What They're Saying About the War

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This week's war themes in the U.S. media — a possible attack on Iraq, the carnage of a doomed prison uprising near Mazar-i-Sharif and the search for a post-Taliban government — were echoed in the international media, although the spin on each was quite different.

Europeans, Arabs: Back off Iraq

The uphill battle for allies in any new confrontation with Saddam Hussein was underlined by the reaction of key European coalition partners. Britain's Guardian reports that Prime Minister Tony Blair this week joined with French President Jacques Chirac in demanding "incontrovertible evidence" of Iraqi complicity in the September 11 attacks before even considering a strike on Iraq. Chirac expressed concern that the Bush administration was weighing a course of action that "would have very serious implications for the international struggle against terrorism."

Germany's Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder joined the chorus of concern, with the Frankfurter Algemeine Zeitung reporting that the German leader had warned Washington "that an attack on Iraq could crack Mr. Bush's international anti-terror coalition." Schroeder added that "Germany itself would deploy troops to an Iraqi mission under one condition — that the Iraqi government approved the mission." In other words, not unless they're invited in by Saddam.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]By week's end, Washington appears to have heard the panic signals. "Powell Reassures Arabs No Iraq," read a headline in Friday's Jordan Times. "After a meeting with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher… (Secretary of State Colin) Powell said he understood and was taking into consideration Arab objections to US military action against Iraq. 'For now, this is nothing for us to disagree on,' Powell said." Still, even that "for now" qualifier has Arab leaders fearing a destabilizing domestic backlash.

Germany, India, Pakistan: Post-Taliban blues

U.S. front pages whistled a happy tune on the transition talks between four Afghan factions near Bonn this week, many of them carrying photographs of one or two women present as evidence of a new order in the making. But Germany's Frankfurter Algemeine Zeitung offered a more sobering view. "Afghanistan's political reorganization poses the kind of question that … has no good answers, only ones that pose greater or lesser degrees of evil," an editorial concludes. For example, without an international security force the country would quickly slide back into bloody civil war, but there's no "politically acceptable and militarily effective" force available.

The Times of India connects the difficulty in reaching agreement at Bonn with the evolving war on the ground, pointing out that anti-Taliban Pashtun warlords have warned the Northern Alliance to stay out of southern Afghanistan. That poses a strategic dilemma for Washington, since the anti-Taliban Pashtun forces don't appear to have the military muscle to drive the Taliban out of Kandahar and its remaining strongholds, and the U.S. has no desire to use its own ground forces in a pitched battle in Afghanistan.

Pakistan, too, faces an uphill battle to overcome the post-Taliban fallout, warns Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa-Agha in the daily Dawn. The government's own proxy war policies in Afghanistan and Kashmir have cultivated a generation angry, fanatical young men, many of them still armed, who will have to be reintegrated into civil society, she warns. "The U.S. may have won its war, but unless a solution is found to the aforementioned problem, the state of peace and stability in Central and South Asia, the Middle East or the world will remain doubtful."

Britain, Australia: Alarm Over Prison Slaughter

The big story of the week was the prison revolt at the Qalai Janghi fortress at Mazar-i-Sharif. Justin Huggler provided one of the most vivid and harrowing accounts of the bloodbath annotated with uncomfortable and unanswered questions in London's Independent. And in line with the growing British calls for an inquiry into the events, that paper's fiercely anti-war columnist Robert Fisk accuses the U.S. and Britain of complicity in a war crime. His argument is echoed in The Guardian where Isabel Hilton argues that the involvement of American and British personnel alongside General Dostum's men necessitates an investigation. "Were they fighting by Dostum's rules or by their own?" she writes. "Or do we no longer bother with the distinction?"

But Independent columnist David Aaronovitch is scathing of his colleagues' rush to judgement. "Some people emit outrage like elephants' piss," he writes. "The sheer quantity of it soon covers the psychological landscape." He cites a number of accounts suggesting that the revolt was triggered by kamikaze prisoners. "Had, in 1944, a chateau full of captured SS men killed their captors and then holed up inside shooting at anything that moved, I doubt whether anyone now would have called their extinction a 'war crime', he writes. "Even so, we need to have an inquiry into what took place at Qalai Janghi. Because, though it's true that terrible things happen in war — and though it's also true that even the most enlightened armies will fail to meet the Arthurian tests hypocritically set for them by some of those who routinely oppose military action by the West — still we must not become callous or inured. It should be, on balance, an advantage in a democracy to be faced with the implications — even in graphic terms — of our actions."

And finally to Australia, where the Sydney Morning Herald's Hamish McDonald offers a thoughtful analysis of the dilemmas facing special forces operatives in a real-time war. "Right in front of the TV cameras, American and British special forces went about their deadly work, using burning oil, tanks and air strikes to put down the last sparks of resistance by Taliban prisoners who had seized weapons and taken over the Qalai Janghi fort… The horrors of this and another fierce fight in the country's far south at Takhta Pul, near Kandahar, last week showed the risks and grim moral compromises inherent in their trade, at least when it comes to the time-honoured task of 'setting the East ablaze' by working with warlords and their irregular armies."

Nigeria: Life's a riot with Al Gore

And just in case you wondered how Al Gore was managing to keep himself useful during the war, http://www.ngrguardiannews.com/news2/nn841101.html reports that he's taken the Bush family's new message of gender equality all the way to Lagos. On a speaking tour, Gore said greater women's empowerment would curb war, corruption and chaos. "Men of quality are not threatened by the emancipation of women," he added. But it was Gore's laugh lines that got the local media going. "Amid rib-cracking jokes, Gore spoke on a variety of issues, bordering on mother's supremacy, perfect marriage partners, cultural diversity and his life outside the American presidency," the Guardian writes. Example: His take on the economic downturn: "I was the first to be laid off on the 1st of January."