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Editorial Roundup: Excerpts from recent editorials

February 20, 2014

Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers around the world:

Feb. 19

The Australian on grim reality of North Korea:

Former High Court judge Michael Kirby’s account of the “unspeakable atrocities” being committed in the North Korean gulags deserves better than the contemptuous response it has received from China, the one country with the leverage to compel the lunatic regime in Pyongyang to behave differently. The UN Commission of Inquiry headed by Mr. Kirby spent a year taking evidence from 80 victims and witnesses. The catalogue of murder, torture, rape, abduction, enslavement and starvation it has produced should, as it says, provide “a shock to the conscience of humanity”.

As the report concludes, the depredations committed by the Kim dynasty have “no parallel in the contemporary world”. The depravity is reminiscent of some of the evil perpetrated by Nazi Germany and Pol Pot’s Cambodia. The accounts tell of children forced to watch the execution of their parents, starved humans being fed to dogs, the “disappearance” of entire families, inmates in camps being disposed of in pots and starvation being used as a tool of subjugation.

Such diligently researched exposition, however, is not enough to persuade Beijing to start behaving like a responsible global citizen and show concern for people in a country over which it wields overbearing influence. Kirby has recommended the UN refer the Pyongyang regime to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. But Beijing has made it plain it would use its UN Security Council veto to prevent such action, falsely maintaining the report contains “unreasonable criticism” of Pyongyang.

The UN panel’s account is the most comprehensive indictment yet of horrors that have been taking place for decades. China’s new leadership cannot escape responsibility for what is still occurring in its neighbor. Pointedly, the UN panel has warned that Beijing, through its support of North Korea, is complicit in “aiding and abetting crimes against humanity”. China’s new leaders should consider that indictment before they veto the ICC action Kirby’s panel has recommended. Any real improvement in North Korea, however, will come about because of direct pressure from Beijing rather than anything that happens in The Hague.

Kirby’s report should also lead to far greater realism about North Korea, particularly in Washington, and about the need for China to pressure Pyongyang to abandon its rogue nuclear program.




Feb. 14

China Daily on coming back onto fair track:

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will find himself more than welcome in Beijing if he is here to convey Washington’s commitment to a positive relationship, as the US Department of State put it.

Beijing and Washington need to compare notes on their rhetoric about a “new type of major-country relationship”, and explore ways to navigate the so-called “Thucydides’ trap”. For the well-being of both countries and the world at large, their relationship has to be positive.

He will also be welcome if he has feasible suggestions “for reducing the regional acrimony over competing claims in the East and South China seas”. Beijing, too, is concerned about the hazardous potentials of such flashpoints and seeks crisis prevention.

But before asking Beijing to clarify its intentions, Kerry should sort out for his hosts those of Washington’s. While his role on this specific trip looks like that of a firefighter, his latest remarks, however, sounded the very opposite. His vow of protection for Japan in an anticipated conflict between Japan and China in the East China Sea, for instance, was nothing short of the United States’ seal of approval for Shinzo Abe’s brinksmanship.

Unless he can convincingly persuade his hosts that this is not the US’ true thinking regarding the region’s current impasse, Kerry should not expect a substantial outcome.

Washington’s approach to the sovereignty disputes has been characterized by a faulty premise and a wrong conclusion.

From the very beginning, Washington’s narrative has put China the role of the bad guy, labeling it as a bully, or a “destabilizing” character, in the neighborhood.

In both the East and South China seas, Beijing has been in a defensive role, responding passively to foreign provocations. Blinding itself to this essential truth, and encouraging the perpetrators, Washington has instead accused Beijing, the real victim, of escalating tensions.

While nobody expects Washington to play the impartial mediator that does not mean it has the license to add fuel to the fire.

The deadlocks in the East and South China seas have no solutions unless Washington moves to rein in Japan and the Philippines and stops them from pushing the envelope too far. What it has said and done to date, however, indicates the contrary.

The only chance for Kerry to make his hosts in Beijing commit to any new initiative in conflict resolution is to assure them of a serious US commitment to the same.




Feb. 19

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Argentina’s fall:

Argentina, Latin America’s largest economy after Brazil and Mexico, appears again to be in deep economic trouble.

Inflation is running at 55 percent. The peso lost most of its value in January. The government is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to approve postponement of the repayment of a $1.3 billion installment on a loan, including to two U.S. hedge funds, in order to avoid default.

Argentina has defaulted three times before on major loans, in 1982, 1989 and 2001. The question is why would anyone loan the country $140 billion?

On top of all this, Argentinian President Cristina E. Fernandez de Kirchner, 61, has been in questionable health since suffering a brain injury last year, calling into question her ability to make decisions at a time of economic adversity. Presidential elections are scheduled for next year and she can’t run, facing term limits.

So how did this situation occur? Argentina appears to have a deeply ingrained culture of economic irresponsibility. It spends money it doesn’t have, borrows what it can to make up the difference and defaults when it feels it must.

Too bad the United States exhibits some of the same fiscal habits. Most Americans were rightly glad that Congress raised the debt limit this month. Reasonable Republicans went along with it because they saw the threat of voters’ fury this year if they shut down the government again. At the same time, America’s national debt stands at a stunning $17.3 trillion and the federal government is still running annual budget deficits, even though Americans may rejoice that the deficits are shrinking a little.

The United States has low inflation, although everyone knows that the real cost of living is rising, not falling. It is also worth noting that America’s debt to foreign lenders stands at nearly $6 trillion, a third of it to China and Japan.

Argentina will probably get bailed out again. The rescue should be accompanied by harsh words about fiscal responsibility. American politicians should be obliged to read those words also.




Feb. 19

Chicago Tribune on breaking the Syrian deadlock:

The U.S.-backed Syrian peace talks collapsed in a heap without ever getting started. Over two weeklong sessions, the sides couldn’t even agree on an agenda, much less utter a single constructive word about how to end the raging civil war. The diplomats didn’t even attempt to salvage the wreckage by scheduling another session.

Meanwhile. ...

On Tuesday came word of escalating government bombing of rebel-held parts of the Syrian city of Aleppo, sending hundreds of thousands of civilians fleeing in one of the largest refugee surges of the civil war. Civilians in rebel enclaves of the city of Homs and elsewhere are being starved of food and medicine by government forces.

In other words, a terrible situation keeps getting worse.

Last week, President Barack Obama admitted that hope for a negotiated settlement is fading fast. The U.S. is now considering several options, including paying salaries to some rebel forces and providing more intelligence and transportation to them, The New York Times reports. Obama said “the situation’s fluid and we are continuing to explore every possible avenue.”

That can’t just be more diplo-mumble.

Last year, Obama promised to provide lethal arms to carefully screened rebels, a move we strongly backed. It’s not clear how much of that weaponry has been delivered. It is clear that limited U.S. assistance has not tilted the balance of power.

Obama needs to make good on his promises. The Free Syrian Army, more moderate and secular than other rebel factions, is the best hope to foster a post-Assad Syria that does not become a terror haven.

The U.S. reportedly has dropped its objections to proposals by Saudi Arabia and other countries to deliver more advanced weapons to carefully screened rebel groups. Among the weapons the Saudis have agreed to supply, according to The Wall Street Journal: Portable anti-aircraft missiles that can take down jets.

Arming rebels with such weapons is risky. Weapons that flow into the country could find their way into terrorist hands. Without those arms, however, the rebels have little hope of driving Assad out of power, or even to genuine negotiations.

No one can predict the trajectory of this civil war. But the longer it rages, the more it threatens other countries in the region, including Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon.

Earlier this week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry lashed out at Russia for arming Assad and propping up his brutal regime. But Russia — and Iran — show no signs of backing down. Why should they, particularly when the U.S. has been so reluctant to back moderate rebels to the hilt?

Assad won’t leave because Obama says it is time for him to go. He will leave when he has no other options. Right now, that moment looks to be a long way off.




Feb. 19

Idaho Statesmen, Boise, Idaho, on a new hope for Bowe Bergdahl’s release:

We know from the ups and downs of the past four and a half years that anecdotal evidence and positive signals regarding Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s release can circle back to the path of heartbreak and frustration for his Idaho family and the nation.

The news Tuesday that President Barack Obama and the U.S. State Department were attempting to update or “refresh” some kind of prisoner swap marks an important dot on the continuum that could lead to Bergdahl’s ultimate release. For this we are optimistic and grateful.

Other dots include actions both in the U.S. and in the Afghanistan war zone, where Bergdahl was taken prisoner in 2009.

A film purportedly depicting Bergdahl a month ago seemed to be saying, yes, we still have him and here he is, let’s make a deal. Bergdahl’s Hailey family and supporters have worked tirelessly to get his situation and plight before the American people in a number of creative ways, bracelets and billboards to name a few. He is certainly not anonymous, and both sides know there is something to be gained by continuing to talk.

Going back just a bit further in time to last summer, a prisoner swap deal with affiliates of his Taliban captors in Afghanistan seemed to be getting traction until — as has often been the case — prospects of Bowe Bergdahl’s release slipped again below the skyline of hope.

The news Tuesday showed a recent shift in U.S. policy: Instead of releasing Taliban prisoners piecemeal in order to make a determination of a good faith deal, the U.S. is now ready to release all five at the same time in exchange for Bergdahl.

This willingness to negotiate — and to realize the window of opportunity to seek Bergdahl’s release may be closing as Americans begin to disengage in Afghanistan — might be the strongest dot of any that will connect a path to Bergdahl’s ticket home to idaho.

Anybody who spouts off about knowing what is going on behind the scenes is likely not in a position to know. Silence is the SOP. These deals employ nuance upon nuance, and they often are as delicate as they are dangerous.

Frustrating as it seems, our military has ruled out military rescue attempts — delicate and dangerous — to date.

The most mystifying aspect of the recent Bergdahl activity is the publicity surfacing from what is usually a very hushed affair: Flag-rank Pentagon press secretaries solemnly saying Bergdahl has “been gone too long”; military officers in the know sending YouTube messages through Sen. Jim Risch’s office reassuring the Bergdahl family that everything is being done.

Yes, we should all err on the side of hope and prayer and success in this fragile moment. Dots are connecting in the direction that you would want them to go.

Godspeed to the process.

Whereas the rest of us have marked the time in years and fractions of years, the Bergdahl family lives the moments, the hours and the days unending.




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