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Western Press Review: Massoud, 11 September, America's Debt To Iraq, And Afghan Instability

Prague, 10 September 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Discussion in the Western media today continues to focus on the events of 11 September and their aftermath, as the United States prepares to mark the one-year anniversary of the attacks tomorrow. Other analyses look at Afghan Northern Alliance commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, assassinated one year ago yesterday (9 September), as well as America's unpaid debt to Iraq and ongoing instability in Afghanistan.


In a contribution to "The New York Times," author Susan Sontag notes that the U.S. administration's declarations of "war" against the threat of terrorism have announced the start of a war "with no foreseeable end." She says this indicates that this is not a war "but, rather, a mandate for expanding the use of American power." With this declaration of war, she says, the U.S. government has given itself "permission to do what it wants," and will accept no limits on its power.

Sontag says the administration of President George W. Bush has additionally "taken the radical position that all international treaties are potentially inimical to the interests of the United States -- since by signing a treaty [the] United States is binding itself to obey conventions that might one day [limit] America's freedom of action" to do whatever it believes is in its interests.

Indeed, she says, the very purpose of a treaty is to "[limit] the right of its signatories to complete freedom of action on the subject of the treaty." And until now, no "respectable nation-state" has viewed this as a reason for avoiding such multilateral agreements. Sontag goes on to say that describing new U.S. foreign policy "as actions undertaken in wartime is a powerful disincentive to having a mainstream debate about what is actually happening."


In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," Arab and Islamic affairs analyst Amin Saikal of the Australian National University says: "If there is one man to whom the world owed much for fighting international terrorism" long before the Western world realized the extent of the threat, "it was the Afghan anti-Taliban resistance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud."

A veteran of the Afghan war against Soviet occupation, Massoud fought to oust the Taliban for several years as a Northern Alliance commander. On 9 September 2001 -- two days before the attacks in New York and Washington -- he was assassinated by two men with suspected links to Al-Qaeda who were posing as journalists.

Saikal says Massoud had "repeatedly warned the international community that a dangerous alliance was developing" between the extremist Taliban regime, the Al-Qaeda network, and Pakistan's military intelligence service. Despite Massoud's numerous appeals to the U.S., Washington failed to either put pressure on Pakistan or offer support to Massoud.

Yet with "a modest amount" of support from Russia, India, and Iran, Massoud continued his resistance. His Northern Alliance forces did most of the ground fighting in the post-11 September U.S.-led campaign in Afghanistan.

Saikal describes Massoud as "a brilliant and well-read strategist. He always mounted his resistance in a political context, with an eye on his ultimate goal of an independent, progressive Afghanistan."


"This is the hard part," announces a "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" editorial, in reference to the continued fighting in Afghanistan between government forces and renegade warlord Padshah Khan Zadran. The two sides are battling near the southeastern Afghan city of Khost, and the fighting threatens to spread. A peaceful resolution is nowhere in sight, the paper says.

Once again, this situation underscores the argument that achieving stability in Afghanistan is more than a matter of military intervention. "It would be utopian to expect peace in Afghanistan in the short term," says the paper. "It remains 'normal' to expect a certain degree of violence."

But it is to be hoped, the editorial continues, that in the long term, peace will become "contagious" as its numerous advantages become clear. Of course, this hope anticipates tangible stability in Afghanistan and resolute and continued allied engagement. The paper calls for an extension of the mandate for peacekeeping forces supported by reconstruction assistance -- aid, it says, that is concrete and that will not be deterred by the setbacks it will likely face.


In the "Chicago Tribune," contributing columnist and "In These Times" editor Salim Muwakkil says that as the anniversary of the 11 September attacks approaches, "the haze of gauzy sentimentality could help blind us to the illegal international activities [the U.S.] national leadership is plotting. A year following the most horrific act of terrorism in U.S. history, the Bush administration is preparing to launch a war of aggression that could set the stage for global anarchy."

Muwakkil says the doctrine of preemptive self-defense "is in direct violation of the UN Charter," which allows states to act in self-defense only against "armed attack." This policy also threatens to set a dangerous precedent around the world.

"If the U.S. can justify invading Iraq because of threats it predicts will materialize, what is to stop India from invading Pakistan, or China from invading Taiwan [or] Russia from invading Georgia?" he asks.

Muwakkil says a "small cadre of neoconservative war hawks and a group of lawyers from the ultraconservative Federalist Society are trying to push the U.S. into an act of unilateral stupidity. No nation except Britain is with us, nor are any international laws."

He adds, "Despite the fact that an invasion of Iraq has been denounced from every corner of the globe, the war talk continues." And the Western media, for its part, is failing to ask the "essential" or challenging questions that might keep the U.S. administration in check.


An editorial in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" says Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat seems now to have "discovered peace," but the question is whether this discovery has come too late. On 9 September, Arafat told the Palestinian parliament that he condemns all acts of terrorism against Israeli civilians.

The commentary says Arafat is acting out of weakness. His previous approval of Palestinian suicide attacks on Israelis led to the reoccupation of Palestinian autonomous territory. On the other hand, this policy was a benefit for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who, since fighting the Palestinians for years, was waiting for this opportunity to make his next move.

Now, Arafat is battling for survival. His speech yesterday condemning suicide bombings would have been convincing if he had rejected force at the beginning of the intifada, says the paper. But two years ago, Arafat chose the wrong tactics and led his people in the wrong direction. The resulting strikes and counterstrikes between Palestinians and Israelis have left Arafat in a permanent dilemma.

His rejection of violence coincides with the needs of the moment, at a time when there is a threat of U.S.-led war with Iraq. In this sense, the editorial says Arafat's bid for peace has not come too late, since further suicide attacks during a war could give Sharon the long-awaited excuse to "transfer" thousands of Palestinians to Jordan.


In "The Wall Street Journal Europe," Zainab Al-Suwaij of the American Islamic Congress says: "In 1991, the U.S. made a promise to the people of Iraq about Saddam Hussein. Over a decade later, America has yet to make good on its word."

After driving the Iraqi Army from Kuwait during the 1991 Gulf War, former U.S. President George H.W. Bush "called on the Iraqi people to rise up and liberate their country. [The] promise of U.S. support was all the encouragement we needed," she writes. "Within days, a popular uprising had liberated 15 of Iraq's 18 provinces."

But Al-Suwaij says as Saddam Hussein's forces regrouped, then-President Bush "broke his promise." No American forces "swooped in to protect us from Republican Guard tanks. Thousands upon thousands of Iraqis who had just taken up arms for freedom suddenly found themselves executed in the street," tortured, or driven into hiding.

This crushed uprising, she says, "has come to represent the U.S.'s unpaid debt to Iraq." Many Iraqis today "remain scarred and skeptical" from these events, even as there is renewed talk of a regime change in Iraq. Still, she says, "the Iraqi uprising did reveal how American leadership can release a repressed impulse for freedom in the Middle East."

The real question "is not whether to liberate Iraq," says Al-Suwaij, but rather, "why we have not done so already."


In France's daily "Liberation," Zaki Laidi of CERI, the Center for International Studies and Research, says that in the post-11 September world, the United States is stronger and more arrogant than ever, as it now feels vulnerable. Bush's America has put the world on notice that it is determined to "Americanize the world without globalizing America."

In contrast, says Laidi, the European political philosophy has rested, since the Maastricht Treaty, on the assumption of rejecting the classical view of national sovereign power in favor of the rationale of shared sovereign power, to promote the dynamics of world governance, but -- at the same time -- to take into account the plurality of actors on the world social stage -- its nation-states, markets, and civil societies.

But after 11 September, this process is in danger, Laidi says. Some of the major European states, such as France, Britain, Spain, and Italy, have begun to fall back on the national rationale, questioning why Europe should be the only region of the world in which national sovereign power is being rolled back.

In this sense, Laidi says, intergovernmental Europe seems to be a very optimistic vision.


Britain's "The Guardian" today says U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair "are in trouble over Iraq's weapons of mass destruction." But the problem, says the paper, is not military, but political: "Every time the two men pronounce that Saddam Hussein poses an urgent threat, they are asked for their proof. And every time, as again at the weekend at Camp David, they fall back on assertions and claims, suspicions and half-baked half-truths. The International Atomic Energy Authority, for example, has not issued a 'new report' -- Mr. Bush's words -- on revived Iraqi efforts to acquire a nuclear bomb. It has merely published some commercial satellite photos of new construction at [weapons of mass destruction]-linked sites that were dismantled during previous UN inspections."

Many things remain unknown, the editorial says. But the best way to prevent Iraq from developing a nuclear capability is renewed attempts, "parallel with resumed UN inspections in Iraq, to promulgate and enforce the moribund fissile material cut-off treaty, the comprehensive test ban treaty, and the biological and chemical weapons conventions, all of which are anti-WMD [weapons of mass destruction] pacts Mr. Bush has at times ignored, scorned, or undermined."

Such programs are the "best, multilateral way to halt WMD proliferation, not just in Iraq but across the globe."

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