War: What Is It Good For?

War: What Is It Good For?

War: What Is It Good For?

What the foreign papers are saying.
Oct. 17 2001 9:00 PM

War: What Is It Good For?

A little more than a week into the military phase of the Afghan campaign, some allies' support appears to be slipping. In Germany, one of the co-leaders of Germany's "junior" coalition party, Alliance 90/The Greens, declared Monday, "After eight days of bombing, I think it is time to take a break." Chancellor Gerhard Schröder dismissed the statement as a "personal opinion," but according to Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, some leading members of his party are "worried that the relatively small peace movement could swell if the bombing continued for a long time without producing any concrete results." The Financial Times reported that a Pakistani official warned that the United States has about a month to finish its military strikes and lay the foundations for a new Afghan government before the beginning of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan. Since "Ramadan is … a time for Muslims to strengthen their commitment to Islamic causes," the level of anti-U.S. demonstrations would almost certainly intensify.  

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Several papers wondered about the ultimate aim of the military action. Pakistan's Dawn expressed frustration at the United States' "hasty and abrupt" rejection of the Taliban's offer to deliver Osama Bin Laden to a third country. The editorial said Sunday's proposal represented a "definite shift in the Taliban policy on the Osama issue," but the White House was nevertheless determined that "there will be no negotiations." Dawn continued, "One may ask the Bush administration: if talks are not the recognized method of resolving a dispute or differences, what else is? This rigidity of approach is most unfortunate considering the fact that since the air strikes against Afghanistan started ten days ago, the Taliban have resiled from their original position of not entertaining any thought of expelling or turning over Osama."

In South Africa, the Mail & Guardian called the U.S. operation "a very dangerous, futile and possibly self-defeating show of force. It is unclear what purpose is served by bombing the house of Taliban leader Mullah Omar no less than three times when he is not there. … The strategic purpose may be to topple the Taliban by heightening their unpopularity, sapping their military strength and bolstering the Northern Alliance. But who or what is to replace them?" Toronto's Globe and Mail defended the airstrikes. Although it urged the U.S. military to be extremely careful in selecting targets, the editorial concluded: "[T]he peace camp errs in arguing that the civilian deaths show the U.S. campaign to be innately wrong. There can be no stability anywhere until Osama bin Laden and his Taliban friends have been crushed. Negotiations with this outlaw regime are not an option."

The way the coalition crumbles: Nine months after his resounding election victory and seven months after he assembled a unity government, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon faces cracks in his coalition after a right-wing party resigned to protest the government's withdrawal of troops from two Palestinian areas of Hebron. An editorial in the liberal Israeli daily Ha'aretz concluded that the party "belong[s] in opposition": "Their public declarations [opposing any dialogue with the Palestinians] and that they participated in the government, damaged the image of Israel as a state seeking peace." (Rehavam Ze'evi, one of two Cabinet ministers from the party who resigned their posts, was shot and killed Wednesday morning. Ha'aretz reported that the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed responsibility.) Although there is no immediate threat to the administration's survival—the coalition still controls 76 of the Knesset's 120 seats—Israeli pundits started a death watch. One commentator in Ha'aretz said: American peace initiatives will "be a major factor determining whether elections are brought forward from their scheduled date in November 2003. If Sharon rejects a U.S. blueprint for a settlement with the Palestinians … then he will lose the Labor Party. But if he accepts it, he will lose the right wing, including possibly members of his own Likud Party." An analysis in the Jerusalem Post said Sharon is in a bind, unable to risk a new general election: "Everybody who reads the polls knows that if new elections were to be held in the near future, the Likud would clobber Labor. … But what Sharon is worried about, and what [former Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu is dreaming of, is the internal Likud primary. … In that race, Sharon is no shoo-in."

Shanghaied:This weekend's Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Shanghai may be the first major international gathering since Sept. 11, but at least two world leaders are facing criticism for attending. The Jakarta Post attacked Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri's decision to begin her trip on Wednesday in order to spend two nights in Hong Kong preparing for the APEC meeting. The paper said Megawati should minimize her time away from home and devote more attention to managing Indonesia's economic crisis, "which has now become much more complicated following the wave of anti-American demonstrations" against the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan, as business owners worry about "the rising prominence of anti-foreign interests in the country." It said, "Megawati demonstrates not only her virtual ignorance of the real magnitude of the crisis she is facing, but also a complete lack of awareness that an economic crisis needs emergency treatment and daily monitoring." In Australia, Kim Beazley, the leader of the opposition Labor Party, claimed that Prime Minister John Howard was going to Shanghai for the chance to have his photograph taken with President Bush. Beazley said Howard should stay home and focus on the campaign for the country's Nov. 10 federal elections, but that if he did go, he should take along a Labor representative since the government is in pre-election caretaker mode. An op-ed in the Age of Melbourne encouraged Howard to attend the summit—"The photo opportunity that will end the meeting should send a message to the world that the Asia-Pacific economies remain steadfastly opposed to terrorism. It's a photo the Australian Prime Minister should be in."—but agreed that a Labor front-bencher should accompany him, "given that the [APEC leaders'] declaration will bind the incoming Australian government." Meanwhile, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that Howard was determined to buttonhole President Megawati Sukarnoputri in Shanghai and caution her against her government's growing criticism of the military attacks on Afghanistan. In rather condescending terms, Howard said, "She must understand, this is not a struggle between Islam and the rest of the world." However, Jakarta diplomats said Megawati had no plans to meet with Howard and suggested that his comments would be seen, "as interfering in Indonesia's internal affairs for political gain in Australia."

June Thomas is managing producer of Slate podcasts.