Accessibility links

Breaking News

Western Press Review: War And Peace

By Dora Slaba

Prague, 27 December 2002 (RFE/RL) -- In this holiday "season of goodwill," terrorism and war remain the main topics of commentary.


Nicholas D. Kristof, in "The New York Times," considers some moral issues of war and U.S. policy. Kristof says that intellectuals, in general, tend to deride efforts at achieving what he calls "moral clarity" -- such as when U.S. President George W. Bush portrays the fight against terrorism in terms of "black" and "white."

Kristof writes that intellectuals tend to criticize this effort on three grounds: One, that terrorism is in the eyes of the beholder -- the old saying that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. The second argument is that wiping out terrorists is sometimes unhelpful. In a reference to Pakistan, which Kristof says has been a sponsor of terrorism but yet is still a friend of the U.S., Kristof writes "sometimes we invite [terrorists] for state visits." Thirdly, he says that in crude military terms, terrorism often works. All through the ages whenever new weapons were employed they first provoked outrage but eventually were accepted.

Kristof writes that these objections are all, to a certain extent, valid and undermine efforts to achieve moral clarity. Still, Kristof says there are historical precedents of when the world has tried to achieve moral clarity and it has worked. He points to international efforts to ban the use of poison gas after World War I. Kristof says that perhaps some day terrorism will evoke this same degree of international revulsion. In any event, he says trying to achieve moral clarity is preferable to its opposite: moral opacity.


The "Christian Science Monitor," in the words of Larry Seaquist, a former U.S. Navy warship captain and Pentagon strategist, makes a strong appeal for peace.

Seaquist writes that after the fall of communism more than 10 years ago, many thought that peace had come to stay. As Seaquist says, "Ten years ago we thought we were stepping out of wars of the bloody 20th century into an era of deep peace. The end of the cold war had released the worked from the grip of superpower animosity. The explosion of new technologies, the information revolution, and economic globalization were combining, it appeared, to replace a culture of war with a culture of peace. Around the world we were about to become democrats all, we thought, too prosperous to fight, too cross-connected to do anything but cooperate."

But Seaquist says the peace dividend never materialized. It collapsed, "made obsolete by the very changes we were celebrating." Terrorism has become the new deadly threat. And Seaquist warns that however skilled and dedicated military professionals may be, peace cannot be delivered through firepower. He ends on a general note by declaring "Peace is now principally the work of peace-builders, not warriors."


Iraq also figures as a top point of discussion. A director of the international relief agency Oxfam, Barbara Stocking, appeals in the "International Herald Tribune" for nations not to launch a war on Iraq. "Don't got to war," she says, pointing to the suffering such a war would inflict on the population, which she says is "teetering on the edge of a humanitarian disaster."

Stocking describes the plight of the Iraqi people, who have suffered from international sanctions imposed during the last 10 years. "Up to 16 million people -- more than two thirds of the population -- already rely on the fragile system of food aid for their survival."

Moreover, Stocking reminds readers of the devastating impact military action has on civilians. The Iraqi economy, she says, is already ruined, malnutrition is widespread, and the water and sanitation systems are on the verge of collapse. She evokes the Geneva Convention which prohibits attacks upon "objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population" in making a strong appeal to avert a military attack.


A commentary in "Stratfor" points to the dangers emanating from Iraq and its supposed possession of weapons of mass destruction. The analysis is based on a claim by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who says Iraq has transferred weapons of mass destruction to Syria. The paper describes the idea of moving weapons to Syria as "startling" and goes on to say, "It should be recalled that the Assad family is no friend of Saddam Hussein -- the two clans have feuded for decades..."

Sharon's pronouncement, the paper says, must be seen in the context of Israeli politics. General elections are looming in Israel. Indeed, Stratfor says, the timing of those elections is fascinating: Chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix is supposed to submit his report to the UN Security Council on 27 January; Israeli general elections will be held the next day. Clearly the elections will take place within the context of an impending war -- one in which Iraqi missiles potentially could be aimed at Israel.

However, Stratfor argues: "It is difficult to believe that Sharon would make this statement for political purpose, since U.S. intelligence would be demanding evidence -- and that is explosive."

The news has caused a considerable diplomatic stir between Syria, Washington, and Jerusalem. "Either something of extraordinary significance is happening in the region or Sharon will have a lot of explaining to do," Stratfor concludes.