- The Washington Times - Friday, August 20, 2004

Excerpts of editorials from newspapers around the world:

Helsingin Sanomat

On the Venezuelan referendum

HELSINKI — The result of the Venezuelan referendum was expected to be a close call but proved to be otherwise. After a heated campaign, the party that lost naturally finds it difficult to admit defeat but it would be futile for the opponents of President Hugo Chavez to cling to claims of massive abuses. International monitors observed no such violations, and the president’s 58 percent vote tally was too large not to have been noticed if it had been achieved by cheating.

Chavez’s popularity is absolutely genuine. … The president’s position now is firmly secure, but the sharp division into hostile camps in Venezuelan politics has not been alleviated. Venezuela is an important crude oil producer, and the markets reacted to the clarification of its internal politics with a slight fall in prices.

In foreign policy, however, tensions could begin to increase. Chavez has for some time viewed the United States with suspicion bordering on enmity. The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush has retaliated with equal measure and sharply criticized the president’s policies.

Singapore Straits Times

The redeployment of U.S. forces

SINGAPORE — U.S. President George W. Bush has announced a major redeployment of U.S. forces overseas, leading eventually to about 70,000 troops now stationed in Europe and Asia moving home. The plan, long mooted, did not come as a surprise, and the administration took care to reassure friends and allies that the redeployment would not be sudden, but would take place “over the next decade” and “in close consultation with our friends and allies.” Nor does the announcement amount to a withdrawal from Europe or Asia, for it will still have about 190,000 troops stationed overseas, and it will continue to maintain “forward operating locations” in both continents, or bare-bones bases with “prepositioned” equipment, to allow for the rapid deployment of forces if the need arises.

The redeployment’s strategic imperative is clear enough: U.S. military doctrine, driven by technology, now calls for leaner, more mobile units, capable of being deployed quickly to the world’s hot spots. Basing heavily armored units in fixed garrisons runs counter to this requirement.

That makes perfect sense, but geopolitics is not necessarily so neat. A felt U.S. presence may require just that — a presence. If its footprint is going to be reduced, then the U.S. will have to think of other ways to project its power.

London Guardian

Iraq’s national conference

LONDON — Democracy cannot be delivered to the accompaniment of gunfire, and the national conference supposed to take the first step in Baghdad [this week] was marred on its opening day by the renewed fighting in Najaf. No matter how vehemently officials of the Iraqi interim regime blame the dissenting cleric Muqtada al-Sadr for the breakdown of truce talks (and Mr. Sadr’s people have an entirely different version), there is no convincing need to deal with this problem now by military means.

Nor is it at all clear what advice — or instructions — are being given behind the scenes by the U.S., without whose forces the interim regime would not exist. For a conflict conducted in the full light of international attention, a great deal remains obscure.

Except for military briefings, the U.S. government has said little of substance about the Najaf crisis … even though nearly all the fighting has been done by 3,000 American soldiers.

Responsibility, it is claimed, rests on the shoulders of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and his ministers. This is hardly credible: the terms of the U.S.-Iraq June agreement, as notified to the U.N., provide for “coordination and cooperation” in all security operations, and even if Washington does not actually issue orders it is not going to allow Mr. Allawi to go it alone.

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