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Western Press Review: St. Petersburg Turns 300, Justifying Interventionism, And The 'Subtle' War On Terror

Prague, 27 May 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Among the issues discussed in commentaries and editorials in the Western media today are the celebrations to mark St. Petersburg's 300th anniversary, U.S. President George W. Bush's trip this week to Europe and the Mideast, the justifications for international interventionism, the ratcheting-up of U.S. rhetoric on Iran, and using softer, subtler "weapons" in the war on terrorism.


"Today St. Petersburg celebrates its 300th anniversary," writes "The Daily Telegraph," as celebrations commence to celebrate the founding of Russia's "second city" by Peter the Great.

The paper says Peter "sought a sea outlet to the West, for a channel for the transmission of European arts and a nexus of international trade." St. Petersburg "was Russia's 'window on Europe': Francophone, cosmopolitan and courtly, built of Finnish stone by Scots architects." And throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, the paper says, the city represented "the sophisticated, urbane and rational alternative to the earthy and superstitious Muscovites."

But the Soviet era "was unkind to St. Petersburg, ignominiously renamed Leningrad in 1924 and cut off from all Western relations: her grand houses were collectivized and subdivided, her palaces were turned over to the commissariat and in the wide prospekts, carriages gave way to bread queues."

Today, Russia has a leader who "perfectly exemplifies" the dichotomy in the Russian character, says the paper. President Vladimir Putin "is a born St. Petersburger, an experienced European diplomat and an avowed friend of [U.S. President George W.] Bush."

Yet 10 years after the Soviet Union's collapse, he also "retains an innate suspicion of the West." The paper says the "years ahead will not allow such ambivalence. As [Putin] celebrates his native city's tricentennial today, he would do well to remember the spirit in which Peter I founded the place."


An editorial today in Britain's "The Independent" discusses U.S. President George W. Bush's upcoming trip to Europe and the Middle East, calling it "one of the most concentrated and demanding foreign tours of his presidency."

Bush is scheduled to arrive in Poland late this week, travel to St. Petersburg to take part in the city's 300th-anniversary celebrations and then attend the G-8 summit of industrialized nations at Evian in France. A summit on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is expected to cap Bush's whirlwind tour.

"The Independent" calls it an ironic "accident of fate" that France, which led the opposition to the U.S.-led Iraq war, is hosting this year's G-8 meeting. The paper says, "No one is as skilled in the art of frosty receptions and stylishly cutting remarks as the French," while "few delight in being as arrogantly insensitive as the Americans."

The continuing controversy over Iraq will likely dominate the G-8 meeting, the editorial predicts, which leaves Bush with three possible responses. He can "slink off into an isolationist corner," "grin and bear the inevitable criticism from more than half the delegations," or choose the "necessary" and "desirable" third option: "to capitalize on the concessions Washington [made] to facilitate last week's UN resolution and present a more multilateralist face."


The "International Herald Tribune" today reprints an excerpt from Britain's "The Guardian" discussing international interventionism. The intervention in Iraq "was partly justified by the United States and Britain on moral and humanitarian grounds," the paper notes. But it says the "fundamental problem with intervention, whether on ethical or security grounds, [remains] a question of political will and, to a lesser degree, capability."

North Korea, for example, "poses a threat to its neighbors and thus U.S.-British interests, and it abuses human rights." But "The Guardian" says Washington and London will likely not choose direct intervention with Pyongyang -- "primarily because it has worrying power to retaliate."

The paper says, conversely, "the purely ethical case for forcible intervention on humanitarian and human rights grounds" appears clear in both the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zimbabwe.

"Both governments are weak," thus posing little threat. "But because neither state threatens the security or other interests of powerful countries; because [regional and international] political will [is] woefully lacking; and because costs would be high and capabilities stretched, their peoples' suffering goes largely unchecked."

But the paper says those who claimed "the moral high ground on Iraq" by arguing that Anglo-American intervention was needed to "liberate" the Iraqi people from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein must now "either explain why Bunia and Bulawayo are less important than Baghdad -- or do much more to help both."


Writing in Britain's "The Guardian," columnist Simon Tisdall discusses the rising bellicosity of U.S. rhetoric toward Iran, as Washington warns Tehran to end its support of Palestinian extremist groups such as Hizballah and cease any attempts to develop nuclear capabilities.

Tisdall says perhaps the U.S. "foolishly believes it is somehow helping reformist factions in the Majlis (parliament), the media and student bodies" by fomenting "destabilization and intimidation" in Iran. Or perhaps Washington itself has not decided how to proceed.

He describes the continuing tensions within Iran between the reformist tendencies of President Mohammad Khatami's government and student movements on one side and the conservative Muslim clerics on the other as "combustible." But Tisdall says as U.S. pressure on Tehran "has increased, so too has the sway of Islamic hard-liners."

The worst possible course for Iran, but "one which Bush's threats make an ever more likely choice, [is] to build and deploy nuclear weapons and missiles in order to preempt America's regime-toppling designs. The U.S. should hardly be surprised if it comes to this," Tisdall says. "After all, it is what Washington used to call deterrence before it abandoned that concept in favor of 'anticipatory defense.'"

"If this is Iran's choice," Tisdall says the U.S. "will be much to blame. While identifying WMD [weapons of mass destruction] proliferation as the main global threat, its bellicose post-[11 September] policies have served to increase rather than reduce it."


Writing in "Die Welt," Dietrich Alexander discusses the situation in Iran in the context of U.S. policy in the Middle East.

"There is no doubt," says Alexander, that "U.S. policy in the Middle East has made an impression. Washington's great power and several recent engagements have achieved successes that can lead to the export of a new order in this part of the world," he says. "Both Afghanistan and Iraq, now militarily conquered, have at least a chance to establish liberal societies. President George W. Bush has himself orchestrated the difficult beginnings of a new dialogue between Israel and Palestine, and Syria strives to be diplomatically cooperative."

Now it is Iran's turn, says Alexander. This has become particularly urgent since an official admittance that the authorities have "a certain number of Al-Qaeda suspects in custody," which the U.S. reads as the alleged Al-Qaeda members being in "a safe haven."

Hitherto the U.S. has been campaigning against Teheran. Now facts are playing into American hands since it is now clear that Iran has advanced further than anticipated in its atomic-weapon program. These developments, says Alexander, indicate the Al-Qaeda terrorist threat has "caused the cup to overflow."

It must be plain to Iran that the U.S. is not going to wait until Iran actually produces atomic weapons, nor will it allow Iran to shelter terrorists. The buzzword in the Pentagon is again "regime change."

Alexander advises Iranian leaders to heed demands for reform or the regime may be toppled, with some external help, from within.


Rudolph Chimelli, writing in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," believes American intervention to bring about a forceful regime change in Iran is highly unlikely.

U.S. hegemony is essentially assured between the Mediterranean and Central Asia, he says. Afghanistan and Iraq have become protectorates. Syria, following U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's visit, is ready to acquiesce to U.S. demands. Yassir Arafat's power has been curtailed in Palestine. And in addition to old allies such as Turkey, the U.S. has won over new allies such as Uzbekistan.

At present, says Chimelli, the U.S. has enough responsibilities to handle. Moreover, "intervention in Iran would weigh heavily on U.S.-Russian relations," he says.


In France's daily "Le Monde," Stephanie Maupas discusses the testimony last week (19-20 May) of a French expert at the war crimes trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in The Hague.

University of Reims professor Renaud de la Brosse testified on the use of media propaganda by Milosevic's regime in Serbia during the civil war that eventually led to the breakup of Yugoslavia.

Prosecutors in The Hague accuse Milosevic of using Serbia's public media to "spread false or exaggerated information" that engendered feelings "of fear and hatred" within the Serbian communities of Bosnia and Croatia. The media debate centers on a looming question: What direct link can be established between this propaganda and the genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes blamed on the accused? How did the Milosevic regime's nationalist rhetoric lead directly to horrible atrocities?

De la Brosse described such propaganda as a "virtual weapon" that was used by all parties in the war but most extensively by Serbia. The effectiveness of the message was aided by the absence of a free press, and thus of alternative sources of information and viewpoints. Opposition journalists were threatened; news agencies received instructions from the Information Ministry.

De la Brosse contended that by exploiting Serbian resentment of other Yugoslav ethnic groups and characterizing them as "scapegoats," Milosevic's media "facilitated the perpetration of the crimes."

Correspondent Maupas goes on to note that, to date, the only verdict establishing a direct link between media propaganda and crimes against humanity goes back to the post-World War II Nuremberg trials.


Writing in the London-based "Financial Times," Daniel Byman, an assistant professor at Georgetown University's security studies program and a Brookings Institution fellow, says recent attacks in Saudi Arabia and Morocco make it clear that the war on terrorism "is far from over."

Groups such as Al-Qaeda cannot be defeated by making individual arrests. One must tackle not only the group's leadership and its members but also "the broader organizational structure," a strategy that includes undermining its recruitment process.

But thus far, Byman says, the U.S. seems to be failing to win support among the world's Muslims. "Indeed, efforts to fight terrorism have fostered anti-Americanism in the Muslim world. Washington has embraced sordid governments such as the [Islam] Karimov regime in Uzbekistan, remained silent about Russian brutality in Chechnya and made other distasteful concessions to ensure cooperation against Al-Qaeda. Such moves bolster Al-Qaeda's claims that the U.S. supports the oppression of Muslims and props up brutal governments."

Terrorist groups rely "on murder as a form of political expression." Success in defeating these groups and their methods "will mean winning the hearts and minds of the people of the Islamic world." And Byman says doing so requires a much broader campaign "than the war on terrorism has so far embraced. It will require tools -- economic, cultural, and political -- that the U.S. has defined but has yet to wield effectively."

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