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Western Press Review: Division And Dissent Over Iraq, Russian-Georgian Relations, And The Mideast

Prague, 14 August 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Western press analysis and commentary today looks at Iraq's political opposition, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, dissent within the U.S. administration over a possible military conflict with Iraq, Russian-Georgian relations, and the situation in Afghanistan.


In today's "The Boston Globe," the daily's Thomas Oliphant discusses some of the issues relating to a possible U.S. military intervention in Iraq. He notes that one of the problems that may arise is the lack of cohesion among the Iraqi opposition, a diverse group of exiles, former officials, and others from different religious and ethnic groups.

This opposition, loosely grouped together as the Iraqi National Congress, met with Washington officials last week. But Oliphant says: "The federation implied by the name Iraqi National Congress has been more fiction than fact in recent years. Many of the leaders know their way around London better than Baghdad, some have misappropriated U.S. money, and their claims of ties inside Iraq are specious. These are brave people," he says, "deserving of American support, but not of unquestioning acceptance of their claims."

An intervention in Iraq involves many risks, says Oliphant, and should not be undertaken "foolishly" with a strategy "based more on assumptions than knowledge."


In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," Henry Siegman of the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations discusses the results of a recent poll conducted by the Palestinian Birzeit University. The poll results, released on 12 August, indicate that Palestinians, whom Siegman calls "heretofore the most secular and most educated in the Arab world," are increasingly turning toward radical Islamic political agendas. Moreover, he says, the young seem to be more inclined to support these ideologies.

Siegman says feeding this trend are the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. He suggests that the Sharon administration's rationale "is to provoke ever greater Palestinian extremism, which in turn provides justification for ever more severe Israeli measures intended to destroy what is left of [an] economy and physical infrastructure that make the barest level of civilized existence possible."

Siegman says the "escalation of Palestinian extremism plays directly into such a strategy, one that Israel's rightist government hopes will lead to Palestinian surrender to its terms."

But Siegman goes on to note that a majority of both Palestinians and Israelis continue to support political negotiations and a two-state solution. He says the fact that both groups also support the destructive policies of their respective governments is less a matter of ideology than "an expression of rage over the killing of innocents."


Eliot Cohen, a professor of strategic studies at Johns Hopkins' School of Advanced International Studies, contributes a commentary today on a possible U.S. war with Iraq to "The Wall Street Journal Europe."

Cohen says a healthy civilian-military relationship rests on friction and tension, "tempered by unflinching candor, grudging respect and, ultimately, military deference to civilian intentions."

Cohen goes on to discuss what he calls the "murmurings of uniformed discontent" in the Pentagon over a possible military conflict with Iraq. It is the job of a political leader, Cohen writes, to take into account the soldiers' reservations, to probe for differing opinions and, press for innovative solutions.

And then there is the lingering shadow of Vietnam, adding to civilian-military friction. "American politicians, pundits and soldiers have told themselves that the war was lost because of civilian micromanagement," Cohen writes. But "that view reflects a gross misunderstanding of an exceedingly complex war, in which civilian laxity was as much to blame as civilian control."

"Of all the many difficult requirements we levy upon soldiers, not the least is the obligation to present their views with utter honesty in private, but to maintain silence in public," Cohen concludes. "Judging by the behavior of senior [U.S.] military leaders there are more than enough who understand [this tradition] to carry us through yet another difficult period of civil-military tension."


In a contribution to the French daily "Le Monde," geostrategy specialist Gerard Chaliand notes that several divisions persist within the U.S. administration over how, or whether to, lead a military operation in Iraq. But the U.S. can count on Great Britain to lend its support in any endeavor, he says, while Turkey will participate indirectly with funding.

He predicts that Qatar will replace Saudi Arabia as a possible launching pad for attacks, "and it is highly likely that, discreetly, Jordan will lend its territory [for] neutralizing Iraq's western border, which is dangerously close to Israel."

Effecting a "regime change" in the Gulf state would have several objectives, he says. On the one hand, it is a question of limiting the importance of Saudi oil, as a Western-leaning Iraq would provide increased petroleum exports, allowing the U.S. to withdraw its support for the Saudi royal family.

On the other, Iraq could then become a model of "development and democracy" in the region. But Chaliand concludes by saying that it remains to be seen whether the reality will lend itself to these goals.


In a contribution to the "Los Angeles Times," "Politique Internationale" editor Amir Taheri says that, initially, the United States was careful to minimize its involvement in Afghan politics. The U.S. aim was to destroy the Al-Qaeda terrorist network, "kill or capture as many of the criminals as possible, organize some form of governmental authority and then leave."

But now, he says, U.S. involvement in Afghanistan "is being transformed from a limited police operation into an open-ended empire-building scheme with geostrategic goals."

"Under this plan, the U.S. would acquire a permanent military presence in Afghanistan and turn it into a base for projecting power in Central Asia, the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East and the Persian Gulf." Afghanistan could also serve as a base for U.S. military facilities in Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Georgia.

Taheri goes on to note that some have already identified Afghanistan as a possible transit route "for oil and gas pipelines from Kazakhstan and elsewhere in Central Asia via Pakistan and the Indian Ocean." He remarks that both Transitional Authority President Hamid Karzai and U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad have worked as consultants for U.S. oil companies eyeing this possibility since 1996.

"A third Afghan involved, Ashref Ghani, is minister of finance in the Karzai cabinet," he adds.


In "The Wall Street Journal Europe," Vladimir Socor of the Jamestown Foundation says Russian officials "are arguing that Russia has a 'right' to intervene in Georgia -- just as the U.S. has in Afghanistan, Israel has on the West Bank, or India does in its own part of Kashmir -- against 'international terrorism.'" But Socor says there is "not the slightest equivalency" between these and the situation in Georgia. The Russian officials also cite U.S. President George W. Bush's recently announced preemption doctrine, claiming Russia's own right of preemption in Georgia.

Russia seeks to intervene in Georgia for several main reasons, writes Socor. First, "Georgia is the linchpin for the export of Caspian oil and gas directly to Western markets. Moscow wants the lion's share of Caspian energy to be diverted via Russia" instead. Thus, fueling instability in Georgia makes it a less attractive transit route. Moscow hopes to prevent Georgia from consolidating nationally by supporting secessionist movements, while seeking to maintain its Soviet-era military bases in the Caucasus country.

Socor says in international opinion, "Russian military intervention in Georgia under 'anti-terrorist' pretenses would rightly be seen as a move to restore Moscow's dominance and punish Georgia's pro-Western leaders."

Such a move, he says, "would deal a severe setback to Russia-U.S. and Russia-NATO cooperation."


In the British "The Independent," correspondent Robert Fisk discusses some of the reports of human-rights abuses allegedly committed in Afghanistan either by, or with the knowledge of, Western forces.

"In the early weeks of this year," he writes, "Americans raided two Afghan villages, killed 10 policemen belonging to the U.S.-supported government of [Transitional Authority President] Hamid Karzai and started mistreating the survivors." American reporters -- in what Fisk calls "a rare show of mouselike courage amid the self-censorship of their usual reporting" -- quoted the prisoners as saying they had been beaten by U.S. troops. According to Western officials in Kandahar, the U.S. troops "gave the prisoners a thrashing."

Fisk says there are also persistent reports from northern Afghanistan "of the massacre of thousands of Pashtuns after the slaughter at General Dostum's Qal-i-Jangi fort last November. These mass murders, according to a humanitarian worker I have known for two decades, [went] on into December with the full knowledge of the Americans," he says.

But Fisk remarks that the U.S. "did nothing about it, any more than they did about the 600 Pakistani prisoners at Shirbagan, some of whom are still dying of starvation and ill-treatment at the hands of their Northern Alliance captors."