Prague, 17 November 2003 (RFE/RL) -- A review of media commentary from today and over the weekend finds a discussion of recent events in Iraq, the continuing lack of security in Afghanistan, persistent challenges for Bulgarian economic reform, and preventing nuclear proliferation throughout the former Soviet bloc.
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
In today's edition, columnist David Sanger says the announcement of a June 2004 deadline for creating an interim Iraqi government and formally ending the U.S. occupation serves two disparate political aims. It both "promises the Iraqis the sovereignty they have clamored for, and it offers President George W. Bush the political symbol he needed: the beginnings of an exit strategy that he can explain to voters" ahead of his re-election bid next November.
But an accelerated transfer of power from U.S.-led coalition authorities to a fledgling Iraqi government may also result in "a rapid loss of control [over] the drafting of a constitution and over the effort to make democracy flower in a land where it had never been cultivated." Sanger warns that any plan "that grants Iraq its sovereignty before it adopts full-fledged democracy risks derailing [the] grander mission" of creating a democratic model for the Middle East.
Sanger says the lessons for Washington to learn from its Iraq campaign can be easily summed up: "It takes less planning to topple a dictator than to build a democracy." The responsibility for building a democratic government, by definition, lies with the people, says Sanger. Yet in Iraq, this process continues to be "subject to disruptions by members of the former ruling party and foreign groups whose campaign of terror has seemed to gain strength each month."
Writing in Belgium's "Le Soir," Francois Delisse discusses Serbia's third attempt to elect a president. The vote yesterday failed because of low voter turnout. Two former ballots were also rendered invalid for failing to reach the minimum 50 percent voter participation required. At a polling center in the densely populated Kalenic district near the center of Belgrade, poll officials seemed resigned, Delisse says. By nightfall, a schoolroom housing the polling booths was deserted -- evidence of the enormous gulf that separates Serbian citizens from their ruling class.
Participation in the vote was estimated at only 38.5 percent, far below the required 50 percent. Under these circumstances, the votes received by either of the main candidates mean little. Reformist Dragoljub Micunovic received only 35 percent of the vote, overtaken by ultranationalist Tomislav Nikolic's 46.5 percent.
Thus this week heralds a new era for Serbian democracy, says Delisse. Now without a parliament, which was dissolved last week (13 Nov), and still without a president, Serbia now faces an unprecedented constitutional crisis. Many observers are predicting institutional gridlock and a reinterpretation of the constitution to avoid the complete failure of the functioning of the state.
After three decisive failures, no one is yet discussing a next presidential ballot. What this will mean for Serbia's democratic future remains uncertain. But the apparent trend toward renewed nationalist tendencies in Serbia evidenced by Nikolic's strong showing is one that the European Union, a close observer of the election, will have to take into account.
THE WASHINGTON TIMES:
The Cato Institute's Richard Rahn discusses some of the difficulties faced by Bulgaria and other former Soviet states in their transition to market economies in a contribution to "The Washington Times." Problems with corruption and the lack of a transparent judicial system have been two of the lasting challenges. Bulgaria, along with many former communist nations, had developed a highly corrupt society, and its members "did not fully appreciate that for a capitalist society to succeed, it was necessary to have honest courts that protect private property and that the people need to fulfill their contractual agreements."
Following the Soviet collapse, foreign advisers "stressed privatization, tax and regulatory reform, free markets, free trade and sound money." Rahn says they should have emphasized instead "the rule of law and the importance of honesty in all business relationships in order to have a properly functioning economy and civil society."
But despite persistent problems, there is much reason for hope in countries like Bulgaria. Rahn praises its finance minister, Milen Velchev, as a "brilliant and very able" man for the job.
"Bulgaria should be a prosperous country," says Rahn. "It has rich agricultural land, natural resources [and] a well educated, talented population. [With] its entry into NATO, preparation for entry into the EU, and continued economic reform, Bulgaria will grow even more rapidly and finally fulfill its potential as an affluent, free and civil society."
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
A "New York Times" editorial sums up the situation in Afghanistan by saying a revived Taliban insurgency "is staging a frightening comeback. Major cities remain in the hands of the corrupt and brutal warlords. [And much] of the countryside is too dangerous for aid workers." The Afghan Transitional Administration led by Chairman Hamid Karzai "rules Kabul and little else. Opium poppies are once again a major export crop. And Osama bin Laden remains at large."
The paper places the blame for what it calls these "alarming" circumstances squarely on Washington, saying the deteriorating situation stems "from a succession of bad American policy decisions." First there was the reluctance to commit enough U.S. troops to Afghanistan, which "forced Washington to rely on Tajik and Uzbek warlords" to oust the Taliban. Many of these warlords still retain de facto control over several Afghan cities, some ruling with an iron fist. Washington later hesitated at the idea of dispatching a strong international peacekeeping force that could undermine the warlords' control and extend the authority of the central government beyond Kabul. The White House then "prematurely declared victory in its rush to a war of choice with Iraq."
The "NYT" says the new draft of an Afghan constitution is a "hopeful development." But unless "far more is done to establish security in the many areas where it is still lacking and to reinforce the authority of the Karzai government, there can be no economic and political revival."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE:
In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," former U.S. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski says since the attacks of 11 September 2001, which "understandably shook and outraged" the American populace, the U.S. administration "has increasingly embraced, at the highest official level, what can be fairly called a paranoiac view of the world."
Brzezinski writes that the "central preoccupation" of the current U.S. administration reflects what he calls a rather "narrow and extremist vision" of foreign policy [for] the world's primary superpower. Moreover, he says, "the absence of a clear, sharply defined perception [of] what is actually happening abroad" has contributed to a "crisis of credibility and to the isolation in which the United States finds itself today."
"Can a world power provide global leadership on the basis of fear and anxiety?" Brzezinski asks. America's "with-us-or-against-us" anti-terrorism stance has undermined its key alliances, particularly with Europe. Instead, the United States "should be supporting a larger Europe as a zone of peace and prosperity in the world that is the necessary foundation for a stable international system."
Brzezinski says drawing Russia into a closer Euro-Atlantic partnership should also be part of any future vision. "But the United States can only do that if it is clear as to what it is seeking in pursuing that strategy." Washington should be "unambiguously" promoting "democracy and decency in Russia," and not merely seeking "tactical help of a very specific [type] purchased at the cost of compromising America's own concept of democracy."
THE WASHINGTON TIMES:
An editorial in "The Washington Times" says nuclear nonproliferation experts now portray "a worrisome global scenario for nuclear security." As Czech police arrested two Slovaks on 15 November for trying to sell undercover agents seven pounds of radioactive material, the paper says the situation in former Soviet states is of particular concern. "Research reactors in Uzbekistan, Ukraine, and Belarus are considered very insecure." While multiple sites would need to be raided to put together an effective enriched uranium-powered bomb, the material for a dirty bomb -- which diffuses radioactive material using conventional explosives -- is much easier to obtain.
Uranium is also highly portable. "And though some border posts in the former Soviet Union have nuclear detection devices, there are numerous potential exit routes for smugglers." In the breakaway Georgian province of Abkhazia, "up to two pounds [almost 1 kilo] of highly enriched uranium from an abandoned facility has disappeared without a trace."
The paper says the overall outlook for preventing global nuclear proliferation is "mixed." The United States and others around the world continue to make "concerted" efforts. But such efforts "are racing against cagey enemies who appear to have opportunities for considerable mischief, if not mass destruction."