|Office of Research||Issue Focus||Foreign Media Reaction|
Since the September 11 attacks, the following regional trends were discernible in foreign media.
In general, reaction across the political spectrum to the Bush administration's "calm and methodical" behavior in the wake of the attacks has been notably positive. The president's speech before Congress, his calls for Americans to shun anti-Muslim behavior and the executive order freezing terrorists' assets all appear to have reassured commentators that the U.S. was acting in a responsible manner.
Nevertheless, while praising the Bush administration's "astute diplomatic footwork" and public relations strategy thus far, uncertainty appeared to be on the rise about future U.S. plans and whether Washington could achieve its ambitious goal of defeating terrorism. A majority of commentators--mainly writing in, but not limited to, liberal to center-left dailies in West European capitals--argued that the U.S. must now set out clear aims and objectives, consulting closely with coalition allies. Many also demanded the U.S. produce hard evidence that Usama bin Laden masterminded the attacks. At the same time, more conservative analysts--most notably in Britain, Canada and East European capitals--viewing the attacks as an assault on all democracies, were unrelenting in their calls for a military reprisal. Cynics--a distinct minority, mostly in the Greek press--continued to blame U.S. policies for fostering anti-Americanism and fueling international terrorism.
In the second and third weeks after the attacks, writers focused on how U.S. coalition-building could change the geopolitical landscape. Concern grew that in an effort to forge new alliances with sometime foes--Pakistan, Russia, China, Iran, Sudan, Syria were named--the U.S. would overlook certain human rights and nonproliferation issues.
In recent days, many Russian observers--in both official and non-official publications--expressed relief that the U.S. had not "succumbed to blind revenge," and praised the administration's "sound tactics." Prior to Putin's formally offering cooperation with Washington, some--particularly in the reformist press--had pressed the Kremlin to stop fence-sitting and throw its weight behind the U.S. Subsequent press pieces continued to stress the need for "concerted action" between Russia and the West against the "common enemy" of terrorism. A few pundits made the case that it is in Moscow's self-interest to join the U.S.-led coalition, implying that, as a quid pro quo, the U.S. would mute its criticism of Russia's fight against "Chechen terrorists." Despite the general tone in many pieces praising the Bush administration and welcoming the fight against a "common enemy," some editorialists--one recalling Russia's own fight in Afghanistan--were skeptical that the U.S. was up to the challenge of a "long, global, hard and bloody war" and worried further that Moscow could be drawn into a dangerous confrontation along its southern border.
Editorial comment from Central Asian countries revealed deep concern about a war breaking out in their neighborhood. Most observers, finding themselves between "a rock and a hard place," agonized over what, if any, level of cooperation would be required of their countries in a U.S.-led military campaign. Although a majority agreed that the "evil should be punished" and that international action was necessary to eliminate terrorism, many were loath to grant the U.S. unconditional support. Some--notably in Armenia, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan--pressed their governments to defer to Russia on air space/airbase decisions rather than negotiate directly with the U.S. Meanwhile, other observers in Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan were champions of neutrality, arguing that it was a tool for achieving "universal agreement and understanding."
Resentment toward U.S. policies and the charge that the U.S. was practicing "a double standard" colored the views of many Central Asian analysts, especially in Armenia where anti-U.S. sentiment ran highest. A number suggested that the U.S. was using the war against terror as a cover for consolidating its advantage in a new geopolitical paradigm. A primary fear was that a U.S. military intervention could "destabilize" the region and provoke a terrorist retaliation against those countries perceived as cooperating with the West. A subtext was that the U.S. had ignored prior warnings about the threat of global terror and it took international terrorism on American soil for the U.S. to sober up to reality. While a few suggested that the U.S was getting its just desserts, some more positive voices acknowledged that the U.S. was acting in a "careful and skillful manner."
Israeli writers initially viewed the New York and Washington attacks as reflecting Israel's predicament writ large, positing that it would invite a new global understanding of Israel's traditionally tough, anti-terror stand. Tel Aviv's position as a coalition bench warmer, however, has led Israeli commentators to proceed on the assumption that the tattered Palestinian-Israeli cease-fire had been "imposed by the U.S. to...help its coalition building." Both hard-liners and pro-negotiation writers were dissatisfied with the current U.S. stance. The conservative, independent Jerusalem Post complained that "if...the U.S. lets Arafat be the exception to the war on terrorism, that war will be lost from the beginning." Sharon critics, on the other hand, accused the Bush administration of being uninterested in pressing towards a peace settlement, wanting, instead, to free itself to "strike blows" at terrorist enemies.
Only Saudi Arabia’s domestic papers provided unambiguous support for a U.S.-led anti-terrorism coalition. Elsewhere, many Arab editorials endorsed a global campaign against terrorism, but with the critical proviso that America's definition of terrorism not be accepted at face value. Syrian and Jordanian writers identified "Israel's terrorist practices" as within their own definitions. Despite President Bush’s well-publicized and well-received gestures making the distinction between Islam and terrorism, others continued to worry that biased American perceptions of Islam and terrorism might fuel anti-Muslim and anti-Arab violence, both within the U.S. and internationally.
Another prominent Arab editorial theme was that the U.S. would use the anti-terror campaign as a convenient vehicle to strike Iraq, Afghanistan's Islamic regime, Hamas, Hizbullah and other organizations that were perceived as hindering American geopolitical objectives. Similarly, Washington was accused of exploiting the coalition-building process to secure control of Caspian and central Asian energy resources. Citing the Gulf War experience, many observers dismissed current U.S. efforts at re-starting Palestinian-Israeli talks as a ploy to lure Arab parties into the coalition with false hopes of a Mideast settlement. A sizable minority of Arab editorials and commentaries propagated anti-Jewish conspiracy theories, creating a media environment in which Usama bin Laden’s culpability was widely dismissed.
A majority of Pakistani commentaries supported General Musharraf's commitment to the terrorism war, and contended that a "no" to Washington would have exposed the country to "grave dangers." All Pakistani observers acknowledged the risks to domestic stability implicit in Pakistan's agreeing to assist the U.S. in running Usama bin Laden to ground in Afghanistan. Pakistani writers minimized the importance of Washington's lifting of nuclear-related sanctions on Islamabad. Editorialists, instead, identified debt write-offs and guarantees of economic well-being for the people of Pakistan as the way to ensure that the risks of coalition participation were worth taking. They viewed this economic aid as a litmus test as to whether the U.S., "in pursuit of its new interests, gives any significance to the security and stability of its allies." A sizable minority of opinion pieces urged Islamabad, in the name of Muslim solidarity, not to facilitate a U.S. strike against Afghanistan. They were balanced, somewhat, by those urging the Taliban to take the pressure off Pakistan by surrendering Usama bin Laden. Many writers, particularly among opponents of Pakistani participation in the anti-terror campaign, remained skeptical that the U.S. was targeting terrorism and not Islam. They worried that the UNSC resolution on terrorism would give the U.S. carte blanche to strike "anybody, anywhere and at any time." Even supporters of Pakistani membership in the coalition suspected that the U.S. intended to use it as a vehicle to combat "liberation struggles" in Kashmir and Palestine. Editorials and news stories claiming that Israeli or U.S. terrorists were behind the September 11 attacks circulated September 26-28.
Hindi and English papers in India broadly supported efforts to bring Usama bin Laden to justice, urging the U.S. to act, as far as possible, in conformity with the relevant UN resolutions. Commentators generally accepted the need to overthrow the Taliban regime, but cautioned Washington that it will have to come up with a proper plan for a responsible government in Kabul in a post-Taliban scenario. Most Indian editorials have been critical of U.S. moves to engage Pakistan as a key member of the anti-terror coalition. Writers expressed concern that, in its enthusiasm to enlist Islamabad in the war against al-Qaida, Washington will turn a blind eye to Pakistan's sponsorship of jihadi insurgents in Kashmir, whom they view as anti-Indian terrorists.
Australian editorials have been strongly supportive of the U.S. response to the September 11 attacks, echoing PM Howard's forthright commitment, as an ANZUS partner, to stand politically and militarily with Washington. Aussie writers have made cautionary noises similar to those heard from NATO media outlets, about the "uncertain and open-ended" nature of the U.S. anti-terror plan. Others have groused that, while an Australian military deployment alongside the U.S. will receive "near universal support" in Australia, America has offered scant recognition of its "invisible ally."
Japanese papers viewed the terror attacks as democratic Japan's "greatest-ever national security and economic crisis." Editorialists advocated Japan's going beyond the check-writing approach to international security practiced during the Gulf War, and backed legislation allowing the Japanese military to provide rear area logistical support for the Pentagon's anti-terror operations. Writers also urged Tokyo to play its part in "stemming the flow of financial transactions that might support terrorism."
Official Chinese media have tread warily since September 11. While condemning the WTC and Pentagon attacks and supporting a global anti-terror strategy, they have championed the UN as the international "bulwark against terrorism" and insisted that it play "the dominant role" in the fight. Obliquely referring to past criticisms of U.S. "hegemony" and "unilateralism," pro-PRC outlets saw the opportunity for the U.S. to now "readjust its international relationships." Both independent Hong Kong papers and Beijing economic publications showed great concern over the economic fallout from the terrorist attacks, reflecting the basic belief that U.S. prosperity is the prerequisite for Chinese economic growth.
Indonesian and Malaysian writers reflected many of the same concerns expressed by the Arab and Pakistani media: The U.S. would reflexively target Islamic institutions and "liberation movements" rather than discovering and bringing to justice the actual perpetrators of the WTC and Pentagon attacks. Spurious reports of the involvement of Israeli and/or U.S. groups in the attacks received repeated play in both countries.
The outpouring of pan-American sympathy and solidarity immediately after the terrorist attacks gave way to more critical, nuanced assessments of the U.S. response following President Bush's address to Congress. Fears that U.S. military retaliation was imminent initially fueled doubts and anxiety in many quarters. Others worried about the economic aftershocks and attempted to adjust to a new geopolitical reality expected to sideline--for the time being--the U.S.' Latin America agenda. Into the third week of the terrorist aftermath, more commentators--including some of the most strident U.S. critics--appeared to be reassured that the U.S. was taking a more cautious and measured response. Some were seemingly caught off-guard by the U.S.' "exemplary patience."
By and large, government-owned, conservative, independent and business-oriented outlets in Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama and Paraguay provided the most consistent support for U.S. action. Many emphasized that the attacks against the U.S. were attacks against freedom and "a crime against humanity." Left-leaning, liberal and nationalist papers in Mexico and Nicaragua and across the spectrum in Brazil provided the most dissident voices, ranging from arguments against joining the coalition to the recycling of grievances against past U.S. policies. While mostly supportive of the U.S. anti-terror initiative, the press in Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala and Peru was somewhat fickle, vacillating between condemnations of the terrorist acts to suggestions that the U.S. was reaping what it sowed. On all sides of the debate, however, a majority emphasized that "international collaboration," not "unilateral indiscriminate intervention" was paramount.
This is report is based on foreign editorials and commentary since since September 12, 2001.
EDITORS: Gail Burke, Irene Marr, Diana McCaffrey, Katherine Starr, Stephen Thibeault, Kathleen Brahney