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Western Press Review: Chechen Elections, Israel's Attack On Suspected Militants In Syria, And Reinvigorating NATO

Prague, 6 October 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Much media discussion today focuses on the Middle East, in the wake of an Israeli attack on an alleged Palestinian militant training camp in Syria and the ensuing meeting of an emergency session of the UN Security Council. The council is now considering a draft resolution that would formally condemn Israel for the attack, which followed the 4 October suicide bombing in the Israeli city of Haifa that left 19 dead. Other topics include reinvigorating NATO, Serbian-U.S. military cooperation, and yesterday's presidential elections in Chechnya, in which Kremlin-backed Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov is expected to sweep to victory.


Writing in the British daily, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown says the controversial 5 October presidential elections in Chechnya -- in which Kremlin-backed candidate Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov was considered the only serious contender -- will create "further global turmoil and wretched hatreds among highly politicized, enraged Muslim activists across the Islamic world."

Alibhai-Brown says the Russians "have violated all the conditions for a free and fair election process. Russian soldiers are keeping strict control of the polling stations; markets have been closed; opposition workers have been kidnapped and tortured and a number have been killed; the noose of censorship has tightened to choke out all dissent; two credible candidates have left the scene, one to become an adviser to Vladimir Putin, Russia's president, and the other declared illegal by the corrupt Chechen Supreme Court." And yet, "all official criticisms" of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his policies have disappeared in the post-11 September world.

Chechnya had already chosen a leader, she points out. In 1997, Aslan Maskhadov was popularly elected to lead the Chechen republic in a vote that was monitored by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and accepted by Russia. But Moscow has since declared him a terrorist and refuses to take part in negotiations. Alibhai-Brown says this latest "farcical" election "is the gravestone which is being erected to mark the end of Chechnya as itself. It is truly sickening to watch Russian ambitions and actions making havoc in the Caucuses."


An editorial in the British daily "The Guardian" says, "It is unlikely that the [Israeli] assault on the alleged Islamic Jihad training camp north of Damascus will curb future terrorist attacks; quite the opposite, in fact." The weekend's suicide bomb attack at a restaurant in Haifa, which left 19 dead, "will, meanwhile, convince ever more Israelis that a peace settlement is impossible."

That Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is now "openly threatening further transnational, anti-terrorist operations against Syria, Lebanon and even Iran is a matter of grave and urgent concern for all responsible nations. Syria's decision to take the matter to the UN Security Council last night, rather than resort to rash retaliation, provides a small glimmer of common sense in an otherwise anarchic, utterly irrational situation." While the Haifa suicide bombing was "a horrendous affront to all human decency," the paper says Israel's action against Syria "was a clear, contemptuous breach of international law."

The paper says it "has long been apparent that Israelis and Palestinians are incapable of resolving their problems by themselves." All involved -- from Arab and Israeli leaders to the Europeans, Americans, and fellow members of the diplomatic Quartet -- "now have a duty to re-examine both their policies and their consciences."


In a contribution to "The Independent," NATO Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Ian Forbes suggests the role of the military alliance must increasingly focus on postwar stabilization and reconstruction. "After all," he says, "the battles in Afghanistan and Iraq are now over winning the peace and not the war."

Yet Europe and the United States have different visions of peacekeeping, which may complicate cooperative trans-Atlantic efforts. "Europe inclines more towards a UN peacekeeping model, whereas the U.S. approach is more geared to the suppression of organized military opposition." The war in Iraq and its reconstruction "will bring this matter to a head. The reality is that nation building and reconstruction takes years. The U.S. military is configured to fight and win wars, not conduct endless peacekeeping operations." Events in Iraq "are bound to force a positive re-evaluation of peacekeeping operations in the U.S., and some steps toward convergence between European and U.S. approaches."

Looking at NATO's "proven record in Bosnia, Kosovo and now Afghanistan, the alliance brings much to the table in this respect. It can, potentially, avert an overstretching of U.S. defense resources [and the] deepening division between U.S. and European policy priorities." A shared and evolving strategic vision is "essential to strengthen the Atlantic Alliance for the years ahead, to facilitate international coalescence around a new sense of purpose and a new grand strategy."


"The Wall Street Journal Europe" discusses the decision by Serbia and Montenegro to send troops to Afghanistan to help U.S.-led efforts at providing security. The paper says during a July visit to Washington, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic offered the U.S. administration an "a la carte menu," offering to send 1,000 soldiers to serve wherever America wanted them, whether in Iraq, Afghanistan, Liberia, or elsewhere.

The paper says this offer "is remarkable coming a mere four years after the fall of [former Serbian President and indicted war crimes suspect Slobodan] Milosevic and after U.S.-led NATO forces bombed Serbia for 78 straight days." And yet this willingness to cooperate is indicative of steadily improving ties. "Sanctions on Belgrade have been lifted and the U.S. is now the single largest foreign investor in Serbia-Montenegro."

The paper says Washington should "be picky about the troops that Belgrade sends. There can be no place for units with a history of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, nor for commanders who led such damnable operations." The Serbs, "weary of being everyone's pariah," are likely to cooperate with such demands rather than risk "[switching] off their first positive international spotlight in over a decade." The paper sardonically asks, "Who'd have thought that the Serbs would turn out to be better friends of America than the French?"


Writing in France's daily "Le Figaro," Pierre Rousselin says Syria has now been put on alert: Israel holds it responsible for the actions of Palestinian extremists that base themselves on Syrian territory. Israel struck a suspected militant training camp near Damascus following the 4 October suicide-bomb attack on a Haifa restaurant that killed 19 people.

Israel has not launched an attack so deep into Syrian territory for 30 years, notes Rousselin. With this "public warning," he says, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is taking advantage of the new strategic circumstances -- now more favorable to Israel -- that followed the ouster of Iraq's Saddam Hussein. The risk Sharon took was calculated, Rousselin says. Israel knows that Syria will not retaliate, for it does not have the military means. Damascus will instead go the diplomatic route -- but in this respect also Syria is increasingly isolated.

By launching this targeted military offensive, Israel's Sharon is thus in step with his U.S. allies, Rousselin says. Washington has failed to act against Damascus itself in part because it is preoccupied with Iraq. The Syrian raid has the added advantage of taking attention off the diplomatic failures of the conflict with the Palestinians, he says. But there is a danger that Sharon's high-profile and "spectacular" response may only draw us closer to a time when nothing else stands in the way of a continuing escalation in Mideast violence.


"Optimistic assertions that Iraq would emerge quickly as a beacon of Arab democracy, subsidized by oil exports, now seem hopelessly far-fetched," writes Lawrence Freedman of the social science and public policy school at King's College, London. In his contribution to the "Financial Times," Freedman says in spite of the rapid Anglo-American military victory, there is a "sober appreciation of the larger job still to do. The credibility of U.S. policy now depends on its ability to stick at this task and produce a stable Iraq with a legitimate government and a good chance of prosperity."

As time goes on, the unintended repercussions of the U.S.-led war are manifesting. "With its hands full in Iraq and Afghanistan, Washington is bound to hesitate before taking on another adventure, especially if it must be justified on the basis of intelligence. The U.S. is tentatively returning to a more multilateral approach and treading carefully in its dealings over North Korea and Iran. Indeed the need to keep the Shiites calm in Iraq requires Iranian connivance."

Responding to some of the common criticisms of recent U.S. policy trends, Freedman says rather than expect a newly aggressive, unilateral America acting to "[remove] one rogue regime after another, the complaint from allies may soon be about excessive caution and passivity in the face of the severe challenges that cannot be met without a fully engaged U.S."


An editorial in the "Los Angeles Times" says the European Union's pledge to give a mere 1 percent of the $20 billion requested by the U.S. administration for Iraqi rebuilding "sent a signal as thunderously political as economic: Nations upset by the U.S. invasion won't pay for the aftermath unless Washington changes its tune." The need for Washington "to solicit international donors also should prompt the administration to face reality. Lecturing other nations on their duty to help clean up the mess the U.S. [created] won't induce those hectored to help out."

The paper says Washington must "get an Iraqi administration in power, fast." An independent government in Iraq "would have more luck getting foreign aid than U.S.-installed puppets. Iraqi rulers should emphasize that firms from all nations could bid openly on contracts to pump petroleum, set up telephones, remove mines and carry out all the tasks that tens of billions of dollars would finance. Firms from Russia, France and other countries, owed billions of dollars by Saddam Hussein's regime, should forget about seeing those debts repaid; instead, they should be allowed to compete for new jobs."

The financial burden of reconstructing Iraq is "too much for U.S. taxpayers to bear alone." A renewed commitment to multilateralism and diplomacy is needed if the United States expects other nations to make real commitments, financial or otherwise, to U.S.-led endeavors.