The World Responds Column Archive
The PR Campaign Heats Up
In the Middle East region, the spin is all the buzz. Or the buzz is all the spin. As public opinion in favor of the Afghan invasion wavers, especially in key partner nations like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the U.K., international leaders, both in the Gulf states and elsewhere, are realizing that PR, not military operations, may be the key to winning the "war on terrorism."
The papers this week note that the diplomacy troops are now the ones being deployed for combat, seeking to keep wary partners in the game. U.S. President Bush beamed his pep talk on Tuesday to leaders of Central Europe meeting in Poland. Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld have also given interviews to Al Jazeera, the Arab television station broadcast by satellite out of Afghanistan, and Powell has been chatting with Arab-language papers published around the world. Trying to shore up Arab and Islamic support, which many papers this week note the U.S. is quickly losing, Tony Blair and President Bush have both made public statements supporting a Palestinian state to various degrees.
For leaders in the Gulf region, the PR campaigns might be even more pressing. Pressure is high now for leaders in the Gulf States, which are attempting to maintain favorable relations with allies -- and even increase their international influence -- while avoiding civic unrest. This balancing act is only becoming harder as it becomes clear that the war in Afghanistan may be a long one, perhaps continuing during the Holy month of Ramadan, and as the crisis in Israel keeps its toes in the front page. All the papers in the region report on the questions that arise when PR becomes the central tool for action and resolution. Many in the media argue that leaders in the Middle East must take strong, proactive positions to quell possible uprisings, and to respond to the negative backlash against Islam. Agreeing on what course those strong, proactive positions should take continues to be the problem.
Arab leaders must unite in their media and diplomatic campaigns to help break the Israel-Palestine deadlock, editorializes The Jordan Times, rather than continue playing a reactive and permissive role. "It is imperative that the ministers articulate an Arab position in favor of the global campaign against terror but that also guarantees that such a campaign is not diverted towards unrelated targets, particularly Arab countries."
Both the Arab News and Gulf-News networks, which publish editorial and opinion pieces from Arab and Muslim countries worldwide, focus this week on the growing importance of media campaigning. Yousef Al Yousef argues in The Gulf-News that President Bush's PR effort to shore up Muslim support "is a victim of his father's legacy in Iraq." Because of the U.S. action in the Gulf War under former President George Bush, the U.S. faces extremely negative sentiment from most of the Muslim population, which regards the present administration as continuing an anti-Muslim campaign.
"Sadly, what fogs the moral clarity of the American campaign for justice is not their undeniable right to seek justice; it is some of the people associated with this campaign," argues Yousef, "The catastrophic loss of life in Iraq has been cast aside by U.S. policy makers and blamed on Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. This may sound smart in U.S. foreign policy circles and to some of their allies; but it sounds cynical and inhumane to everyone else."
Citing two major faults with the current U.S. strategy, The Arab News editorializes first that "History will probably show that in the wake of Sept. 11, President Bush missed a unique opportunity to strengthen the system of international justice," and, second, that "[t]he fundamental and glaring weakness behind the matrix of international support that the United States has put together for its aggressive drive against terrorism is that there is as yet no clear definition of what constitutes terrorism."
Gulf News columnist Daoud Kuttab writes that "[British Prime Minister] Blair's public support for a viable Palestinian state has failed to win the imagination of highly suspicious Palestinians" because of the failure of the British-inspired Balfour Declaration, which was supposed to protect the Palestinian people from Israeli mistreatment. Also pointing scathingly at rushed attempts by Western leaders to impress the Arab public, Kuttab argues, "The timing and the main motivation behind this important announcement didn't escape the Palestinians. Namely, the British and U.S. attempts to forge an Arab and Muslim alliance against the Taliban and Osama bin Laden's Al Qaida movement."
Another Gulf News column on the Balfour Declaration also noted that although President Bush's qualified support for a Palestinian state, "does not have any meat . . .U.S. President George W. Bush, whose naiveté in foreign affairs was the butt of jokes during the presidential election campaign, received overwhelming praise. . .from Arab leaders for having endorsed Palestinian statehood, the first Republican President to do so."
Hassan Tahsin's opinion piece, "US media dancing to Zionist tune," blames Jews for the recent negative publicity on Egypt and Saudi Arabia that "runs counter" to the official U.S. position. "Then why this media onslaught?" asks Tahsin. "A study would reveal their motives. . .Zionism convinced the Western world that communism was their enemy No. 1 with Islam occupying the second position. As communism is no longer a threat, Islam is the No. 1 enemy and such a canard is unfortunately believed by many Westerners. . .The enmity between the West and Islam is growing due to the lies spread by Zionism."
Abdul Rahman Al-Rashid argues, in an opinion piece published in Arab News, that religious leaders are spinning the September 11 events, which threw open debates about fundamentalism, modern secularism, and the Islamic faith, to support particular political and social goals. Al-Rashid explains:
The Muslim community has been thrown into a state of confusion after the terror attacks in the United States in September. The confusion has, apparently, been further compounded by the contradictory fatwas (religious opinions) issued by various muftis (religious scholars who issue fatwas). Every politician has a religious scholar to support him while each issue is interpreted by different muftis in different ways. Certain muftis have also changed their earlier published fatwa under pressure from others.
From the November 7 edition of The Jerusalem Report magazine, Netty Gross also comments on issues of theology raised by September 11th, attempting to solve the religious conundrum -- "Where God Was" -- that seems always to stagger the faithful in the hardest times. Gross attacks the Ultra-Orthodox response to the September 11 attacks, which included a comparison of the fall of the twin towers to the fall of the biblical tower (when "'God himself descended' to destroy the Tower of Babel and all the vainglory it represented").
In Turkishpress.com's "Daily Review," columnist Oktay Eksi praised the Turkish Government's decision to deploy troops in Afghanistan to help the international anti-terror coalition as a strong PR move. Eksi hopes the decision "will show that the reaction of a secular nation which is predominantly Muslim to terrorism is no different than that of other nations."
-- By Alyssa Rayman-Read
The papers in the Asian regions this week are still struggling to predict the fallout of the Afghan invasion. Although their perspectives vary on the correct levels of support due to the U.S. anti-terror campaign, almost all of the papers show increasing concern about regional and civil unrest and forecast growing violence. Featured prominently for the second week in a row is the overshadowing fear that the West will disengage from the war region as soon as the Taliban falls, leaving an insecure and war-stricken situation in the hands of unstable governments. According to both doomsayers and idealists, apart from this possible disengagement by the West, the potential for danger seems endless: the battle between religious fundamentalism and modern secularism, tension between nations with nukes, leaders in countries with protesting Muslims holding on to power by a hair. From apocalyptic fears of nuclear holocaust to smaller anxieties over domestic political battles, the editorial and opinion pages of Asian media sources are expressing their apprehension about the future.
The Japanese Times wonders what will happen as China "enter[s] a period of great uncertainty, and tensions with neighbors and trade partners are likely." Because of the U.S. recession, China will be forced to reduce support for state owned enterprises that fuel the Chinese economy and provide employment and social services for many citizens. "All this will occur during the transition period," notes the paper, which might "create friction between China and other concerned nations."
In Eurasianet.org, which publishes Asia-related opinion pieces from a variety of noted authors and officials, National Defense Council Foundation research fellow Artie McConnell opines that the September 11 events will result in a flare-up of the Kashmir conflict even if the U.S. attempts to aid in peace negotiations. McConnell explains: "While Kashmir is inextricably linked to American objectives in Afghanistan, neither India nor Pakistan perceives the Americans to be honest brokers on the issue." At the same time she maintains that the potential for a peaceful resolution in Kashmir is weak, McConnell warns readers that such a crisis "would have disastrous implications for the current military campaign -- and for the formation of Afghanistan's future government."
And in the Pakistani paper Dawn, M.H. Askari writes in his piece titled "As Afghanistan Bleeds and Burns" that the fear of fragmentation of Afghanistan is a strong possibility -- a Pushtun south under the Taliban and a non-Pushtun north divided by the Hindukush mountains."
In The Times of India, Ritu Menon writes about the dangerous consequences of war, on feminism and women's rights in Central Asia and elsewhere. Menon explains: "Women know that for them, the weapons of war are not too different from weapons in peace, that they form part of a continuum of violence that is deeply entrenched and more or less universally sanctioned."
The Pakistani paper The Nation, editorializes against the "Crackdown in US" against Pakistanis and others of Middle Eastern and Asian descent, calling the current investigative activities a witch hunt that is fueling anti-American antagonism, and analogizing to both the political and ethnic roundups of the McCarthy and post-Pearl Harbor eras.
The Nation also expresses concern about recent press attention given to nuclear war scenarios. The paper argues that nuclear war talk is generated by groups that have something to gain by drumming up fear and paranoia. On more than one occasion, the paper contends, officials have shown such fears to be groundless. "That it still crops up regularly at every US defense and foreign policy briefing, raises the suspicion that the campaign is motivated by regional and global vested interests, working to the detriment of Pakistan."
And Huck Gutman argues in the Pakistani paper Dawn: "Much as Americans may bemoan their loss of innocence, something has been gained[:] public discussion of the significant role played by American imperial hegemony in forming the social conditions that afford terrorism widespread legitimacy." Simultaneously, although Gutman "personally distrust[s] apocalyptic thinking," he worries that "[t]he horrific aftermath of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre is that an anxiety over nuclear destruction has returned, and with good reason. . .The world is, for the first time in the almost forty years since President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev played nuclear brinkmanship over the Soviet Union's installation of nuclear-tipped missiles in Cuba ninety miles from the United States, a place in which nuclear war could erupt."
-- By Alyssa Rayman-Read
A War on Two Fronts: At Home and Away
As European leaders struggle to define and maintain their foreign policies, many find they are fighting similar battles at home. Though several European countries have officially pledged military and diplomatic support for the U.S.-led war effort, public opinion within these countries is by no means united behind them.
The opinion section of the British national newspaper, The Guardian, this week exemplifies the public's splintered convictions, publishing conflicting columns, and editorials critiquing British Prime Minister Tony Blair. While the newspaper's lead editorial praises Mr. Blair for his unflinching support for the U.S. and his phenomenal diplomatic energy (both globally and at home with his own uneasy citizens), columnist Andrew Tyrie condemns Mr. Blair for his contradictory rhetoric and his handling of the current crisis. He accuses the Prime Minister of, on one hand, trying to play a crucial role in galvanizing European support against terrorism, and on the other, calling for a new international order based on Western values -- many of which conflict directly with those of the very states he courts.
Another British paper, The Observer takes its criticism a step further: "Blair has turned himself from British Prime Minister to American ambassador and willingly accepted exhaustion and humiliation as he tours the world on the [U.S.] President's behalf ." As a result, the columnist continues, "he has pinned a large target sign on [the U.K.]."
Britain's Independent, however, aligns itself more closely with the Guardian's editorial staff. In a lead editorial this week, it not only praises Mr. Blair's brave pledges, but it criticizes America's hesitance to use the support offered by European nations. "The solidarity shown by America's European allies in the wake of 11 September was impressive; the Europeans' desire to have a stake in the anti-terrorist campaign and subsequently in Afghanistan and the region should not be passed up. America may not need to share the burden now but it will need to share it, if not delegate it, in the future."
Voices From The European Union
Although Tony Blair has been acting as a self-appointed emissary of Europe, striving for anti-terrorist solidarity among its many nations, other European countries have continued to show their support for the U.S.-led war effort. This past week, both Germany and Italy pledged military support, joining Britain, France, and Turkey (the only Muslim country to give military aid) in an answer to the U.S. call for an international coalition against terror. Yet despite this expression of solidarity, many nations on the main continent fear a polarization of power within the European Union, questioning the reasons behind, and the validity of, Britain's overshadowing geopolitical role.
In a column for The Japan Times, former editor-in-chief of the French national paper, Le Monde, Andre Fontaine, examines France's lackluster war role in comparison with Britain's. Fontaine lightly criticizes Blair's "special relationship" with America, but also condemns his own nation's resistance to committing their troops. "This might change if the anthrax incidents extended to their soil," he wrote. In addition, the presidential election due to take place next May has made coexistence between President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Lionel Jospin extremely tense. "Under such conditions, it would be a miracle if France could play a major role in Europe, let alone the world, for months to come," he writes.
A Swiss newspaper, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, praises German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder for making "effective use of the shock generated by the events [of September 11] to consolidate his party's hold on power and raise his own profile." Not only does his pledge of 3,900 troops to support U.S. military action in Afghanistan situate Germany as a major player on the global political front by moving him closer to the center in internal politics, it assures the Social Democrats a strong hold on national power as well. Schroeder's main political difficulty has thus far lain within his own governing coalition of Social Democrats and Greens. Editorials in nearly every German national paper have commented on the tensions among the different political parties, either praising or criticizing their effect on German solidarity.
The Frankfurter Allgemeine agrees with its Swiss neighbor, congratulating Mr. Schröder for "quickly [understanding] the importance of making this show of solidarity with the West's leading power -- as well as the consequences of withholding it."
In Italy, several newspaper editorials echoed this same sentiment. "We can't be a country which lives under threats and fear," said Senator Gavio Angius, an opposition leader in Italy, after the country, in solidarity with Germany, pledged 2,700 troops to be deployed in Afghanistan. Another senator, Former President Francesco Cossiga, called terrorism the "Nazism of the 21st century and said the world must "contain, confront and defeat it."
-- By Cara Feinberg
A Modern Quagmire? Canada Gives the U.S. a History Lesson
Although Canada has been cooperative with and supportive of American anti-terrorist measures, as the weeks wear on, more and more journalists are beginning to scrutinize the actual methods of warfare in Afghanistan. Inextricably tied to the U.S. economically, politically, and geographically, Canada has plenty of cause for worry -- the aftershocks from the terrorist attacks have rapidly crossed the border. Two opinion columns this week in the Canadian national newspaper, The Globe and Mail, compare the bombing in Afghanistan to the hapless U.S. war efforts in Vietnam. John R. Macarthur, publisher of Harper's Magazine, criticizes the media's near complete acceptance of the "war on terrorism" and compares this "group-think" to the widespread condemnation of communism in the '50s and '60s. "I fear we haven't learned anything from the old Cold War that will serve us in the new," he writes. "Were we in the media not so besotted by antiterrorism rhetoric, we might question the prevailing orthodoxies of the moment."
Similarly, a lead editorial in The Globe and Mail suggests a modified strategy to convince Afghans and others that Washington is doing all it can to alleviate civilian misery. The article begins with a description of U.S. President Lyndon Johnson in 1968, realizing that the Vietnam War was unwinnable by looking out of a White House window to see the building surrounded by hundreds of thousands of protesters. "Thus far, the current administration has little concern about any such domestic groundswell over its campaign in Afghanistan," the article states, ". . .But the same is less true elsewhere. Inevitably, international shock over Sept. 11 is receding, while concern mounts over a massive U.S. bombing campaign that seems to be claiming more and more civilians, while yielding few strategic gains."
Meanwhile, another Canadian national newspaper, The National Post, takes a more moderate stance. Though it acknowledges widespread discomfort with the progress of war, it also states that, "objectively speaking, the war isn't going badly: The Americans are hitting most of their targets and haven't lost a pilot." Yet the American efforts do not escape criticism on its editorial page. "Even the most uninterested members of the public can sense the lack of an end game. And no wonder: With the principal leaders battling among themselves, there hasn't been one."
Cuba's Role: Is It, Or Isn't It, A Threat To U.S. Security?
Months before the September 11 attack, the U.S. State Department issued a list of state sponsors of terrorism, which ranked Cuba alongside countries like Iraq, Syria, and North Korea (and a list which, prior to September 11, curiously lacked Afghanistan.) Although the world has turned its attention to other, more immediate security threats, Cuba remains a thorn in America's side -- a role which, as the Canadian newspaper, The National Post points out, Fidel Castro seems to relish. Though he expressed deep sorrow to the U.S. and its civilian victims of terrorism, he tacked on a harsh condemnation of U.S. foreign policy, and then organized a Soviet-style propaganda rally to underline his message.
According to a September article in The Washington Post,, an official statement from the Cuban mission to the United Nations after the September 11 attacks described the U.S. response as "fascist and terrorist," and accused Washington of using this "war on terrorism" as a pretext to establish "unrestricted tyranny over all people on Earth." Nonetheless, editorialists continue to battle over whether Cuba deserves its space on the U.S. State Department's terrorist list. Frank Calzón, executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba in Washington, D.C., argues it absolutely should not be removed, as "biological weapons are of no minor concern for Americans today. Castro's bankrupt regime has spent more than $1 billion to set up a scientific infrastructure that, former Secretary of Defense William Cohen said in 1998, could support an offensive biological-warfare program." Yet ironically, in Canada, The National Post ran an editorial this week stating the opposite. "The fact the State Department continues to include Cuba alongside countries like Iraq, Syria, and North Korea on its list of state sponsors of terrorism only undermines the legitimacy of that document and misleads the American people as to the origin and seriousness of the international threat."
Inside Cuba itself, commentary is limited -- a product of government censorship and withheld information. As independent Cuban journalist Manuel Vazquez Portal writes for CubaNet, a nonprofit organization located in Florida that fosters free press:
In Cuba, information is a prerogative, a state secret. Not even the government's own journalists have all the information, and those that may, by hook or by crook, come by it, are barred from divulging it until given orders to do so. . .The right to know of every citizen on earth is reduced in Cuba to knowing what the government wants people to know. Since all media belong to the government, only that which is to their interest or convenience gets published.
The Land of Silver? The Specter of Debt Default Looms Over Argentina
After years in which Argentina's economy teetered on the brink of economic disaster, September 11th's hit to the world economy has thrown Argentina into chaos. Argentine papers focused on their country's proposed debt swap, a plan which will allow the country to delay full payment on its obligations ($132 billion in foreign debt) while it extricates itself from years of government borrowing and public overspending. From the outside looking in, U.S. editorialists were skeptical of the action: "It's hard to believe that Argentina will sacrifice not just its economy but its credit rating on the altar of a discredited monetary theology," Paul Krugman wrote in a New York Times editorial, "But as you read this, Argentine officials are crucifying their long-suffering nation on a cross of dollars." Similarly, The Dallas Morning News suggested we "cry for Argentina [It] has no quick fixes. The debt restructuring might buy it time. Free trade and flexible labor would put it on a sounder footing in the longer term. No one should be indifferent to its plight." Nonetheless, according to the Argentinian press agency, Telam, President Fernando de la Rua asserted that the recent economic and social measures "are the plan of Argentina. I am convinced that we are making what the Argentines were claiming, that is to say, coherent initiatives dedicated to the reactivation and the growth."
The Mexican Border: A Paradigm For New U.S. Attitudes Toward Heightened Security
Americans' insecurity about travel, and the clampdown at border crossings are sending bottom lines plummeting and buckling already fragile economies, The Christian Science Monitor reports. Mexican newspapers headline with President Vicente Fox's trip to the United Nations in New York this week. According to The News, Mexico, Mexico's national English-language newspaper, Mexican Foreign Relations Undersecretary Enrique Berruga said the meetings could revive stalled migration talks if officials can figure a way to include any new program as a part of a "security bubble" along the border. Some Mexican lawmakers have expressed concern such a plan would jeopardize national sovereignty by linking Mexico too closely with the United States and Canada.
--By Cara Feinberg