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Commentary Week In Review

Friday, Jan. 19, 2007

The WPR Commentary Week in Review is posted every Friday. Drawing from more than two dozen English-language news outlets worldwide, the column highlights at least one notable op-ed from each day of the week.

Jan. 15 through Jan. 19 was another week dominated by op-ed articles on crisis in the Mideast and Iraq and what the United States should do now, and how the whole mess is affecting the geopolitical strategies of countries across the world. But first, a couple of nuggety pieces about other parts of the world.

For instance, Alexandra Starr argued in the Jan. 15 Los Angeles Times that the power of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez may be overblown, since the last Venezuelan President whose appeal depended on high oil prices saw his power crumble when prices dropped.

"Like Chavez, former President Carlos Andres Perez demanded autocratic powers, nationalized key industries and flexed his muscle on the international stage when he was first elected to a five-year term in 1973," wrote Starr. "High oil prices helped persuade Venezuelans to look past Perez's selfaggrandizing tendencies. . . . Memories of the go-go '70s helped Perez win a separate term in office in 1988. During that second tenure, however, oil prices were at a low point, and Perez found that even his vaunted charisma could not save him from being prematurely forced from the presidency."

Arnaud de Borchgrave wrote in the Jan. 17 Washington Times that "it's no longer politically incorrect to be skeptical about Vladimir Putin's Russia."

"The 1990s, following the fall of communism and implosion of the Soviet Union, was a gradual descent into anarchy, not the fast ascent to market economics and democratic capitalism perceived by many experts in the West," according to de Borchgrave. "Russia's new oligarchs plundered the country, siphoning out an estimated $220 billion, which went into everything from French Riviera mansions to numbered accounts in the world's principal tax havens. . . . Russian citizens still hold $219.6 billion in bank accounts abroad - an amount greater than all bank deposits in Russia, even exceeding Russia's annual budget."

Several of the week's other leading op-eds went to great lengths to explain what has become of the U.S.-led war in Iraq. Some focused on the behind-the-scenes power plays tied to President George W. Bush's push for more troops. "The 'surge' idea was developed and promoted at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think-tank that has long served as neo-con central," wrote Gideon Rachman in the Jan. 15 Financial Times. "The neo-cons, like President Bush, are getting another throw of the dice in Iraq."

Rachman's piece was peppered with other interesting claims:

"The neo-cons that mattered most in shaping the 'war on terror' served in the Pentagon and the White House," he wrote. "Journalists are [also] a vital part of a neo-con network that formulated and sold the ideas that took the U.S. to war in Iraq and that is now pressing for confrontation with Iran. The links between journalists, think-tanks and decision-makers in the neo-con world are tight and there is plenty of movement from one area to the other. For example, David Frum, a former journalist, served as a White House speech-writer and helped coin the most famous over-simplification of the Bush era - the phrase 'axis of evil.' He is now at the AEI."

Jimmy Carter had more to say about his new book "Palestine Peace Not Aparheid," and the public relations fallout surrounding it -- 14 members of the Carter Center's board resigned this week. In the Jan. 18 Washington Post, Carter wrote that he fears the fallout will detract from valuable recommendations for peace made by the book. He asserted that "the clear fact is that Israel will never find peace until it is willing to withdraw from its neighboring occupied territories and permit the Palestinians to exercise their basic human and political rights."

"The premise of exchanging Arab territory for peace has been acceptable for several decades to a majority of Israelis but not to a minority of the more conservative leaders, who are unfortunately supported by most of the vocal American Jewish community," the Democrat and former U.S. President wrote.

Simon Tisdall, meanwhile, observed in the Jan. 19 Guardian that "suddenly everybody has a Middle East peace plan. After six futile, blood-filled years of maintenance diplomacy, the Bush administration is finally injecting a little energy into its mediation efforts."

"Germany's chancellor, Angela Merkel, who holds the EU presidency, has succeeded in resuscitating the so-called Quartet - the negotiations oversight group comprising the UN, US, Russia and EU. . . . The Saudis are pushing a new version of their 2002 initiative. Linking Arab assistance in stabilizing Iraq to progress in Palestine. . . . Israel's Labor party leader and defense minister, Amir Peretz, meanwhile, has his own ideas . . . [and] to confuse matters further, France, Italy and Spain jointly produced a five-point blueprint last month. It appears to seek to fudge the previously unanimous western demand that Hamas, Palestine's ruling party, recognize Israel's right to exist.

"But," wrote Tisdall, "like French president Jacques Chirac's aborted bid to launch a unilateral diplomatic opening to Iran, this attempt at Mediterranean moderation is not going anywhere."

Perhaps we'll have to wait until next week to find out if he's correct.