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Western Press Review: Afghanistan One Year Later, Yemeni Tanker Explosion, And The Iraq Debate

Prague, 7 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Editorial and commentary in the Western media today assesses the situation in Afghanistan, one year after the launch of U.S.-led military operations against the Taliban regime. It also looks at speculation over whether the explosion of a French oil tanker off the coast of Yemen was due to accident or terrorist attack, considers the use of seeking a formal indictment against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, and examines whether Russia may be considering a shift on its policy in Chechnya, as the conflict enters its fourth year.


An editorial in the 5 October issue of Britai's "The Guardian" discusses the situation in Afghanistan, in light of the one-year anniversary today of the launch of U.S.-led military operations against the Taliban regime. The paper says Afghanistan's continuing instability is one reason to avoid launching a new American-led military action in Iraq. Another war in the region would "inevitably draw attention and resources further away from Afghanistan's humanitarian and development problems," increasing the likelihood of further conflict and instability.

The paper remarks that nine months after the international donors' conference in Tokyo pledged $5.2 billion in aid and reconstruction to Afghanistan, "only about half this year's $1.8 billion [in] aid has so far materialized."

"The Guardian" notes that U.S. forces have yet to locate bin Laden or Taliban leader Mullah Omar. Afghan warlords are fighting among themselves, and in some cases reversing the post-Taliban social gains made by women. Continuing instability is undermining reconstruction and efforts to revive the economy. The paper suggests that international donors must fulfill their promises to Afghanistan and expand peacekeeping operations outside Kabul. And until the United States has fulfilled its promises to Afghanistan, it should "forget about starting another war."


Tomas Avenarius in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" comments on the introduction today of a new currency to prevent inflation in Afghanistan. He describes this move as a positive step toward stabilizing conditions in the country.

However, Afghanistan is far from firmly set on a secure political and economic path. In this respect, Avenarius faults the international community for not abiding by its pledges to provide financial help, as was agreed in Tokyo. He says the U.S. has also failed to provide constructive assistance. "So far," Avenarius writes, "the U.S. is content with having defeated Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters, rather than taking resolute measures to build state structures. The Europeans and international aid cannot negotiate such a task on their own."

Avenarius draws attention to the inherent dangers of neglecting Afghanistan. There is still plenty of breeding ground in Afghanistan for fundamentalists from elsewhere in the Middle East. Poverty and insecurity bring ready responses to extremist calls, he warns.


The "Los Angeles Times" carries a contribution today by Michael Scharf, former legal adviser for UN affairs at the U.S. State Department. Scharf says the international community should attempt to indict Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in an international court. The post-World War II Nuremberg trials justified Allied conduct "by putting an international spotlight" on Nazi war crimes and genocide. The indictment of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic gave NATO "the moral credibility it needed to sustain international support for its military intervention." Likewise, "confirmation of the case against Hussein would similarly build international support for action against Iraq."

Scharf says U.S. investigators have allegedly collected much evidence of crimes committed by the Iraqi regime, including taking foreign nationals as hostages or using them as human shields; raping and killing foreign civilians; deploying chemical weapons; and committing genocide-like crimes against the Kurd and Shiite populations in Iraq. But Scharf says it is not enough for America and Britain "to assert that Hussein is evil and to expect the rest of the world to believe unsupported claims about the threat he poses." This would be more convincing if a panel of international jurists concluded "that the evidence of the Iraqi leader's war crimes and crimes against humanity is sufficient to confirm an indictment and issue an international arrest warrant."


An explosion that ripped through a French oil tanker off the coast of Yemen yesterday has led to speculation over whether it was an accident or an act of terror. An editorial in the German daily "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" says, the possibility of it being a terrorist attack "cannot be excluded. In fact, it is probable."

The government in Sanaa has taken over a hundred suspects into custody, but nevertheless, Yemen remains a breeding ground for transnational terrorism. The more so, it is said, since a decade after the unification of the country the north and south have still not integrated. In many places, the central government has failed to deal successfully with various local tribes who insist on their own rights and laws. Considering the confusion in the land, the paper says an organization such as Al-Qaeda could operate far more easily here than in a stable country.


In her monthly column for "The Washington Post," Masha Lipman, deputy editor of Russia's "Ezhenedelny Zhurnal," says Russia may be heading for a policy change on the breakaway region of Chechnya. September marked the third anniversary of the conflict, and Lipman says the "inefficiency of the military and the incapacity of the intelligence service to fulfill its duties in Chechnya have been repeatedly demonstrated." Russian President Vladimir Putin "should have serious doubts by now" that the Chechen issue can be solved by the use of force.

A recently published commentary by Yevgenii Primakov -- formerly both a foreign minister and prime minister whom Lipman describes as "respected by the Russian political elite and fully loyal to Putin" and "an unlikely figure to counter Russia's hawks" -- has also called for revising the stance on Chechnya. Primakov "may be a good choice for a probe of Chechnya policy, with an eye toward changing it," she says.

Lipman says: "Unfortunately, alternatives to military action, such as talks with field commanders or a gradual pullout of troops, are unlikely to make a noticeable difference anytime soon. But there does seem to be an awareness in the Kremlin that the war is at an impasse." The costs of the conflict are too high for Russia, she says, and only President Putin can end this war.


A "Chicago Tribune" editorial says it is now evident that the only way for diplomacy to override a military confrontation over Iraq is for diplomacy to be waged with a much firmer hand. On 3 October, the U.S. Congress approved a proposal authorizing U.S. President George W. Bush "to take military action if diplomacy fails," but which included "some reasonable limitations" on the president's powers. The UN Security Council must now come to a conclusion on the debate over whether to go forward with new inspections under the mandate existing under the resolutions of 10 years ago or to establish a new, tougher inspections regime.

But the paper says restarting the same inspections regime that collapsed a decade ago "will not push Iraq any closer to disarmament." The only way to ensure compliance "is to force unconditional inspections on Iraq with the valid threat of dire consequences."

"Can diplomacy still work?" the paper asks. "Quite possibly," it says. "If the world lines up in its demands on Iraq, with the threat of violent consequences, [Saddam] Hussein will comply -- if that is his only means to survive."


In "The New York Times," government and politics professor of the University of Maryland and Brookings Institution fellow Shibley Telhami says a U.S.-led war in Iraq might undermine efforts at democracy throughout the region. He says that most likely, "such a war would render the Middle East more repressive and unstable than it is today." Democracy "cannot be imposed through military force," he says. And U.S. aims of "fighting terrorism, securing oil supplies, and protecting the lives of American soldiers will, in the context of the Middle East, almost certainly ensure that the spread of democracy will again take a back seat [to] national priorities."

Telhami says most Arabs and Muslims "will see in the war American imperialism." Governments in the region may support the war for one reason or another. But because this support "goes against the overwhelming sentiment of their citizenry," they will likely endorse U.S. actions only by repressing their populations. Political change in the Mideast would be good for the region, he says. But while military force "may be necessary for other reasons, [it] is more likely to stifle than to nurture democracy movements in authoritarian Arab states."

Telhami says that "powerful ideas" -- such as democracy -- "are willingly accepted because they inspire, not threaten."


An editorial in "The Washington Times" remarks that the "meteoric rise" of Brazilian presidential candidate Luiz Inacio da Silva, or "Lula," "has been accompanied by a plunging Brazilian currency." The paper says da Silva, a leftist former union leader with little political experience, is "a wild card. Investors lack confidence in his leadership, as evidenced by the drop in Brazilian stocks and currency, concurrent with his rise in the polls."

Yet da Silva has "pledged to practice financial responsibility and has picked a wealthy industrialist, Jose Alencar, as his running mate to bridge relations with the business class. And the candidates Lula is reportedly considering for Central Bank president are seen as market-friendly heavyweights."

Still, "The Washington Times" says any president of Brazil will have "a difficult time handling Brazil's debt of about $300 billion." The paper expresses hope that, if elected, da Silva will proceed with caution in managing Brazil's economy.


In France's daily "Liberation," economic affairs analyst Patrick Artus compares American and European economic evolutions. There are many common themes between the two, he says, such as slowed growth, falling stock prices, high unemployment, and a drop in corporate investment. But there are three distinct differences between the trans-Atlantic allies: consumer attitudes, economic policies, and corporate behavior.

Artus says American consumer behavior is decidedly optimistic and resilient, whereas in Europe, consumer demand often falls off sharply in times of economic uncertainty. Economic policy also differs significantly. In the United States, it seeks to avoid recession at all costs, with policies that are often forceful -- even "violent," in Artus's words. But in the euro-zone, economic policy is more cautious, and more gradual. Europe is willing to risk recession in order to pursue more long-range economic interests.

Corporate reaction is "even more assymetric," he says. In the U.S., there has been a net gain in productivity and a drop in investment, accompanied by improved profitability. In Europe, unemployment remains high, productivity is static, and investment remains weak alongside declining profits.

Neither method is right or wrong, Artus says. The tendency of U.S. companies is to focus on profits, reducing debt and resuming investment. Europe, meanwhile, seeks to avoid a further decline in the labor market.

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