Accessibility links

Breaking News

Western Press Review: WMD Intelligence, EU Summit, And Vaclav Havel

Prague, 19 June 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Several items in the Western press today continue to discuss whether or to what extent U.S. and British intelligence was exaggerated or otherwise manipulated in the runup to the war in Iraq. Former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook told a parliamentary inquiry this week (17 June) that military intelligence on Iraq was used "to justify [a] policy on which [Britain and the United States] had already settled."

We also take a look at the BBC's recent survey of international attitudes toward the United States, how to relieve hunger in Africa and elsewhere by returning to indigenous crops, and ongoing unrest in Iran, as student-led pro-reform demonstrations in and around the capital continue for a ninth straight night.


A "Jane's Intelligence Digest" analysis discusses allegations that British and U.S. intelligence was fabricated or exaggerated to justify military intervention in Iraq. Former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook told a Parliamentary inquiry this week (17 June) that intelligence on Iraq was used not to inform, but "as the basis on which to justify policy on which [Britain and the United States] had already settled." Cook resigned from his position as leader of the House of Commons over the Iraq issue.

Britain's international development secretary, Clare Short, also resigned over her misgivings about military action in Iraq. The report says at the British Foreign Affairs Select Committee inquiry this week, Short was able to "provide an insight" into how Britain's policy in Iraq was formed. She described "the almost complete marginalization of the Foreign Office by [Prime Minister Tony] Blair and his immediate 'entourage' of advisers and spin doctors."

The analysis says the evidence provided by Cook and Short reveals "the extent to which intelligence was used and manipulated prior to the conflict" in Iraq. The British government's dossier on Iraq's weapons programs "presents a single argument without any pretense of balance or doubt." Moreover, "key elements" of the dossier were "amateurish and obvious forgeries." "Jane's Intelligence Digest" says "the real question" is now to what extent Blair and his team were aware "that a substantial part" of their military intelligence "was inaccurate, out of date or simply untrue."


Meanwhile, in Washington, the U.S. Congress is conducting closed intelligence hearings also aimed at determining whether U.S. intelligence was mistaken, fabricated, or otherwise compromised regarding the extent of Iraq's weapons programs. An editorial in the "Los Angeles Times" says this inquiry should not take place behind closed doors, and calls for open hearings. "The only way the administration can put to rest questions about its actions is to give up its resistance to a thorough congressional investigation of the intelligence concerning Iraq."

The paper says a public investigation "is not just a matter for the record.... [It] goes to the crux of the conduct of American foreign policy, this country's global credibility and the constitutional duties of the commander in chief."

The Los Angeles daily notes that Britain "is conducting a real investigation into the intelligence it had about Baghdad, and the U.S. can too." If the United States has plans to "mobilize the world in the days to come about grave concerns such as the nuclear intentions of North Korea or Iran," it will need to have "intelligence that isn't under a cloud of doubt about what may, or may not, have happened with Iraq.


The lead editorial in Britain's "The Guardian" discusses the British Broadcasting Corporation's (BBC) recent survey of global attitudes toward the United States. The paper says the BBC poll's results are important for anyone seeking to understand "why America both fascinates and infuriates the rest of the world."

"The Guardian" says while the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush may have won the war in Iraq, "it is losing the battle for global public opinion on issues like nuclear proliferation, world poverty and climate change." Of the 11,000 people the BBC polled from 11 countries across the world, the U.S. decision to effect "regime change" in Iraq is viewed less than favorably.

And yet, the paper writes, many people "recognize America's idealism, its wealth and its freedoms as the nation's greatest strengths." The world's poor aspire to U.S. wealth and economic opportunity; others want to emulate democratic institutions in their own countries.

So what does this tell us? That "American values are not the problem," the paper says. But "Washington's actions and policies are." The paper continues: "the fault lies with [U.S. President] George Bush." His hawkish and at times arrogant style of diplomacy "do little for America's image overseas."

President Bush must "do more to win over other nations to his point of view and convince the globe of his good intentions." The BBC poll's message "is clear: the world has less of a problem with America than it has with Mr. Bush."


An editorial in "The Irish Times" says the EU summit beginning tonight near Thessaloniki will have a large agenda that reflects both European and international events in recent months. EU leaders are expected to discuss the draft constitution submitted by the Convention on the Future of Europe, consider new EU security policy in the aftermath of the Iraq war, reflect on relations with non-EU states around the globe, and debate a plan on new asylum and immigrations rules.

This summit is the first chance most will have to look at the EU draft constitution in detail, the Irish daily notes. EU leaders must then decide whether the draft will be a mere starting point for further negotiations, "or a substantive basis for them."

The paper joins the chorus of voices that say a more "developed and united EU foreign and security policy [is] necessary in response to a changing and uncertain world." It predicts that the Thessaloniki summit will make clear that enlargement will continue to be an EU goal, and that Balkan states "can aspire to join in future." The prospect of membership "has helped enormously to heal the wounds of the 1990s wars" in that region -- wars which, tragically, "a weaker Europe was not able to prevent."


A commentary in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" by Matthew Kaminski says it is hard to tell whether or not to get excited at the prospect of the EU's Thessaloniki summit. The draft constitution drawn up by former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing's Convention on the Future of Europe has not merely clarified existing EU laws, but has delegated new functions and powers to Brussels. "But does the constitution fundamentally change the EU as we know it today?" Kaminski asks. "Not by a long stretch," he says. The draft constitution's "fine print" makes clear that it incorporates "a great chunk of existing [EU] law" and relegates new aspects to "the edges."

Many of those at the summit have a vested interest in a stronger EU, Kaminski says. "But as long as elections and sovereignty rest firmly with nation-states 'Europe' won't be telling elected leaders what decisions to take, especially on matters of war and peace." Today as well as in a future expanded Europe, coalition building "will be the name of the game."

The draft constitution is a significant step forward for the EU's streamlining of "a messy institution," Kaminski says. Nevertheless, "it's not worth getting overly exercised about."


Writing in the "Chicago Tribune," E.G. Vallianatos says that growing "luxury" crops like tea, coffee, and cocoa for export in sub-Saharan Africa "is probably the strongest legacy of European colonialism." And it is a legacy "that translates into hunger and violence for Africa."

Africa grows these crops mainly to provide luxury goods for Europe and North America, seldom using these crops themselves. Instead, they export luxury crops and import the basic foods Africa needs to survive. Africans "now eat more imported wheat, rice and corn" instead of relying on the over 2,000 varieties of indigenous millet, sorghum, rice, cereals, roots and fruits. This tendency to raise cash crops instead of food crops "goes to the very heart of [Africa's] hunger and dependency on others."

These original crops "still exist in Africa and are the answer to the tremendous food insecurity of so many millions of people there and elsewhere in the world," Vallianatos says. "Africa's cereals are tolerant of heat, cold, drought and water-logging and infertile land." Agrarian reform "could help heal some of the continent's political wounds," as well as its ecological problems.

Returning Africa's limited agriculture to harvesting lost crops "[presents] the international development community with a great opportunity to practice applied sustainable development. This means Europe and North America have to end their 'plantation project' in Africa. Instead of dumping their obsolete pesticides and genetically engineered seeds to desperate Africans, Europe and North America ought to move aggressively to bring back to life the very crops they have been encouraging Africans to forget."


Writing in "The New York Times," columnist William Safire discusses the past week's civil unrest in Iran, as student-led demonstrations continue for a ninth straight day. Safire explains why the ruling conservative clerics have not responded more forcefully, and why they have not moved to arrest the 250 Iranian intellectuals who recently -- and boldly -- stated that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is accountable to the Iranian people, and not just to God.

Safire says that "every segment of Iranian society is split" over the issues of reform, Islamicism versus secularism, economic worries, and many other concerns. These divisions are aggravated by the frustration of women, who are socially repressed, and that of students, nine out of 10 of whom cannot attend university. Iranian voters "are tired of electing 'reformers'" to parliament, or the presidency, "and getting no reform."

Safire writes: "Because resentment is rising in so many segments, authorities cannot 'crack down' -- as can North Korea and Cuba -- without triggering a general uprising. To survive, Tehran feels it must whip up hatred of the West, finance terror against Israel and gain impunity with its own nuclear bomb."

The United States must increase pressure on Iran's "crumbling dictatorship," an approach Safire says may allow the U.S. to address its nuclear proliferation concerns without resorting to "regime change" in Iran. Washington must "[breathe] on the spark of freedom without blowing too hard," he writes.


The German daily "Die Welt" today prints an excerpt of a speech by Vaclav Havel, former president of the Czech Republic, honored yesterday in Berlin for promoting Czech-German relations.

Havel again emphasized the moral beliefs he has held as guiding principles and which he has always striven to uphold. Basically, there is no doubt that the essential change from a totalitarian state to a democratic one was achieved in his country, he says. "We grasped power from the hands of totalitarian regimes in a speedy and peaceful manner," says Havel. "We acted quickly to renew all the fundamental civil rights." The situation was ripe and developments were similar in all the European countries behind the Iron Curtain.

Havel stresses his concern for the moral issues of political change rather than those pertaining to the transition to a market economy. Havel has consistently criticized "political racketeers," the "postcommunist mafiosi" and the politicians who cover for them.

The main issues he is concerned with, said Havel, are "the existential, human, civil, moral and social dimensions of the transition" from communism.

Havel says he strives to promote the development of "a political culture and selfless service to society as a whole," rather than pandering to the mafia's circumventing of the rule of law. Havel says his ideals are those "that we are forever struggling to achieve."

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this press review)