Prague, 26 May 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary today addresses the renewed troubles abroad for U.S. President George W. Bush, the escalating conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Mideast "road map" to peace, and preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Several publications also address the ongoing review of U.S. intelligence sources, as the failure to find nonconventional weapons in Iraq spurs debate over the reliability of the prewar U.S. intelligence sources that claimed Iraq posed an imminent threat.
THE WASHINGTON TIMES:
Writing in "The Washington Times," John Hall of the Media General News Service says ahead of U.S. President George W. Bush's upcoming trip to Europe -- his first since the Iraq war -- Bush is facing a new set of diplomatic troubles. In Iraq, "civil disorder borders on chaos." In the Middle East, Israelis and Palestinians continue "their death spiral." The war's end has left Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and other erstwhile regional U.S. allies "in a bitter mood toward U.S. power." And in the Western world, "a terrible realization spreads that Islamic terrorism has become a permanent part of our lives."
This "is not the commanding position many thought Mr. Bush would be in after a short and decisive war," says Hall. The U.S. administration believed "that an assertion of U.S. force would stabilize not just Iraq but the entire region, and lead to democratic reforms in feudal societies where terrorism has taken root." But the Iraq victory has "left the United States with 22 million people to govern and an advanced country to run." Hall says planning for postwar Iraq "was undersized and overoptimistic."
In the decade following the dissolution of Yugoslavia, "it took 60,000 troops to bring order to tiny Kosovo," Hall points out. Yet "not many more [troops] than that are in Iraq, which has 10 times as many people."
THE IRISH TIMES:
An editorial in "The Irish Times" today says, "At long last, more international attention is being paid to the horrendously violent war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly Zaire." In response to "vicious fighting involving summary executions, rape and reports of cannibalism," there have now been calls for an increased United Nations force to enforce a cease-fire.
The paper notes that between 3 million-4 million people have been killed in the fighting since 1998, when Rwandan Tutsi troops invaded the country in pursuit of those responsible for Rwanda's own genocide. This intervention spurred other states, including Uganda and Burundi, to get involved, "while Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia fought on the side of the Congolese government. As central authority collapsed, each of these armies created proxy forces among Congolese tribes and peoples."
The editorial warns that without increased international intervention, the current fighting "could deteriorate into another genocide." The existing UN force in the Democratic Republic of Congo "has neither the mandate, troops nor capacity to enforce peace or protect civilians." A UN request last December for more troops "virtually collapsed for lack of international response, fully reflecting central Africa's geopolitical irrelevance for the world's most powerful states embroiled in the Iraq war. More attention can and must be paid to this conflict."
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
"The New York Times" in an editorial says it is "glad to see" that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is conducting a review of prewar U.S. intelligence assessments. "The failure so far to find any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the prime justification for an immediate invasion, or definitive links between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda has raised serious questions about the quality of American intelligence [and] dark hints that the data may have been manipulated to support a preemptive war." The paper calls these "critical issues" that require a "thorough review" by the CIA as well as "high-level oversight bodies" in the U.S. administration and Congress.
"The New York Times" says that "given the scant findings" of Iraqi weapons systems so far, "it is disturbing to recall how gravely the [U.S.] administration portrayed the dangers of Iraq's unconventional weapons. High officials said Iraq had reconstituted its program to develop nuclear weapons, was continuing to make biological weapons and possessed a large stockpile of chemical agents." Yet only three mobile laboratories that might have been intended for making biological weapons have been discovered to date.
Intelligence estimates about weapons capabilities "are notoriously difficult to get right," the editorial says. But many questions must be investigated, including "the role played by a new special office in the Pentagon that applied its own interpretations to the information and analyses generated by the traditional intelligence agencies."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE:
The "International Herald Tribune" today reprints an item by "The New York Times" columnist Maureen Dowd in which she discusses the failure to find Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction and the possibility that the U.S. administration exaggerated the Iraqi threat to provide a false casus belli.
Dowd asserts that Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction and its alleged links to Al-Qaeda were always mere smokescreens for the U.S. administration's intentions; The real plan "was always to remake the Middle East," she says. And "far from being chagrined about the little problem of having no casus belli, and no plan for smoothly delivering Pax Americana to Iraq and Afghanistan, [Washington's] hawks are hawking the next regime change."
Dowd says the U.S. administration is already raising the rhetoric on Iran, suggesting that "if Iraq was not harboring Al-Qaeda and going nuclear, then certainly Iran is."
She writes: "The Taliban and Al-Qaeda are resurgent; Afghanistan and Iraq are a mess; the vice police are back arresting women in Afghanistan and looters are tearing up archeological sites in Iraq; Saddam [Hussein] and Osama [bin Laden] are still wanted, dead or alive." And yet U.S. attention is moving on. She calls it "paradoxical" that the Bush administration's hawks are "passionate about breeding idealism by bringing democracy to the Middle East, but are unconcerned about breeding cynicism by refusing to admit mistakes or overreaching."
Commentary in the German press today concentrates mainly on the Israeli government's acceptance of the "road map," the U.S.-backed peace plan for Israel and Palestine. For the first time Israel has officially accepted a Palestinian claim to eventual statehood, as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon persuaded his right-wing government to endorse the steps of the new plan yesterday. The "road map" was formally presented to Israeli and Palestinian leaders on 1 May by diplomats from the "Quartet" of Mideast negotiators -- the United States, the European Union, the United Nations, and Russia.
Alan Posener, writing in "Die Welt," says that "if the Israeli prime minister wants to go down in history as the Israeli Charles de Gaulle, then he has taken the first step in the right direction."
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG:
In the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," Inge Guenther says that in the final analysis, the approval of the road map by the Israelis constitutes "a victory for Ariel Sharon's government. By this decision Israel, for the first time in history, has approved a two-state solution as the goal of a historic compromise. This is no small matter in spite of all the doubts about a speedy end to Israel's settlement policy."
Only Thorsten Schmitz in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" is less optimistic in a commentary that declares Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is still pursuing his own tactics by having agreed to the road map. He still demands an end to terrorist attacks before any withdrawal from the occupied settlements can be considered. "The fact that Sharon is now practicing peace rhetoric does not mean peace will come [to] this blood-drenched region." On the positive side, however, is the fact that U.S. President George W. Bush has realized that it is impossible to leave Israel and Palestine to their own devices.
Thorsten says as long as Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat still engages in intrigues behind the scenes there is no hope for peace. Arafat is still holding on to the reins of power and "needs to be deprived of all influence."
"On the other hand, Sharon is trying to accommodate everyone. He is striving to hold together his government, most of whom are opposed to a Palestinian state. And Sharon also knows he cannot afford to break with the U.S. The Israeli leader is trying to win over the opposition by promising a year of peace and negotiations, which is exactly what Israel needs in its current dire economic straits." But Sharon will not admit that Israel needs a settlement with the Palestinians for the good of Israel's own future, writes Schmitz. "Sharon is no angel," he says.
THE WASHINGTON POST:
"The Washington Post" in an editorial says the U.S. Congress's decision last week to remove a decade-old ban on research into "low-yield" nuclear weapons heralded a victory for one of the Bush administration's "most radical, dangerous and underdebated" policy proposals.
The editorial says this decision risks "[multiplying] the incentives for rogue states and rival powers to build nuclear arsenals of their own," a trend the paper says poses the "most serious danger of the new century." Moreover, with this decision limited nuclear war may be made "easier and more tempting" -- "an outcome at odds with any reasonable understanding of national security or morality."
The paper says, "A circle of civilian advisers in the Pentagon and White House [envisions] using 'low-yield' weapons [to] attack stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons held by rogue states." Currently, the U.S. nuclear arsenal is designed only for use in the event national survival, or the survival of close allies, is at stake. Although this scenario became outdated with the end of the Cold War, "it ought to remain the threshold" for the use of nuclear arms.
Yet the new nuclear doctrine being advocated in Washington "allows for the possibility of using such weapons not only in response to a nuclear attack [but] also preemptively against a state thought to be stockpiling weapons of mass destruction." The editorial says, "Any such preemptive attack ought to be unthinkable -- the harm it would cause this country, and the world, would be catastrophic."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE:
In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," Sherri Goodman of the Center for Naval Analyses and Rose Gottemoeller of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace discuss the Group of Eight's Global Partnership against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction. As the next G-8 meeting approaches, "it is time to take stock of this initiative," write Goodman and Gottemoeller. It seems "unlikely" that the group will have much progress to report at Evian, they say. The Global Partnership "is drifting, just at a time when it is most urgent to keep nuclear, chemical and biological weapons out of the wrong hands."
Repairing the damage done to the partnership by contention over the Iraqi war cannot be achieved at the Evian summit alone, say the authors. But the Global Partnership continues to offer "unique opportunities for cooperation."
International cooperation in dismantling Russia's nuclear submarines has allowed Russia today to reprocess "reactor fuel from its submarines into fuel for nuclear power plants. The same spent fuel also could be processed into fuel for foreign customers." The authors say at Evian, the G-8 should endorse such steps "as a way not only to rid the world of aging nuclear submarines, but also as a model for destroying other weapons of mass destruction. Government projects from a number of countries can come together to restore mutual confidence and make good use of mutual resources. Most importantly, the private sector will take its place in project financing."
(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)