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Western Press Review: U.S. Diplomatic Failures, The Afghan Draft Constitution, And The War In Chechnya

Prague, 1 October 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Analysis and commentary in the major media today take a look at the diplomatic failures in Iraq, the shortcomings of the new draft constitution for Afghanistan, Russian President Vladimir Putin's old-fashioned "tsarist" ways, and the Kremlin's ongoing war in the breakaway republic Chechnya, among other issues.


Writing in "The Wall Street Journal Europe," Jackson Diehl says the real indicator of the U.S. administration's diplomatic failure regarding its Iraq policy can be seen not in the maneuverings of Paris and Moscow -- which have long been trying to counter American hegemony -- but in the actions of countries that are traditionally close allies.

"Not just Pakistan, but Canada still declines to provide troops to help Americans keep the peace in Baghdad," he notes. Mexican President Vicente Fox, whom Diehl says was "once Mr. Bush's best foreign friend," joined Russian President Vladimir Putin in using his speech at the UN General Assembly "to scold the United States" for its policies.

Diehl also considers U.S. relations with Germany and Turkey, two nations he says "hold the keys to the internationalization of Iraq." He says "sources on both sides" of these relationships "say that the trust and political will that would be needed to deliver the help the United States really needs are still lacking."

Germany recently agreed to send "the most modest" of contributions to Iraq with its offer to help train an Iraqi police force. A new $8 billion U.S. aid package to Ankara "presumably" set the stage for sending a Turkish contingent to Iraq. But Diehl says with 70 percent of Turks reportedly opposed to sending troops, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan "is deeply reluctant to take the political risk."

In Turkey, Germany, and elsewhere, politicians want to repair relations with Washington. But they "remain restrained by a tide of public opinion, and a continuing sense that this American administration is too hard to work with."


In a contribution to "The New York Times," Preeta Bansal and Felice Gaer of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom says the effort "to build a democratic, tolerant Afghanistan" is "facing a serious challenge" from the current draft of the Afghan constitution, which may be released later this week.

The draft "does not yet provide for crucial human rights protections, including freedom of thought, conscience, and religion." The authors say the "United States and the international community should insist that the draft presented by the constitutional commission explicitly protect these core human rights for all Afghans."

Versions of the constitution now under review "enshrine particular schools of Islamic law, or Shariah, that criminalize dissent and criticism of Islam through blasphemy laws. If this draft is ratified in December by the loya jirga, or grand council, the freedoms of Afghan citizens would continue to be in the hands of judges educated in Islamic law, rather than in civil law. Official charges of blasphemy, apostasy or other religious crimes could still be used to suppress debate, just as they were under the Taliban."

They say reform-minded Afghans trying to influence the draft have already experienced "threats, harassment and even imprisonment."

The authors again call on the international community, and particularly the United States, to make it clear to Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai that support will only be forthcoming for an Afghan state "with a constitution that clearly and unequivocally enshrines human rights and religious freedom."


A commentary in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" reminds the world of the utter chaos that reigns in Afghanistan. The Taliban is re-establishing itself in the south, it says, while in the north two warlords are locked in a power struggle.

The commentary says little has been achieved except "diplomats patting themselves on the back" since the conference held near Bonn almost two years ago, at which international commitments were pledged to "rebuild Afghanistan and bring peace and stability."

What was easily foreseeable then can no longer be denied today, says the commentary: the stationing of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) only in the capital, Kabul, cannot bring stability to the country at large. On the contrary, this decision has only "furthered the process of disintegration."

Both the UN and NATO are now attempting "to soothe the initial birth pangs" of the new Afghan state. There seems to be unity on the notion of deploying an international peace force to patrol the provinces as well, which the paper says "sounds like progress." But again there are squabbles as to who should be in charge. Should it be ISAF or the anti-terrorist troops of America's Operation Enduring Freedom?

The "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" says, "No one wants to shoulder the responsibility."

The only way to bring stability to Afghanistan is to disarm the regional militias. Instead, however, allied forces are concentrating on humanitarian aid, which "promises more security for the soldiers but not for Afghanistan" overall.


"A new Russia needs a new model president," writes Nina Khrushcheva in the "Los Angeles Times." Khrushcheva teaches international affairs at the New School University and is the granddaughter of former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.

She says Russian President Vladimir Putin has perfected his "polished political performances," but strip away the facade "and the old Russia emerges: bombastic, incoherent, puffed up with its own virtues and ignorant of its flaws." She notes that "[at] least 25 percent" of Putin's senior administration officials are former KGB officers like himself. And "[all] the media outlets left standing speak in the familiar obsequious voice of the 'Pravda' days," a reference to the now defunct Soviet-era Communist Party newspaper.

Khrushcheva says the Putin leadership style is "much more akin to the old model of czar/father." Putin "views himself [as] a leader with a firm hand benevolently saving the country [from] the consequences of the Soviet collapse, post-Soviet anarchy and, in his own words, the 'renaissance of freedom.'"

At a speech last week at Columbia University in New York, Khrushcheva says Putin deftly addressed audience criticisms of Russian policies, "appearing honest and concerned." He "would like nothing better than to be a liberal democrat, Putin implied; it's just the circumstances are not good enough -- no law, lack of order, oligarchy, irresponsible press, Chechen guerrillas, world terrorism."

But Khrushcheva wryly remarks that this "pose" has a long tradition in Russia, noting Ivan the Terrible used similar claims of powerlessness when criticized for cruelty by his European counterparts.


In "The Moscow Times," Ruslan Khasbulatov of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Russian Economics Academy discusses the political consequences of the bloody events of October 1993. Khasbulatov says then-President Boris Yeltsin organized what he calls an attack on the Russian Constitution and its "defenders" in the Russian Parliament, eventually throwing its speaker -- the author himself -- into prison. The State Duma later amnestied Khasbulatov and others he says were falsely arrested.

Yeltsin had dissolved parliament and called for new elections after differences with deputies.

Khasbulatov says the Kremlin's two wars in Chechnya "came as a direct result" of the October events. At that time, the Russian Parliament "was moving steadily down the path of democratic reform." He says, "Under no circumstances would the Parliament have allowed such a war. I can state unequivocally that the disagreements between Moscow and Grozny would have been resolved peacefully. The Kremlin openly supported [Chechen leader] Dzhokhar Dudayev's separatist policy. It was made clear to Dudayev that if he supported Yeltsin in his confrontation [with] Parliament, Yeltsin would return the favor by granting Chechnya full independence."

Thus the Kremlin "carelessly facilitated" the outbreak of the conflict, "and now it denounces 'international terrorism' there, as though it had appeared out of the blue."

As for Chechnya's upcoming election, in which the Kremlin's candidate is now the only one running, Khasbulatov calls it "[an] election in a ghetto, whose results are known in advance," adding: "The whole production would be comical if it didn't involve so much bloodshed."


An analysis in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" comments on the 5 October presidential election in Chechnya and the "apparent poisoning of the prime minister of Chechnya, Anatoly Popov."

Popov fell ill in Chechnya on 27 September as he was returning to the capital, Grozny, from Gudermes, Chechnya's second-largest city, following a ceremony celebrating the opening of a new gas pipeline.

The paper ironically remarks, "Poison would be something new. The use of guns, grenades and bombs have been used in Chechnya far more often "A Moscow hospital spokesman later diagnosed Popov's illness as "a case of normal food poisoning."

Despite doctor's orders, Popov flew from Moscow to Chechnya. His intention was clear, says the paper. Everything should look like business as usual ahead of the polls, but in fact the situation is quite tense. Rebels in Chechnya see this election as nothing more than a maneuver to legitimize the Russian occupiers.

There is virtually no doubt that Akhmad Kadyrov will win the election, the paper says. The current head of the pro-Russian administration in the breakaway republic is the candidate favored by the Kremlin and, indeed, the only candidate running, now that opposition candidates have dropped out one by one.

But even Popov's speedy recovery can be no guarantee of an uneventful election. The European Union has concluded that opposition candidates were intimidated and that the election process remains dubious. However, the EU and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, will not be sending observers for security reasons.


Writing in France's "Le Figaro," columnist Pierre Rousselin says the political fortunes of U.S. President George W. Bush are undergoing a seismic shift.

Five months ago today, Bush appeared triumphant in a pilot's uniform on the deck of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier to proclaim "major combat operations" over in Iraq. Today, Bush is coming to realize that his campaign to defend the United States from the "axis of evil" no longer seems so certain of victory. In any case, says Rousselin, it will not be enough to guarantee his re-election next year (November 2004).

"Things change very fast in politics," Rousselin writes. Now a "whiff of scandal" is infecting the White House, as allegations fly that administration officials leaked the name of a female Central Intelligence Agency operative to the press, purportedly to punish her husband for his criticisms of White House policy on Iraq.

This scandal recalls the far more serious scandal in Britain involving weapons expert David Kelly, who was found dead of an apparent suicide after his identity as a media source was revealed. Rousselin says such scandals indicate that London and Washington continue to pay the price for the "exaggerations with which they justified a war that the rest of the world looked upon with skepticism."

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