By Khatya Chhor and Dora Slaba
Prague, 3 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary and analysis in the Western media today looks at the Turkish parliament's refusal to allow U.S. troops to use Turkey's bases for possible military operations in Iraq, the arrest in Pakistan of a suspected high-level Al-Qaeda leader, and the Czech Republic's choice of former Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus to succeed former President Vaclav Havel. Poland's governmental crisis is also discussed, as are possible scenarios for a postwar Iraq.
LOS ANGELES TIMES:
In the "Los Angeles Times," staff writer Richard Boudreaux writes from Ankara about the Turkish parliament's 1 March decision to deny U.S. troops the use of Turkey's bases in the event of military operations against Iraq.
Boudreaux says a lack of tact and insensitivity on the part of U.S. officials may be partly to blame for Turkey's unexpected refusal, which seriously complicates U.S. military plans.
Last month, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney pushed the Turkish parliament to vote "within days" on the request to base U.S. troops on Turkish soil. Cheney's request came right before the Muslim holiday of Bayram, as Turkish lawmakers prepared "for several days of feasting and prayer."
"It was going to be hard enough for Washington to persuade one predominantly Muslim country to join in a war against another," Boudreaux writes. And Cheney's timing really "struck a raw nerve."
Boudreaux describes Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul as a "reluctant supporter of the U.S. request." His government is being forced to choose between its "powerful" U.S. ally and a public that opposes a war in Iraq by a ratio of 4 to 1. Yet U.S. officials believed Turkey "could not afford to turn them down," Boudreaux says.
On this assumption, the U.S. administration "kept pressing hard for a decision," issuing a series of ultimatums and deadlines and eventually trying to buy Turkish support. But Boudreaux cites one Turkish official as saying the U.S. administration never seriously addressed Turkey's very real security concerns stemming from a possible war.
THE IRISH TIMES:
"The Irish Times" calls the Turkish parliament's reversal of an earlier decision to allow U.S. troops to station on its soil "a major political and military setback" to U.S. planning for possible military operations in Iraq. The decision "clearly reflects widespread popular opposition" in Turkey to a possible war, the paper says.
The paper goes on to say yesterday's announcement "that Iraqi authorities have found stocks of anthrax and VX nerve gas agents which they say were destroyed in 1991 shows that the intense pressure on them to comply with UN disarmament demands is producing results. So does their destruction of a number of al-Samoud missiles."
Chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix described the missile decision as a "significant piece of real disarmament." But "in sharp contrast, U.S. and British spokesmen dismissed it as a misleading and token gesture to conceal Iraq's real intentions not to comply. One can easily anticipate similarly dismissive comments on other substantive claims by Iraq," the paper says.
Amid all the competing propaganda on the Iraq issue, the paper says "the only disinterested judgments will come from Dr. Blix and his colleagues." Both the Security Council and weapons inspectors "must be allowed space, time and opportunity to make their minds up independently."
The UN, the paper says, "cannot be rushed to a premature and ill-considered judgment on this grave issue."
The 28 February election of Vaclav Klaus as the new Czech president is the subject of two commentaries in German newspapers today.
Gernot Facius in "Die Welt" views the election as a complete changing of the guard at Prague Castle. He says former President Vaclav Havel, "the poet-president," is being replaced by the self-styled world economist, Vaclav Klaus. With Klaus, the Czech Republic is on the threshold of a new era.
Facius goes on to portray Klaus as a "political fox," who -- unlike his predecessor, the dissident Havel -- kept a low profile during the Soviet era as an economic researcher. Facius calls Klaus a survivor who has managed to come to power by even wooing Communist parliamentary deputies.
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG:
On the same subject, Karl-Peter Schwarz in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" describes the newly elected president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Klaus, as a rational pragmatist. He says Klaus "represents Czech society as it is, not as others would like to see it."
The discrepancy between reconciliation rhetoric and politics in practice will be lessened, he says, and German-Czech relations are likely to be more transparent and realistic under Klaus -- but certainly not more cordial.
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:
An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" says that in the early 1990s, Vaclav Klaus, as Czech finance minister and then as prime minister, "touted an ambitious reform program" for his country, then emerging from communist rule. Klaus argued for private enterprise and free trade, and his rapid privatization of small business "paved the way for a transition to a market economy," which the paper says was "no small achievement."
But the "substance" of Klaus's policies was often lacking, says the editorial. "His privatization of state industry through vouchers granted to the people suffered from inadequate safeguards against fraud and respect for a rule of law. The result was chaos and a failure to transfer any significant company into private hands."
When his Civic Democratic Party left power in 1998, "the country was in recession and its banks saddled with bad debt."
Even worse, the paper says, during his parliamentary campaign last year, Klaus "tried to exploit anti-immigrant and anti-German sentiment to win nationalist voters," which the paper says is not a position congruent with Klaus's professed classically liberal economics.
The paper says Klaus must now "find it in himself to be more faithful to his claimed principles as president than he was as prime minister."
Britain's "The Independent" daily says the "central question" of a possible war in Iraq is, "[Will] it make attacks like those of 11 September more or less likely?" But it says "the driving force" behind current moves toward war is U.S. President George W. Bush's "desire to be seen to be responding forcefully to an appalling atrocity visited on his nation."
The daily says war "will only increase the probability of more suicide attacks on Western civilians." The way to conduct the campaign against terrorism "ought to be through better security, cleverer intelligence and patient diplomacy," says the daily. The danger from chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists is real, the "Independent" says. But a war to depose Iraqi President Saddam Hussein risks bringing forth all sorts of unintended consequences.
The 1 March arrest of Khalid Shaykh Muhammad, a high-level Al-Qaeda operative, is a "sharp reminder of the war the U.S. should be fighting," the paper says. A war in Iraq "is not only a diversion of resources and political energy, it also risks the local goodwill in places such as Pakistan on which intelligence operations like this depend."
The paper goes on to say French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin is speaking for the majority of Europe "and, indeed, of the world" when he expresses his doubts that a U.S.-led war with Iraq will end terrorism and proliferation, and "magically" bring peace to the Middle East.
THE WASHINGTON POST:
In "The Washington Post," commentator Michael Kinsley says supporters of U.S.-led military action in Iraq get frustrated with those who say they support military operations with UN approval, but not if the U.S. goes it alone. This position has become "awfully convenient" for "bet-hedging politicians," he says. "It also seems to be the most popular position in opinion polls."
But Kinsley writes, "For heaven's sake, this is war we're talking about." Isn't making the right decision "more important than how that decision is made?" he asks. Procedures aside, he asks, should the war be fought or not?
But Kinsley goes on to say this insistence on multilateralism "is not the cop-out it may seem." It might lessen the likelihood of a backlash focused only on American interests. Moreover, "obeying international law has an independent value in its own right." And "[in] the specific circumstances of this particular war, multilateral procedures can alleviate our substantive doubts."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE:
In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," Marina Ottaway of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace says the U.S. administration's plan for postwar Iraq is "a blueprint for occupation but not for political reconstruction." She says: "Unless the profound difference between occupation and political reconstruction is recognized early on, the United States will fail to leave behind a stable Iraq."
Chaos in Iraq will not only fail to become a democratic model for the region but will bring with it a "continued threat of terrorism and regional instability."
The U.S. administration plans to occupy the country, administer it through a military then a civilian proxy, "de-Baathify" the regime, help draw up a constitution, and set up a postwar government. Iraqi opposition groups will be marginalized, she says.
Ottaway describes this as "a technocratic approach well suited to a military administration," but one which does not address the complexities posed by Iraq's diverse ethnic and religious groups. She says while the plan is "convenient to the needs of a U.S. occupation force, this approach does not even remotely satisfy the requirements for the political reconstruction of Iraq as a country scheduled to become self-governing within one or two years."
The future stability of Iraq, she says, depends on its multiple populations learning to function "under one political system without the heavy hand of a dictator to force them together."
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
An editorial in "The New York Tines" today says the arrest in Pakistan of Khalid Shaykh Muhammad, suspected of being a top official in the Al-Qaeda terrorist network and of plotting the 11 September attacks, is a significant step forward in the campaign against terrorism. But it adds that Pakistan's "pivotal" role in Muhammad's seizure is a "demonstration of the importance of working in concert with other nations in the fight against terrorism. The United States cannot defeat Al-Qaeda without the help of dozens of other nations," the paper says. And this "same principle applies to Iraq."
The U.S. administration "may be able to win a military victory against [Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein without broad international support," but it "won't be able to rebuild Iraq, much less change the political and economic dynamics of the Islamic world, without a great deal of foreign assistance."
Poland's leftist government coalition collapsed over the weekend, prompted by a failure of Peasant Party deputies to support a government-sponsored road tax.
Thomas Roser in the "Frankfurter Rundschau" views this crisis in light of Poland's potential membership in the European Union. He says this crisis "could not have come at a worse time." The continuing miserable state of the economy and internal government disputes have led the country into a state of despondency, says Roser, which severely jeopardizes the outcome of Poland's upcoming referendum on entry into the EU.
Considering the general mood of the country and the victory of EU opposition candidates in local elections, Roser says it is a mystery how the government can continue to be so optimistic about the future. "The disintegration of the governing coalition is not a good omen for the EU referendum," he predicts.
An item in France's daily "Le Monde" today looks at a preliminary inquiry by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) into the situation in Turkmenistan. The report states that the Turkmen leadership has led a wave of repression, torture, deportations and arrests following an alleged 25 November assassination attempt on President Saparmurat Niyazov.
The report says this assassination attempt has been used as a pretext for a general suppression of all opponents of Niyazov's regime. The attack is thought by some to have been trumped-up in order to justify what followed in Ashgabat as 62 people were arrested, according to the OSCE, among them several former ministers who were sentenced to long prison sentences after ultra-speedy trials.
The report goes on to denounce widespread violations of all basic rights and arbitrary detentions. Torture has been used to extract confessions and drugs have been given to prisoners, it says. Collective repression has been visited upon any suspected "enemies of the people," and many have been forced to migrate to other, less inhabitable regions of the country.
"Le Monde" says that while capital punishment has been legally abolished in Turkmenistan, the survival rates for these political prisoners and displaced persons are dubious.