Osama Bin Laden may be in less danger from smart bombs than from kidney stones, according to a report in the French daily Le Figaro. In a report picked up throughout Europe the Paris paper and Radio France International claimed the Saudi terrorist checked himself into Dubai's American Hospital in July, where he spent 10 days undergoing urgent treatment to his ailing renal system. "Intelligence sources believe that bin Laden bought a dialysis machine earlier this year which he had shipped to Kandahar," says the Times about the Le Figaro report. "His problem now will be operating such equipment and the risk of infection if, as seems likely, he is hiding out in Afghan mountains."
Pakistan: Just don't say the Q-word
As the U.S. punditocracy endlessly parses the Vietnam analogy, "quagmire" has become the noun du jour. The clamor of doubt, inevitably, is amplified among the allies. A commentator in Pakistan's Dawn, for example, wondered whether President Bush's campaign was getting "bogged down in indefinition."
Canada: Bonnie Bin Laden?
An op-ed columnist in Canada's Toronto Star said the prolonged intense bombing with little result risked turning Osama bin Laden into "the Middle East's equivalent of Bonnie Prince Charlie." Like the legendary Scottish rebel, sooner or later he'll be killed through betrayal or a stroke of luck on the part of his enemies. "Bin Laden will win, though, provided that he evades death or capture long enough to become a myth. The kind of iconic figure, that's to say, whom immense numbers of ordinary Arabs and Muslims, entirely aside from actual fellow terrorists and extremists, will come to identify with as a source of pride and of inspiration, a modern Saladin, a Bonnie Prince Charlie escaping his overwhelming enemy because of his skill, because of the loyalty of his supporters and, as will certainly become part of bin Laden's legend, because Allah willed it."
Australia: Stop whining
Australia isn't about to flinch, though, with the Sydney Morning Herald reporting that Prime Minister John Howard will have none of the muttering of the Europeans, and his neighbors in Indonesia, about pausing the bombing for Ramadan. Such a pause, say the Aussies, will give Al Qaeda and the Taliban an opportunity to regroup.
India: Remember Korea
The Times of India questioned the assumption that combining bombing with food aid would avoid alienating ordinary Afghans from America. And the fact that the bombing has not thus far yielded much by way of success against terrorism leads the writer to ask whether Americans remember General Omar Bradley's Senate testimony on General MacArthur's proposal to carry the Korean war into China: "The wrong war, at the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong enemy."
Japan: Let's not rush into anything
Japan this week took the unprecedented decision to send warships to the Afghan theater this week, but Tokyo's Asahi Shimbun urged the government to act more cautiously: "Nearly 50 days since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington and 20 days since the beginning of the military campaign in Afghanistan by U.S. and British forces, the effectiveness of the combat activity is still not clear and the toll of civilian casualties gradually continues to rise." The editorial backs Japanese support for U.S. military action "if it is confined in purpose and scope to track down terrorists and those who harbor terrorists," but warns of the dangers of a prolonged campaign and insists that "military might alone cannot eradicate terrorism."
Saudi Arabia: Plausible denial
The prolonged war effort is, not surprisingly, giving Saudi Arabia's rulers the jitters. Arab News reported this week that interior minister Prince Naif said his government did not support U.S. strikes on Afghanistan. "No, the Kingdom is not backing (the strikes) in the real sense of the word," he was quoted as saying. "The Kingdom only has a position on the anti-terror campaign," he addes, without elaborating. But despite his fudge on the bombing question, the Saudi launched into a fierce attack on Osama Bin Laden. "This is not jihad and there is nothing to be proud of. This should be condemned by all Muslims," he said. "It is disgusting that persons who incite people and cause problems for them to go on hiding leaving others to face the war."
Germany: Ich bin ein Blair-ite
Germany's Frankfurter Algemeine Zeitung took comfort from the intervention this week of Britain's prime minister Tony Blair, who began the week with a passionate speech to rally European public opinion by recalling the atrocity that began the current war in Afghanistan. Blair was the "ideal person" to hold together a flagging coalition, the German paper wrote. He "steadfastly emphasized that suspending the attacks on Afghanistan would send the wrong signal at the wrong time. Mr. Blair cautioned the terrorists against confusing the scruples and criticism expressed by many in the West with weakness and decadence, saying that such sentiments were part of an open society."
Britain: Spare us the disclaimer
European media commentators are skeptical of CNN's injunction to its anchors to follow any reports of hardship in Afghanistan with tag lines such as "We must keep in mind, after seeing reports like this, that the Taliban regime in Afghanistan continues to harbour terrorists who have praised the September 11 attacks that killed close to 5,000 innocent people in the US." Or variants on that theme. The Guardian warned that the network may risk compromising its objectivity. But the network appears to be aware of the different standard that European viewers may apply. "Presenters on CNN International will not be subject to the edict," the paper notes.
India: That was then, this is now
Finally, a delicious irony from India's Telegraph, a paper whose banner giddily proclaims it "unputdownable." The Calcutta paper reports that some 200 Mumbai (nee Bombay) restaurants had stopped serving Coke and Pepsi, offering only traditional Indian yoghurt drinks as a means of protesting U.S. air strikes against Afghanistan. Many more of the city's Muslim restaurateurs are expected to join the boycott of U.S. products. So the enterprising paper asked the Hindu nationalist Shiv Sena party, which has previously organized similar boycotts to protest globalization's onslaught on Indian culture, whether the party would be joining. The boycott makes no sense, sniffed the party spokesmen. Of course it doesn't Shiv Sena is part of a Hindu-nationalist led government supporting the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan.