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Commentary Week In Review

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Commentary Week in Review is posted on the blog every Friday. Drawing from more than two dozen English-language news outlets worldwide, the column highlights a handful of the week's notable op-eds.

The Qaddafi Saga

John K. Cooley argued in the June 22 Christian Science Monitor that despite Col. Moammar Qaddafi's abandonment of Libya's secret WMD programs, Western governments still need to insist the Libyan leader prove his good faith about democratic and judicial reform.

Citing recent coziness enjoyed between Qaddafi, the Bush administration and outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Cooley asserted that "there are dark aspects to this saga."

He explained:

Blair's welcome of Qaddafi back into the "respectable" community of nations, following President Bush's decision last year to resume full U.S.-Libyan diplomatic relations, allows Qaddafi, as a new soldier in the global "war on terror," to proceed ruthlessly against domestic opponents. ... During past months, [Human Rights Watch], Amnesty International, and similar groups have insisted that hundreds of political opponents of Qaddafi remain incarcerated and are often tortured. Mr. Bush and other Western leaders have joined Bulgaria in urging release of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor who have been jailed since 1999, tortured, and twice sentenced to death for allegedly deliberately infecting 426 Libyan children with HIV-AIDS -- a charge branded by leading international experts as false and a coverup for bad conditions in a Benghazi hospital.

"Qaddafi could make an excellent start by releasing the unfortunate medics and publishing facts about the scores of his opponents who have been jailed or 'disappeared,'" wrote Cooley.

"Catastrophe" In Palestine

Separating the West Bank and Gaza into disconnected political entities run respectively by Fatah and Hamas "is a calamity," according to Rami G. Khouri.

Writing in the June 20 Daily Star of Beirut, Khouri asserted that the rush by the United States, Israel and Europe to resume aid to the emergency Fatah government set up in the West Bank by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will "turn the calamity into a full-blown catastrophe."

Khouri explained how "the Palestinian people are now divided into six distinct communities, located in Gaza, the West Bank, Arab East Jerusalem (under varying degrees of Israeli occupation and control), refugee camps throughout the Arab world, in Palestinian communities in the Middle East outside the camps, and in the global diaspora."

"This worsening fragmentation of the Palestinians is certain to lead to greater radicalization and more proficient resistance, which will spill over into other societies in the region, and perhaps globally," he wrote.

"Al Qaida Brand Name"

This so-called "greater radicalization" is already being realized by some, according to Rita Katz and Josh Deven, who wrote in the June 22 Boston Globe that as "the Lebanese Army continues to battle Fatah al-Islam, a jihadist group operating in the Nahr Bared Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon, questions are being raised about the group's relationship to Al Qaeda and whether it is an official part of Osama bin Laden's network."

But Katz and Deven argued that "while Al Qaeda does provide logistical and financial support to jihadist cells and continues to serve as the inspiration for countless jihadist groups across the globe, bin Laden does not allow any group to carry the brand name 'Al Qaeda' without his approval."

"The path to receiving acceptance from Al Qaeda's leadership can take several months," they wrote, citing as an example the slow process through which the Algerian jihadist group, the Salafist Group for Call and Combat, became recognized by al Qaida's leadership as an official branch of the mother organization. (Click here for a related World Politics Review analysis on the subject).

"The reason for this delay is to protect the value of the 'Al Qaeda' brand name, which continues to carry the most weight in the global jihadist community," wrote Katz and Deven. "Should Al Qaeda prematurely allow a group to adopt its name, that group may embark on actions contrary to Al Qaeda's ideology that could damage its reputation and embarrass its leaders."

Israel's Emergency

Taking into account the approaching 2008 U.S. presidential election, Dan Ben David bluntly claimed in the June 19 edition of Haaretz that President George W. Bush "will have to decide whether to attack Iran within the next 12 months."

"If he attacks, Israel is guaranteed a ballistic shower from Iran, Lebanon, Gaza, and possibly from Syria and the West Bank as well," wrote David. "If Bush chooses not to attack, then the Israeli government will have to decide during the next 12 months if the country is capable of carrying out a military operation against Iran."

From the Israeli perspective, he mused:

If it is determined that [Israel is] incapable of implementing an effective operation, then Israel will have to immediately begin preparing for a new age in which our enemies will possess a strategic capability that will greatly reduce Israel's national security maneuvering room -- not to mention the possibility that this threat will actually be realized. If Israel's government decides that the country is able to stop, either temporarily or permanently, Iran's nuclear program, then it must prepare in advance for the heavy price that we will have to pay -- in blood and in physical damage, as well as economically and diplomatically.

Leader of Some Nicaraguans

Observing in the June 21 Miami Herald that almost six months have passed since Daniel Ortega assumed the presidency of Nicaragua, Marifeli Perez-Stable argued the Sandinista boss' return to power "should not be viewed in the same light as the advent of Hugo Chávez, Evo Morales and Rafael Correa."

"Unlike the Andean populists, Ortega did not win on a wave of popular anger against traditional politicians and their parties," Perez-Stable wrote. "The comandante and his Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) are, after all, part of the establishment in Nicaragua."

Perez-Stable explained that three factors weighed the election in Ortega's favor:

• The threshold to avoid a second round was lowered from 45 percent to 40 percent or no less than 35 percent with a five-point margin. Ortega garnered just under 38 percent but bested Eduardo Montealegre of the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN) by nine points.
• The Liberal camp split between the dissident ALN and Arnoldo Alemán's Liberal Constitutional Party (PLC). Montealegre and PLC candidate José Rizo jointly reaped 55 percent.
• The FSLN's well-oiled party machinery and a hungry base charged by the lowered threshold for a first-round win also served Ortega well.

Asserting, however, that "old habits die hard," Perez-Stable added: "Ortega and Rosario Murillo -- his wife and de facto co-president -- have cloaked their policies in secrecy. Venezuela's aid, including oil at subsidized prices, is not included in the budget and, therefore, Ortega's inner circle will dispense about $300 million annually in the shadows."

China and Global Warming

Isabel Hilton argued in the June 21 Guardian that China, which has recently emerged as the world's biggest polluter, will only act on climate change if the West first leads by example.

"China has been able to avoid taking a forward diplomatic position on climate change as long as George Bush's US, by far the biggest per capita emitter and, until now, the biggest overall, was acting as the spoiler for global mitigation efforts," wrote Hilton. "Why should a developing country, even one aiming to be the next global power, volunteer for the frontline of the fight when the world's richest and most technologically advanced country would not even join the army?"

Noting how -- with so much carbon put into the atmosphere by the developed world's own own industrialization -- there is now no margin for China to repeat the pattern of rapid dirty growth followed by leisurely clean-up, Hilton wrote that "it is an unenviable position for China, and one for which the rest of the world must take a large share of responsibility."

She argued that, for those living in the developed world, there are two possible responses to China's emergence as the world's biggest polluter:

Blame [China] for the reckless pursuit of its own short-term interests, regardless of the cost to the planet; or to acknowledge that, historically, we created most of the problem, that most of the goods made in China are consumed in the industrialised world, that the aspirations of people in China to live more prosperous lives are legitimate, and that it is incumbent on us, morally and practically, to put our money where our mouth is. This means drastically reducing our own emissions and helping China with the finance and technology required to move to a sustainable, low-carbon economic system.

The Commentary Week In Review draws from links aggregated every weekday morning in WPR's Media Roundup, which you can receive by email for free by registering now.