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Western Press Review: European Defense, Israeli 'Preemption,' And The Headlong Rush To Iraqi Economic Reform

Prague, 8 October 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Among the topics addressed by media analysis and commentary today are the meeting of NATO defense ministers currently under way in the United States, Israel's apparent adoption of the new U.S. "preemptive strike" doctrine, and the headlong -- and perhaps unwise -- rush to economic reform in Iraq, among other issues.


"Israel's air raid on an alleged terrorist camp in Syria has, for the first time, directly linked Israel's conflict with the Palestinians to the U.S. strategy to stop Arab and Iranian leaders from backing terrorism," writes Boston-based daily "The Christian Science Monitor."

The Israeli strike was launched in response to a 4 October suicide bombing at a restaurant in Haifa, which killed 19 and injured several others. "Such use of force is, in theory, aimed at forcing the region's despots to end moral, financial or logistical support for attacks on U.S. or Israeli civilians. But will it work?" the paper asks. "If Israel does adopt the [U.S. President George W.] Bush doctrine of using pre-emption and forcing regimes to change behavior, it does risk [escalating]" tensions and, possibly, conflicts in the region. "It would be far better for Israel to quickly make peace with the Palestinians."


Today's London-based "Financial Times" discusses the meeting of NATO defense ministers currently under way in Colorado. Many European ministers are now taking "a more local approach to defense" within the European Union. There has been some concern that a strengthened EU common defense would overlap or unnecessarily duplicate NATO capabilities. But as the EU takes over from NATO in Macedonia and offers to do the same in Bosnia, it is also reaffirming its willingness "to act globally, as NATO members."

"The idea of NATO acting globally and the EU locally seems neat," the paper says. "And it accords with the reality that NATO and the U.S. have more military power and organization than the EU."

But the paper cautions that if an expanded EU role in policing the continent totally excludes the U.S. from Europe's defense, Washington may be tempted to withdraw from NATO. "Nor can the EU confine itself to regional security; it has worldwide concerns that it will want to pursue with the U.S."


In a contribution to the British daily, Ngaire Woods of the Global Economic Governance Program at Oxford University says Iraq "is about to enter the free market with a shock."

The new plan for its economic recovery, signed into law by the Coalition Provisional Authority, allows for an economic system that is "as free as it gets." Foreign companies will be allowed to own 100 percent of state enterprises. Tariffs will be cut "and local producers will be given no protection. Taxes will be very low, up to a maximum rate of 15 percent. Foreign banks will take over the banking system."

Woods reminds us that a similar plan of radical liberalization was implemented in post-Cold War Russia, to disastrous effect. "[Tragically], factories and their associated schools, doctors and towns rapidly shut down. Five years later, it was apparent that instead of growth, freedom and opportunity, Russia's output had collapsed by around 50 percent [and] a barter economy took over."

Much-needed new investment will not flow in to Iraq until it has a solid foundation, including "a rule of law, effective tax collection and clear, open government that can control corruption." Without these basics, Woods says "a market economy can all too soon give way to a frontier-style free-for-all."

Today's Iraq "needs stable political institutions built from the ground up to guide its entry into global markets."


David Brooks says as far as the drafting of a new Iraqi constitution is concerned, "things are going pretty well."

There is already "broad agreement on what the constitution should do. It should establish a democratic government, protect minority rights, guarantee the equality of all people -- including women -- and establish a government that is consistent with Islamic values without being subservient to theocratic law." Moreover, all sides involved in the constitution's drafting "understand that if the talks fail, the result is mutual assured destruction."

Nevertheless, says Brooks, major issues remain to be resolved. "Should the Iraqis aim for a centralized presidential system or a loose parliamentary one?" he asks. The Iraqi constitution must also define state boundaries, which Brooks calls a "tricky" process because some areas are claimed by various ethnic groups.

"Should the constitution set aside specific numbers of parliamentary seats for key minority groups?" And should it decide on social matters like divorce laws and alcohol sales, or leave these up to local governments?

Most Iraqis want democracy, says Brooks. But many do not fully understand how it operates or what it entails.

"There's no way the Iraqis can resolve these issues within six months," he says, referring to the deadline set by the U.S. administration. But if the Iraqi constitutional process eventually succeeds, "Iraq really will be a beacon of freedom in the Middle East."


In a contribution to "The Washington Times," Don Ritter of the Afghanistan America Foundation and the Afghan American Chamber of Commerce encourages the U.S. administration to incorporate the Afghan diaspora into rebuilding efforts in the country and allow them to take a leading role.

Diaspora Afghans "are not only experienced professional and business people. They know the lay of the land literally and figuratively. Versed in the rich history, languages, cultures and traditions of the Afghan nation, and with a threshold for risk far higher than that of non-Afghans, this group presents dream profiles for development agencies like the United Nations, World Bank, and USAID and its European and Japanese counterparts."

This foreign-educated and experienced contingent "can connect fluently, not only in their own Dari, Farsi and Pashto, but in donor nation English, German, Arabic, Italian, French, Urdu, Hindi and Japanese."

Ritter says: "Perhaps most important of all, diaspora entrepreneurs have flocked to Afghanistan in search of business and investment opportunities. Just about everything is needed, and they intend to be the first ones to provide it." A non-Afghan, he says, "sees sadness in a neighborhood in Kabul destroyed by rockets with two lonely houses being rebuilt. An Afghan-American who long ago accounted for the sadness sees opportunity to rebuild 200 more."


An analysis in France's daily "Le Monde" by Laurent Zecchini says British, French, and German leaders managed to exceed expectations for the development of a European common defense when they met in Berlin on 20 September.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the most staunch U.S. ally among the Europeans, finally accepted the idea of creating EU defense capabilities and structures that are separate from NATO. The United States had long expressed concern that a reinvigorated European defense would come at the expense of the Atlantic alliance, undermining U.S. influence on the continent -- and London has duly communicated such U.S. concerns at the EU. But Washington's position has evolved on this issue, Zecchini says, as it now understands that a Europe with increased military capabilities is better able to ensure stability in its own "backyard" -- and the Balkans in particular -- thus helping relieve America's global military burden.

In past years, the European Union and the NATO alliance have progressed in tandem, both following strategies characterized by expansion. And Zecchini says these developments correspond to the long-term U.S. vision for Europe. On one hand, the EU acts as a producer of prosperity and stability on the continent, and yet its continuing expansion ensures that it will remain a political dwarf -- at least as far as its ability to speak with a single voice on the international scene.

At the same time, the expansion of NATO appears certain to widen the strategic influence of the United States, eventually to an expanded alliance's borders with Russia.


An editorial in "The New York Times" says the "despicable" 4 October attack on a Haifa restaurant by a Palestinian suicide bomber was followed by a "recklessly inappropriate" response, as Israel attacked suspected militant targets deep inside Syria.

Israel's chosen military reprisal has now "ratcheted up tensions in the Middle East at a particularly difficult moment for American policy there. President George W. Bush should now be urgently counseling all parties to exercise restraint while his administration embarks on a new push to revive moribund peace efforts."

But instead, Bush "has unwisely chosen to encourage the most hawkish impulses of Israel's prime minister, Ariel Sharon," stating that Israel should not "feel constrained" in defending itself. The paper says: "Neither American nor Israeli interests are well served by such provocative advice.... [By] drawing additional countries directly into its intractable conflict with the Palestinians, Israel makes a political solution to the core conflict that much more difficult."

Bush should be "sending Sharon clear signals that greater restraint is imperative." The United States "fully understands that no Israeli government can accept endless terrorism. Yet Palestinian violence ought not to lead Israel across a military threshold it has wisely respected for three decades."

Sharon's chosen response "pointlessly [risks] reopening armed conflict across what has long been a peaceful border. Washington should be far more vocal in warning against this danger."