What U.S. newspapers are saying

Dec. 31, 2002 at 10:49 AM
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New York Times

Few presidents have started their terms with higher public expectations than Mwai Kibaki, elected on Saturday and inaugurated yesterday as president of a jubilant and startled Kenya. Kenyans are coming to terms with the fact that their autocratic leader, Daniel arap Moi, has allowed a free election, saw his chosen successor defeated and permitted the challenger to take office.

For this Mr. Moi deserves credit -- but for little else. He is one of Africa's Big Men, who put his face on the currency and demanded songs of praise from his people. In 24 years in power he has presided over exploding corruption, promoted tribal division, permitted economic decline and corroded democratic institutions. Mr. Moi has left behind many more problems than President Kibaki will be able to solve. But if he chooses his battles wisely -- and from early comments, it seems he has -- Mr. Kibaki, a respected economist considered uncorrupted, can do much to rebuild Kenya. ...

The new president may be tempted to reward his predecessor for holding elections, but he should not be. Serious crimes were committed by members of the Moi government. Justice, at least for the worst of them, is part of restoring the rule of law to Kenya.

Baltimore Sun

Real democracy has a better chance to transform Africa after weekend elections produced a political earthquake in Kenya. Sick and tired of four decades of growing poverty and corruption, voters turned against the ruling party and elected a new president, who campaigned on economic reform, technical modernization and universal primary education.

At his inauguration yesterday, President Mwai Kibaki made it clear he will insist on new rules. "I will start my government with officials who I will expect to declare their wealth," he declared. "My government will also give the Anti-Corruption Act more powers to prosecute offenders."

Those promises produced a shock. Key officials of the bloated civil service bureaucracy said they would resign and probably leave the country so as not to be sitting targets for an anti-corruption drive. ...

As a former British colony, Kenya has always had closer ties to London than to Washington. However, the East African country is a pivotal partner in the fight against terrorism. That's why it is a relief that it now has an experienced and thoughtful chief executive, whose goal is internal progress and stability.

Washington Post

The debate over what to do about North Korea, an exceptionally difficult question, has been further complicated by distorted descriptions of the problem by both the Bush administration and its critics. Over the weekend Secretary of State Colin L. Powell declared that North Korea has been known to have two nuclear weapons since the early 1990s. But the finding of U.S. intelligence during the Clinton administration was not that Pyongyang built those warheads -- only that it probably could have. Barring new and unreported intelligence, the weapons themselves have never been confirmed -- and that distinction is important. If, as Mr. Powell suggested, North Korea is to be considered an existing nuclear power, then its current steps toward producing further material for bombs are not necessarily so critical; after all, as Mr. Powell said, "what are they going to do with another two or three nuclear weapons when they're starving, when they have no energy, when they have no economy that is functioning?" Such logic is convenient to the administration's strategy of playing down the North Korean threat and postponing an active response to it. But if it's not certain that this murderous and immoral regime already has a bomb, then it is important to do whatever can be done now to stop what increasingly looks like a drive by dictator Kim Jong Il to produce an arsenal as quickly as possible. Perhaps there is no way to stop him; but the administration would be wrong to prematurely concede North Korea's standing as a nuclear power.

Some outside critics have been arguing that the way to end what they insist is a crisis is to agree to the direct negotiations that Mr. Kim craves. ...

But by communicating a clear and specific set of terms, the Bush administration can put the onus for action on Pyongyang, rather than on Washington, without caving in to the demand for formal negotiations. It can also increase its chances of building a coalition, both in Asia and in the U.N. Security Council, that can work to contain a threat that -- call it a crisis, or not -- isn't likely to go away.

San Diego Union-Tribune

Kenya's Daniel arap Moi wasn't the worst of Africa's ruling autocrats, but he was bad enough. In 24 years of corrupt, strong-arm rule, he and his thieving cronies looted Kenya and its economy, leaving ordinary Kenyans poorer than they were 30 years ago.

So, when Kenya's voters overwhelmingly rejected both Moi's handpicked successor as president and Kenya's ruling political party in election results announced Sunday, it was legitimate cause for the national celebrations that erupted. ...

Mwai Kibaki, the former Kenyan finance minister resoundingly elected to succeed Moi as president, promises a clean break with the discredited past. Making reform stick, however, won't be easy in a country with weak institutions and no real history of honest, democratic politics. ...

If Kibaki can deliver, Kenyans may be liberated from the twin African curses of corruption and autocratic rule. That liberation, in turn, is the best hope for alleviating Kenya's, and Africa's, dire poverty.

Salt Lake Deseret News

For a country supposedly offended about being labeled part of an "axis of evil," North Korea is not helping itself shed that appellation.

In the latest in a series of serious missteps, North Korea on Friday ordered the expulsion of U.N. nuclear inspectors and then announced it will reactivate a laboratory that supposedly can produce enough weapons-grade plutonium for several atomic bombs.

North Korea is playing a high-stakes game of chicken, hoping that the threat of renewing its production of nuclear weapons will force the United States back to the bargaining table and to renewing its shipments of heating oil.

Based on recent statements by the Bush administration, that seems unlikely. ...

For any kind of meaningful progress, North Korea needs to realize that the days of hard-line communism are over. Countries that continue to act as though nothing has changed in the world since 1953 -- the year the armistice halted fighting on the Korean peninsula -- will only hurt themselves.

North Korea, unfortunately, continues to prove that. By refusing to adhere to treaties designed to bring stability to the region, it is putting millions of its citizens at risk of harsh weather and lack of food and, possibly, military conflict.

Chicago Tribune

A couple of months ago, Iranian pollsters asked citizens if they favored a dialog with the United States as a prelude to possibly re-establishing diplomatic relations. Two-thirds said yes. That, apparently, was the wrong answer. The hard-line mullahs who run the country shuttered a polling institute and arrested three pollsters. Now two of them are on trial for espionage and threatening national security.

That's one reason the offer earlier this month by a prominent political reformer in Iran is so remarkable. Iran's deputy parliament speaker, Behzad Nabavi, told reporters he was willing to begin a dialog with U.S. lawmakers. "I see no problem in official negotiations with the United States," he told The New York Times. "This would be very helpful in cracking the wall of mistrust that ... exists between the two countries." ...

Nothing may come of this current outbreak of democratic yearning in Iran; a similar rebellion was crushed in 1999. But there's much to admire in the voices that are now raised for democracy and freedom in Iran. In whatever way it can, the United States should show that it is vitally interested in helping to unshackle the Iranian people.

Dallas Morning News

The United States is not at war with Islam, but a part of Islam is most certainly at war with the United States. Anyone who doubted that after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States need only observe the cold-blooded murder of three American missionaries in Yemen yesterday.

The accused murderer, Ali Abdul Razak Kamel, told Yemeni officials that he shot the Americans in the head at point-blank range "to cleanse his religion and get closer to Allah," the Reuters news agency reported. How's that for piousness? Kill an infidel and guarantee oneself an eternity in paradise, black-eyed virgins and all. ...

The U.S. and Yemeni governments should deal harshly with the alleged murderer and his accomplices. In the meantime, non-Muslim Americans in Arab and Muslim countries should beware of the fanatics who misguidedly consider it their religious duty to kill people who think and worship differently than they do.

Houston Chronicle

In his radio address Saturday, President Bush confirmed that disarming Iraq would remain a top priority. The administration's threat to end the regime of Saddam Hussein is complicated by two unexpected developments -- a cutoff of Venezuelan oil and gasoline, and North Korea's decision to reopen a nuclear plant capable of providing material for nuclear weapons.

Of the two, North Korea probably will prove more vexing. ...

If there is a bright note for President Bush in the foreign policy arena, it is the swift erosion of Arab support for Saddam. Saudi Arabia's rulers apparently have reversed themselves and will allow use of Saudi bases for U.S. operations in the Persian Gulf. Other Arab governments have softened or ceased declarations of support for the Iraqi dictator. Even the so-called Arab street seems at long last to perceive Saddam as a loser whose aggression and atrocities have brought discredit and disaster on Arab aspirations.

As support wanes, Saddam might become more vulnerable to internal overthrow, perhaps the only event that would short-circuit the administration's preparations for attack.

Los Angeles Times

North Korea's expulsion of nuclear weapons inspectors and disabling of devices that ensured it would not revive a plutonium-based atomic weapons program have quickly increased the danger on the Korean peninsula. ...

A failing state with nuclear weapons should be everyone's nightmare. That's why North Korea's neighbors need to demonstrate that they understand the growing nuclear danger in North Korea and are willing to help remove it.

Miami Herald

To deter North Korea from building nuclear weapons, the White House is looking for international help and threatening economic sanctions. But, curiously, the Bush administration says that it will not negotiate with the communist regime. This is akin to expecting a three-legged stool to stand on only two of its legs. The idea is a non-starter.

The Bush administration's insistence that it won't negotiate over North Korea's apparent abandonment of its pledge not to build nuclear weapons is puzzling at best. With or without help from the international community, with or without sanctions, the United States -- sooner or later -- will have to engage the North Koreans in serious discussions. Better to begin sooner rather than later, when attitudes will have hardened and events may have changed dramatically. There is simply too much at stake not to talk, not the least of which is attempting to steer a desperate and unpredictable regime away from the world's nuclear-arms club. ...

With negotiations, the elixir of diplomacy, the White House loses nothing -- and has much to gain.

(Compiled by United Press International.)

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