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Western Press Review: The Media In Wartime, Lithuania's Presidential Upset, And A War For Oil In The Persian Gulf?

Prague, 6 January 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Discussion in the Western media today and over the weekend centers on oil as a motivating factor in a potential U.S.-led offensive in Iraq, the often restricted role of the media in wartime, Moscow's decision to close the Chechnya mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), diplomatic dilemmas stemming from North Korea's announcement that it will renew its nuclear-weapons program, the endemic corruption in Russian society, and the surprise victory of Rolandas Parksas over incumbent Valdas Adamkus in Lithuania's presidential election.


Today's "International Herald Tribune" carries a commentary by "The New York Times" columnist Thomas Friedman in which he asks, Is the war in Iraq that the U.S. administration is preparing for really a war about oil?

The "short answer is 'yes,'" he writes. "Any war the United States launches in Iraq will certainly be, in part, about oil. To deny that is laughable." But Friedman says there "is nothing illegitimate or immoral" about the concern that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, armed with weapons of mass destruction, might be able to exercise undue influence over the Gulf region and the "world's largest source of oil, [the] natural resource that powers the world's industrial base."

But the U.S. administration should make clear that it is "acting for the benefit of the planet, not simply to fuel American excesses." Friedman says any war for oil must be "accompanied by a real program for energy conservation. But when America tells the world that it couldn't care less about climate change, that Americans feel entitled to drive whatever big cars they feel like, that they feel entitled to consume however much oil they like, the message is that a war for oil in the Gulf is not a war to protect the world's right to economic survival but Americans' right to indulge."

Moreover, he says, if the U.S. administration merely replaces Saddam Hussein with another undemocratic but more pro-American dictator, then any such war for oil "would also be immoral."


An editorial in the "Financial Times" today says it is "fanciful" to imagine that the United States is primarily motivated by Iraq's oil reserves when it considers launching a military offensive in the country. "The reality is the U.S. is condemned by its extravagant lifestyle to remain dependent on oil from far more than one Middle East producer," the paper writes. "Launching a war against Iraq could expose that dependence." If oil prices soar as a result of a conflict, this could prove "a serious setback to the U.S. economy and with it [U.S. President George W.] Bush's chances of re-election in 2004."

For now, says the paper, there "is no short-term prospect of the U.S., or any other country, weaning itself off oil as the near-monopoly fuel for transport." Moreover, the United States "will continue to be the world's largest oil importer." Even if President Bush succeeds in opening the Alaskan wildlife refuge to oil drilling, this will not decrease the U.S. appetite for foreign oil. "The U.S. is taking more oil from Russia and west Africa, but the bulk of low-cost reserves still lies under the OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) members of the Middle East. And the latter are likely to account for up to half of world production by 2030 as non-OPEC output falls in coming years," the paper says. "U.S. control over Iraq's oil would not change these fundamental realities."


In a joint contribution to "The Wall Street Journal Europe," two CNN executives, Chairman and Chief Executive Walter Isaacson and president of newsgathering Eason Jordan, discuss the role and access of the media to events on the ground in wartime.

The military is naturally concerned that real-time reports from the front line could jeopardize operational security. Moreover, scenes of "casualties and carnage" can undermine public support for a war. These concerns have "sometimes led the U.S. government, both during the 1991 Gulf War and the Afghan conflict a year ago, to try to confine coverage to centralized briefings and carefully corralled pool reporters. As a result, much went unreported."

Today, as the U.S. military prepares for a possible offensive in Iraq, it is considering allowing more unrestricted access than in the recent past and "embedding" reporters in troop units. But some journalists worry such "coziness" might tempt reporters to be soft in stories about their units "in order to assure continued access. Some may even be prone, for the sake of a good story or because they have been swept up by the camaraderie, to play up acts of heroism and play down any lapses."

But "good journalists know how to keep their independence by reporting honestly," say the authors. "That is why it helps to have multiple sources of news, and why it is proper that the Pentagon seems inclined to let the embedded reporters compete rather than to require that all their coverage be pooled."


The endemic corruption that prevails in Russia is the subject of commentary in the German paper "Die Welt" by Vladimir Voinovich, a prominent contemporary Russian author.

He describes bribery as a day-to-day way of life in Russia and says, "Corruption jeopardizes Russia today more than the war in Chechnya. In fact, the war in Chechnya would not have lasted so long were it not for the easy-to-bribe generals, officers, administration officials and police who sell weapons and equipment to the rebels."

The author goes on to discuss the bus that commutes between Grozny and Moscow, which was the very bus that transported 120 kilos of explosives to Moscow in the hostage crisis at a theater in October. Voinovich says the bus was stopped at least 50 times but was allowed to continue on its journey after paying the expected bribe. Voinovich concludes that the Chechen war continues not because the Chechens are receiving support from Al-Qaeda and international terrorist organizations, "but because they have an ally in Russian corruption."

Voinovich says this tradition of bribery and corruption is extremely difficult to break, as it has become a way of life even for the average person in the street. One can pay a bribe for anything -- from keeping a young male relative from being drafted into the army to securing a place for one's child in a certain school.


An item in the "Los Angeles Times" says numerous falsities were perpetrated to build and maintain public support for the Persian Gulf War of 1991. The paper says the former presidential administration of George H.W. Bush, the current president's father, "cynically used the confrontation" between Iraq and Kuwait "to justify a more expansive and militaristic foreign policy." The first Bush administration leaked reports that Iraqi troops "were massing on the border of Saudi Arabia in preparation for an invasion of the world's major oil fields." But the reality at the time was "different," the paper says, as Soviet satellite photos have subsequently shown.

To justify the war, the paper says the first Bush administration "condoned a propaganda campaign on Iraqi atrocities in Kuwait." An alleged 15-year-old Kuwaiti refugee's "eyewitness accounts of Iraqi soldiers yanking newborn babies out of hospital incubators in Kuwait" was part of this effort. But the paper says, "The public didn't know that the eyewitness was the daughter of Kuwait's ambassador to the United States, and that her congressional testimony was reportedly arranged by public relations firm Hill & Knowlton and paid for by Kuwait as part of its campaign to bring the United States into war."

Moreover, while American television broadcast images of smart bombs precisely hitting their targets, "the Pentagon quietly went about a campaign of carpet bombing. Of the 142,000 tons of bombs dropped on Iraq and [Kuwait], only about 8 percent were of the 'smart' variety."


Regarding what it calls the "bloodbath in Chechnya," a "Chicago Tribune" editorial says what is now clear is that Russian President Vladimir Putin's "iron-fisted approach won't bring an end to the conflict. The futility of Russia's relentless pounding of Chechen rebels shows the only solution is a political one, most likely brokered by outside mediators."

To that end, the newspaper says, Russia ought to reconsider its closure of the Chechnya mission of the OSCE. And both the United States and the European Union should pressure Russia to do so.

The paper goes on to say that Russia's insistence that the Chechnya conflict is "just another scenario for Islamic terrorists" is "unpersuasive and self-serving." What really keeps the Chechen conflict going "is not worldwide Islamic terrorism [but] rather Chechen reaction to continued brutality by the Russians."

The paper says the U.S. "ought to keep pressuring Putin to open negotiations with Chechen separatists. Russia's continued 'mop-up' operations, which have killed scores of Chechen civilians, only engender more fighting. A negotiated political solution is the only way out of this conflict. That is clear to the rest of the world, which needs to persuade the Russians."


France's daily "Le Monde" discusses the surprise victory of Rolandas Paksas over incumbent Valdas Adamkus in Lithuania's presidential elections on 5 January. In spite of polls indicating the likelihood of Adamkus's re-election, Paksas, who served Lithuania twice as prime minister and twice as mayor of Vilnius, won nearly 55 percent of the vote to his opponent's 45 percent. Following his victory, the Liberal DDemocratic party leader declared that he would lead Lithuania toward further integration with the EU and NATO, reminding the public that his country previously completed negotiations on 11 EU accession chapters while he was prime minister.

Analysts were largely convinced that Adamkus would win a second term, the paper says. However, they recognized that Paksas's popularity in the countryside did hold out the possibility of upsetting the expected results. The paper goes on to note that under the Lithuanian Constitution, the principal responsibility of the president is to attend to foreign policy, although he will also have a considerable role in internal affairs. President-elect Paksas will assume his new post at the end of February.


James E. Goodby of the Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution discusses U.S. policy toward North Korea in the "International Herald Tribune." He says, "Washington is shrugging off the danger of nuclear weapons. Secretary of State Colin Powell asks, 'What are they going to do with another two or three nuclear weapons? And with a rhetorical shrug of the shoulders he adds, 'If they have a few more, they have a few more.'"

Goodby says Washington "is wise to prefer diplomacy over war in dealing with North Korea. But it is strange that the Bush administration essentially shut down high-level contacts with Pyongyang soon after it took office."

Goodby urges a comprehensive peace settlement and, as a first step, a verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. But ultimately the United States must address other military issues in Korea and must incorporate economic and political cooperation in any long-term plan for the region.

With this in mind, Goodby criticizes the Bush administration for being "slow to grasp the urgency of dealing with the North Korean nuclear crisis. It seems to think that the United States has the luxury of dealing with crises one at a time."

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