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Western Press Review: Georgia's 'Toothless' Pankisi Campaign And Reviving Russian Science

Prague, 30 August 2oo2 (RFE/RL) -- Commentaries and analyses in today's Western press look at Georgia's "toothless" crackdown on suspected militants in Pankisi Gorge, the revival of Russian science, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami's struggle for power, the "revised" war on terror, and the debate surrounding a potential U.S.-led military operation in Iraq.


A "Stratfor" (Strategic Forecasting) commentary today says Georgia's ineffective crackdown on alleged militants in Pankisi Gorge will serve to undermine anti-terrorist operations and compromise regional security. The U.S. and Russian governments, regional media, and numerous eyewitnesses in the Pankisi area "have noted the permanent presence of between several hundred to a couple of thousand heavily armed militants in the lawless region since the beginning of the first Russian-Chechen war in 1994." But Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze "refused to acknowledge this situation for years, calling it Russian propaganda." Earlier this week, he finally ordered nearly 1,000 Interior Ministry troops to crack down on the militants.

But the Georgian troops' lack of success in rounding up suspected militants "is downright baffling," says "Stratfor." It notes the Georgian Army reportedly never even entered Pankisi Gorge as backup during this operation. The commentary says, "Such a sorry excuse for a militant crackdown will help no one but Al-Qaeda and its allies." Chechen and international militants "will continue to use Georgia as a regrouping base for their fight in Chechnya and other parts of Russia's North Caucasus," predicts "Stratfor."

However, it says: "the immediate loser will be Georgia. The continued carnage caused by Pankisi-based militants throughout the country will accelerate the political, economic and social crisis in this deeply divided, war-torn country."


In "The Wall Street Journal Europe," Valery Soyfer of George Mason University says there is hope for a reversal of the post-Soviet "brain drain" that has been undermining Russia's science sector.

"The emigration of up to 400,000 Russian scientists to the rich West as well as Asian and Arab states, and the attraction of better-paying jobs in business, have both helped deplete the talent pool over the past decade. The sharp decline in state financing since the collapse of the USSR also hurts." Those scientists who have remained in Russia "find themselves in difficult straits," he adds.

But, he continues: "Efforts to stem the decline seem to be paying off, at last. In the last decade, the EU and U.S. financier George Soros launched several programs," including the International Science Foundation and the International Soros Science Education Program. A major goal of these organizations was to show Russian scientists how to apply for existing grants and secure funds for research. This, he writes, "helped better prepare Russian scientists to compete for funds abroad and, best of all, gave them good incentives to stay put to work productively at home."

Soyfer says it helps that Russian politics are now "more stable, boosting confidence in the future." Russia must now work on "the robust development of a normal economy. Which, in turn, can't develop without modern science."


An editorial in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" looks at Iran's President Mohammad Khatami and his power struggle with the country's religious clerics. Although the reformist Khatami has a majority in parliament, the primary responsibility for executing state affairs lies with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who acts through the conservative Islamic clergy. Yesterday, Khatami -- conceding that he has achieved little in the face of conservative opposition -- expressed his intention to submit a parliamentary proposal that would increase his presidential powers.

This latest move, says the commentary, still does not signify an "outright confrontation" between the reformists and conservatives. Khatami has not gone so far as to point fingers directly, nor is he threatening to resign if he is unsuccessful with this proposal. The paper says Khatami is leaving all his options open.

But he must act, for fear of losing the faith of his own supporters. Moreover, the conservatives who keep hold of state affairs will not give up without a struggle. Nevertheless, there is a glimmer of hope in that Khatami might make the clerics' position more difficult in the face of Iranians' increasing calls for reform.


In Britain's "Financial Times," Philip Stevens remarks that the U.S.-led war on terror has shifted its focus from apprehending Osama bin Laden to launching operations in Iraq. The search for bin Laden, he says, has highlighted "the paradox of American power." For "all its military might, its massive fleet and air force, its sophisticated surveillance and superbly equipped troops, the U.S. has failed thus far to track down its most dangerous enemy. [Now] it finds that high-technology weaponry is not enough to chase down a terrorist on horseback."

But Stevens says much bigger questions are complicating the war against terrorism. "As time has passed, the initial certainties and uncompromising language of the U.S. campaign have collided with all the awkward realities." It seemed fitting after the 11 September attacks "to declare a 'war' on the perpetrators -- a simple struggle between right and wrong. The shock of the event demanded moral certainty."

"But this particular war can never be won," he writes. "Terrorist networks can be wound up, individuals can be caught. [Good] intelligence and vigilance can forestall fresh atrocities. But history has taught us that what we now call terrorism will always be a chosen weapon of the weak against the strong."

Steven says, "Terrorism, like organized crime or the international drugs trade, can never be defeated -- only contained."


Bernard Kohler of the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" addresses the broad issues of democracy and war. The commentary examines the conflict in Kosovo, during which former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic confirmed the legitimacy of his actions in Kosovo with his propaganda machine and secret police. The NATO allies, on the other hand, had to contend with two problems: the military conflict in the Balkans and the political opposition to war at home.

Kohler deduces from this and other examples of similar disputes that "an open society is less and less tolerant toward war the longer it lasts and the more victims it creates." The paper argues that the "peace-loving attitude of democrats is a blessing, but unfortunately, despots are also aware of it." They know that there is an endeavor in the West to find peaceful solutions and "the more clear the desire, the less the political power that conveys military might."

The Serbs were "amateurs," Kohler says, compared with Iraq's Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi leader is fully aware of the West's reluctance to wage a war. But he says, considering Saddam's ruthlessness, he cannot be handled with kid gloves. In this confrontation, he says, relying on wishful thinking instead of reality would lead to dire consequences.


The European edition of "The Wall Street Journal" looks at Europe's attitude toward a possible U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. The British Foreign Office issued a statement yesterday saying the government was considering a recommendation to give Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein a strict deadline by which he must admit weapons inspectors. This policy may be designed to show the British public that "Saddam has been given a fair chance to mend his ways," leading to an increase in support for a military operation in the country.

Also yesterday, French President Jacques Chirac said the U.S. should secure UN permission for any military action against Iraq. But the paper says, "It's hard to know if this is a serious objection or pro forma multilateralism." It says France "is also aware of its national interest. If the U.S. bids to create a new order in the Middle East, Paris knows it cannot afford to sit on the sidelines griping that it might all turn out badly."

The "Journal" concludes: "There's no doubt that Europeans are warier than Americans are of deposing Saddam. [But] they also know that America is the ultimate guarantor of their security, much as it has been for 100 years. If the U.S. decides that deposing Saddam is essential to its security, we doubt Europe will stand in the way."


In a commentary published in "The Washington Post," "International Herald Tribune" editor David Ignatius writes that if the U.S. administration is truly serious about bringing democracy to the Middle East, it should not be thinking in terms of a six-month or year-long battle in Iraq, but "a careful, patient," region-wide struggle that could last a decade or more.

To do this, he says, the U.S. must support democracy and human rights consistently throughout the Arab world. "Right now, the Arab world lacks the tools of democratic expression. There are few uncensored newspapers, parliaments, or other forums where people can criticize their leaders or debate policy. That's why political life is so fragile in the Arab world," he says.

Ignatius says America must "never deviate from its long-term strategy for the sake of preserving the status quo." It is "crucial that U.S. strategy be rooted in fundamental values, rather than short-term interests." A democratic Arab world should also "pose less of a threat to Israel. For that reason, Israel should be willing to pay a price to achieve this more stable environment, by helping the Palestinians create a democratic state of their own. The necessary compromises -- on settlements and other issues -- will be hard for the Israelis, but the potential benefits are worth it."


Writing yesterday in the "International Herald Tribune," syndicated columnist William Pfaff says the justification for a U.S.-led war on Iraq "has nothing to do with a war's feasibility." Overturning Saddam Hussein "could simultaneously be a good cause and a bad idea," he points out. "It is reasonable to argue that the foreseen casualties, and the foreseeable international political backlash to a unilateral U.S. attack on Iraq, could outweigh the advantages of getting rid of the Iraqi leader."

Yet, he says, the U.S. administration seems to be arguing "as if the feasibility issue could be resolved by willpower or 'resolve.'" One is "required to think that most of [Saddam's] army will run away when Americans arrive, and that the people will cheer the United States in the streets of Baghdad."

But several prominent Republicans, including three who served on the presidential administration of George H. W. Bush, the current president's father -- former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, and former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger -- have advised that "realism" requires considering "the possibility of a big and expensive war, significant casualties, and major negative political backlash." Pfaff suggest the current administration must "give up the irresponsible arguments they have been using."

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