Early this year, Sabri -- a "smooth and sophisticated" former English-literature professor -- began in Tehran, resolving a long-running dispute over prisoners of war from the Iran-Iraq war. He made clear at the March Arab summit in Munich that Iraq now recognized Kuwait's border, and re-engaged Qatar, Oman, and Turkey, while Saudi companies continue to do business in Iraq within the framework of the UN "oil-for-food" program.
This diplomatic strategy "appears to be paying off," says Hiro. Even Kuwait has said it would only approve a U.S. military intervention in Iraq if it was sanctioned by the UN. Concurrently, Europe and NATO ally Turkey are asking whether the U.S. is willing to commit itself to Iraq for a decade to safeguard any post-Saddam regime from subversion by Iran and Syria, strategic allies since 1980. "U.S. war plans clearly pose numerous dangers to the region," Hiro writes. "But whether that will deter the hawks in Washington from pressing home their strategy of ousting Saddam by force remains to be seen."
In France's "Le Figaro," Jacques Beltran says by proposing that UN head weapons inspector Hans Blix come to Baghdad to discuss resuming inspections, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was trying to set the U.S. and EU at odds. Even if this latest offer is rejected by the UN Security Council due to the unacceptable limits Iraq places on inspections, Beltran says the differing trans-Atlantic views may "burst into broad daylight" as the U.S. military option draws near.
For Europe, he says, "it is very difficult to support a American military intervention as long as Iraq appears to show a willingness to resume dialogue." As for the United States, U.S. officials are divided themselves over the details of an intervention. Entirely aware of the dissension among allies -- and counting on Russia and China, as two permanent members of the UN Security Council who welcomed Baghdad's initiative -- Saddam Hussein is trying to encourage dissent to undermine the legitimacy of a U.S.-led intervention.
To avoid this, Beltran says the U.S. and EU should impose a deadline for the outcome of renewed negotiations, and before any resumption of inspections they should determine exactly what should be the outcome of such a mission and what will determine whether or not Iraq is cooperating. Finally, he says, they must agree on what to do should Iraq once again block inspections.
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE:
David Phillips of the Center for Preventive Action at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations think tank contributes a commentary on Iraq to the "International Herald Tribune." He says the joint Iraq-UN review of Iraq's weapons program, proposed by Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri earlier this month, was a "blatant effort to undermine procedures established by the Security Council for conducting weapons inspections."
Phillips says that by "feigning compliance," Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein "hopes to obfuscate the extent of his biological, chemical, and nuclear programs, as well as Iraq's missile-development program." But Phillips says, "If Iraq is sincere about its desire to resolve issues with the United Nations, Sabri will have to deal directly with Hans Blix, [executive] chairman of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission.... [If] indeed Iraqi leaders have nothing to hide, they will finalize plans for the commission to visit Iraq to discuss modalities for comprehensive inspections."
But Phillips says in order to guarantee "the integrity of a new inspections regime, the United Nations must ensure that Iraqi authorities have no influence over the composition or itinerary of the inspection team."
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
An editorial in "The New York Times" says the U.S. administration and Congress are attempting to bully the 77 signatory countries to the statute creating the International Criminal Court. Last week, the U.S. State Department warned these countries "that they could be denied United States military assistance unless they sign agreements shielding American personnel from the court's authority."
The paper says, "Forgotten in this frenzy is the court's desirable goal of bringing international war criminals to justice, and its substantial protections against abusive prosecutions."
Protections for innocent peacekeepers, aid workers and diplomats are "already assured by treaty provisions that limit the court's jurisdiction to war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity, and let it proceed only when national courts fail to prosecute." The court is not designed "to frame Americans on trumped-up charges."
"The New York Times" editorial says a "reasonable" U.S. policy would be to help the new court carry out its mandate, which it says is in accordance "with long-standing American goals as well." Though this policy shift may not happen soon, the administration and Congress should at least "respect the sovereign right of other countries to join the court without being subjected to American pressure."