Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in the United States and abroad:
Boston Herald on Israel enforces its red line:
Well, President Barack Obama may have trouble figuring out where his red lines are in Syria, but not so Israel, which launched two air strikes over the weekend aimed at destroying high-powered weapons destined for the Syrian-backed terrorists of Hezbollah.
In doing so, it is attempting to prevent a repeat of the 2006 Lebanese war in which Hezbollah launched missiles from Lebanon into northern Israel and as far south as Haifa. The weapons targeted in this weekend’s raid — the Iranian-built Fatah-110s — are capable of reaching Tel Aviv, which during the ’06 war served as a safe haven for tens of thousands of Israelis fleeing their homes in the north.
The Israelis have repeatedly warned that Hezbollah will not be allowed to acquire Syrian chemical weapons, long-range Scud missiles, missiles capable of attacking naval vessels from the coast and Russian anti-aircraft missiles — the latter destroyed during a January air strike. That’s their red line.
Israel has also deployed two batteries of its Iron Dome defense system in the north just in case the embattled Assad regime decides to take the air raids somewhat more personally. (Opposition activists reported that 42 Syrian soldiers were killed in the raids.)
The White House, which has done little to combat the lawlessness that threatens to overtake Syria, has at least defended Israel’s right to defend itself against the kind of terrorism that virtually surrounds it.
And Israel for its part has maintained an extraordinary level of diplomatic and military calm even as it deals with the “stray” Syrian shells that have been landing in the Golan Heights.
“Alongside readiness and alertness, it’s always good to prepare and train — but there are no winds of war,” said Maj. Gen. Yair Golan, head of Israel’s northern command.
Still the contagion that is now Syria is making the region — and the world — a less safe place with every passing day.
The Seattle Times on North Korea needing to release Kenneth Bae:
North Korea’s sentencing of Kenneth Bae to 15 years of hard labor is likely meant to provoke the United States. China and other international allies interested in regional stability should encourage that isolated regime to release the Lynnwood, Wash., man on humanitarian grounds, as it has done for other Americans trapped in similar circumstances.
North Korea’s Supreme Court sentenced Bae for “hostile acts” against the country, the government-run Korean Central News Agency said Thursday. That’s a less serious charge than the one Bae reportedly faced last weekend — trying to overthrow the government, a crime that could have led to the death penalty.
Bae operates a tour company out of China and has led groups to North Korea before. South Korean humanitarians say before his Nov. 3, 2012, arrest, he may have taken photos while feeding orphans in the border region of Rason. The European travelers in Bae’s tour were reportedly released.
U.S. officials know this game well. In the past, Americans crossing the border were held until a high-profile visit from the likes of former presidents Bill Clinton or Jimmy Carter.
The difference this time is tensions are especially high with North Korea’s young leader, Kim Jong Un, eager to prove himself. In December, the regime launched a long-range rocket. In February, it conducted a third nuclear test.
These actions have brought international condemnation.
The Embassy of Sweden represents U.S. interests in Pyongyang, but U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says China’s longstanding diplomatic relations with North Korea will be instrumental in getting Kim’s rogue government to listen.
After months of relative silence on the circumstances of Bae’s detention, a State Department official this week called accusations against the man “completely unwarranted” and lacking in substance.
North Korea does itself no favors by keeping Kenneth Bae in custody.
The Post and Courier of Charleston on thuggish ‘politics’ persist in Venezuela:
Many Americans reasonably detect, and lament, a decline of civility in our political process. But at least members of our Congress confine their partisan blows to the verbal variety.
In Venezuela’s parliament, though, a heated debate got physical — and bloody — on Tuesday. Brawling by members of the National Assembly produced numerous injuries as the bitterness of a disputed presidential election to replace the late leftist blowhard — and bully — Hugo Chavez persists.
The opposition has cited convincing evidence of fraud in the narrow victory of Nicolas Maduro, Chavez’ chosen United Socialist Party successor, over challenger Henrique Capriles on April 14.
According to opposition parliamentarians, seven of their numbers were attacked while protesting a measure designed to block them from speaking about their refusal to accept that dubious election result.
As lawmaker Julio Borges, his face bruised and bloodied, put it: “They can beat us, jail us, kill us, but we will not sell out our principles.”
A worker in the National Assembly told Reuters that after opposition legislators shouted “fascist” at the parliament’s leader, they were assaulted by United Socialist counterparts. From Reuters: “Laptops and tables were hurled in the ensuing melee, with one legislator hit over the head with a chair, the witness said.”
Clearly, Chavez’ death hasn’t freed Venezuela of his party’s iron grip on national authority.
The violence in Venezuela’s parliament wasn’t just an ugly example of political animus getting out of hand.
It was another sad sign that the folks in charge in Caracas are still using thuggish tactics to retain their power.
Decatur (Ala.) Daily on China not being the biggest U.S. creditor:
Populist politicians are much too eager to jump on the bogeyman bandwagon.
They seem not to care or notice that the bumps and jolts under their wheels are the facts being run over beneath them.
Consider the popularly held belief that China “owns” the United States because it holds the majority of our debt.
Despite what many politicians and fringe groups would scare us into believing, China is not the United States’ biggest creditor. That title goes to America itself.
China holds slightly more than 7 percent of the total U.S. debt, according to The Associated Press. And despite what you might hear, China has been cutting its holdings, down from about 10 percent a few years ago.
In fact, China is having its own debt problems, with economic recovery proving slow and the nation actually suffering through a rare trade deficit in March.
Yes, the United States has a huge debt problem, as evidenced by the $16.8 trillion deficit that is growing by the second. That debt is hindering everything from economic rebound to government-funded services and infrastructure improvements.
But Americans hold the bulk of the debt through the Federal Reserve, Social Security system, pension plans for civil service workers and military personnel, U.S. banks, mutual funds, private pension plans, insurance companies and individual investors. …
It is one matter for U.S. politicians to zero in on real concerns, such as human rights, counterfeiting of U.S. products, trade policies, currency manipulation or computer hacking.
It is quite another matter for them to demonize China for controlling our destiny by owning the majority of our debt, when it is not true.
Rather than creating and blaming a fictitious bogeyman, we need to accept responsibility for the actions that led to the deficit and implement sensible solutions.
Chicago Tribune on Guantanamo dilemma:
When he ran for president, Barack Obama laid out the case against the detention of inmates at Guantanamo Bay: “It is expensive. It is inefficient. It hurts us in terms of our international standing. It lessens cooperation with our allies on counterterrorism efforts. It is a recruitment tool for extremists. It needs to be closed.”
Oh, wait. That wasn’t Candidate Obama in 2008. It was President Obama, last week. In seeking the White House, he vowed to close the camp. More than five years after taking office, it is still in business — with no end in sight.
Obama has learned a couple of things from this issue. The first is how limited his power is to carry out his promises. The second is that issues that sound easy on the campaign trail can turn out to be complex and intractable.
If he sounds torn about what to do, that’s not surprising. The fight against al-Qaida and affiliated terrorist groups is a different kind of war that creates problems unknown in traditional wars. And more than 11 years after 9/11, we as a nation are still struggling to solve them.
Obama can take credit for reducing the number of inmates to 166 from about 245. …
Obama laments the idea that “we’re going to keep 100 individuals in no man’s land in perpetuity.” But it would be hard to reduce that number to zero. Some 46 prisoners are deemed too dangerous to let go, but the administration has deemed them unsuitable for prosecution because of insufficient evidence.
That doesn’t entitle them to freedom. …
As for the others deemed to pose no danger, the president needs to be negotiating with other countries to find a safe destination. He could start by appointing someone to work with foreign governments on the issue — a job that has been vacant for months and was given little attention before.
Christopher Anders, an official of the American Civil Liberties Union, told Reuters that when it comes to Guantanamo, “For the last three years at the White House, it’s been like no one home.”
Putting someone in that job and letting the world know the issue has priority with the president could only help. It’s hard to believe that with a little horse trading, Obama can’t persuade a few nations to cooperate.
While steps like these wouldn’t solve the problem of Guantanamo, they would shrink it. That’s not quite what Candidate Obama had in mind five years ago. But an incomplete solution is better than none at all.
New York Times on European stagnation:
Economic conditions in Europe, especially in troubled nations like Spain, Portugal and Italy, have deteriorated sharply in recent months. Worse, new data released last week provides no hope for a recovery soon. The unemployment rate in the 17 countries that use the euro hit a record of 12.1 percent in March, up from 11 percent a year earlier. In Spain and Greece, more than half of the labor force under 25 is looking for work.
The good news, if it can be called that, is that a barrage of negative economic data appears to have stirred European leaders and senior officials at the International Monetary Fund into finally acknowledging that the Continent’s austerity policies are imposing unnecessary pain and suffering on average Europeans while doing little to lower debts and deficits.
José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, recently declared that austerity “has reached its limits in many respects.” And David Lipton, the first deputy managing director of the I.M.F., recently called on Europe to adopt “more growth-friendly” policies and encouraged the European Central Bank to use unconventional measures like bond purchases to increase credit and stimulate the economy. This awakening is fine as a start. But real change will come when European leaders start reversing damaging budget cuts and restructuring their fragile banks. That means changing the status quo, no easy task. For starters, countries that use the euro have committed to maintaining fiscal deficits no higher than 3 percent of their gross domestic product as part of a “fiscal compact” with one another. …
Meanwhile, a promising effort to deal with troubled banks appears to have been sidetracked or at least slowed. In December, the European Union agreed to centralize the supervision of large banks under the European Central Bank by March 2014 as a first step toward a banking union. But Wolfgang Schäuble, the finance minister of Germany, recently suggested that E.U. members first renegotiate changes to the union’s treaties to clearly separate the monetary and supervisory functions of the central bank. Wrangling over technical amendments could easily delay the broader effort to put the whole financial system on sounder footing.
At a meeting later this month in Brussels, E.U. leaders plan to discuss ways to improve the currency union, but they do not anticipate changing basic policies. In fact, analysts expect no major action until after Germany’s national elections in September. The conditions of 26.5 million unemployed Europeans who need help right away should not depend on an election that may or may not change anything.
The Kansas City Star on some hope in Afghanistan in better education, health, lifespans:
The story of Afghanistan known by most Americans is of horrific war scenes, lost lives and injuries to troops and civilians. Last weekend, another roadside bomb killed five soldiers working to rout terrorists.
Less well known is another campaign: building infrastructure, health facilities and schools. While tremendous waste and ineffective projects have been exposed, there is also evidence of striking improvements.
Life expectancy in Afghanistan, for example, rose from 42 in 2002 to 62 in 2010. Deaths of newborns fell dramatically, as have maternal deaths.
In 2002, only 900,000 boys were in school and virtually no girls. Now there are eight million students, more than a third of whom are girls.
And the number of primary health care facilities increased from fewer than 500 in 2002 to nearly 2,000 in 2010.
Alex Thier, assistant to the administrator for the Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs in the U.S. Agency for International Development, cites a report that shows Afghanistan has made more progress on a percentage basis since 2000 than any country in the world. That also shows just how miserable life was under the Taliban era.
To Thier, the biggest hope for the future rests with better-educated women who are holding a growing number of government jobs, serving in elective office and launching entrepreneurial businesses.
While calls routinely emerge in the U.S. to cut foreign aid, Thier says the entire development budget for Afghanistan over the last decade equals the cost of four to six weeks of the military campaign. “Continuing this investment will greatly diminish the likelihood of Afghanistan becoming fragile,” he said.
Thier finds hope in Afghanistan’s increasingly educated and tech-savvy youth. He suggests that this youth contingent plus upgraded infrastructure should help keep Afghanistan from slipping backward after troops depart.
One can only hope he’s a better prognosticator than the pessimistic analysts.
The Australian, Sydney, on Malaysia must end race divide:
Althoughhe won, the result of Malaysia’s election is hardly the outcome that Prime Minister Najib Razak wanted, and he is going to have to work hard to avoid it turning into a pyrrhic victory. He was hoping for a return to the pre-2008 situation when his ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, dominated by the United Malays National Organization, enjoyed a two-thirds parliamentary majority.
Instead, it has achieved its worst result in an unbroken series of 13 successive election victories since independence in 1957. For the first time in 44 years, it lost the popular vote 51-49 per cent to the opposition, despite retaining a comfortable majority in parliament.
Even more worrying for Najib is the extent to which the election has exposed the growing racial polarization and social division in what is Southeast Asia’s third-largest economy and a country whose stability is of vital importance to Australia. While support for the ruling coalition from majority ethnic Malays has remained solid, ethnic Chinese, who make up a quarter of the Malaysian population, as well as the smaller Indian ethnic group, have deserted in droves, flocking to the opposition alliance led by Anwar Ibrahim.
The government relied heavily on states with large rural, ethnic Malay populations that are beholden to government handouts. In the urban centers dominated by ethnic Chinese and Indians, voting went strongly to the opposition. This reflects the anger over the heavy-handed and grossly inequitable pursuit of affirmative action in favor of ethnic Malays, and the corruption these policies foster.
Najib has acknowledged the polarization and expressed deep concern, promising “more moderate and accommodative policies” and a national reconciliation plan. He must make good on that and, as well, deal seriously with Anwar’s charges of election fraud.
The last time an UMNO leader failed to deliver the sort of victory demanded by party bosses, he was soon dumped. It would be a tragedy if, in seeking to shore up his position ahead of a leadership election before the end of the year, Najib felt compelled to pander even further to the Malay majority. Malaysia’s stability is of cardinal significance to our region. The election has shown that what it needs is less race-based politicking and more sound, non-racial government. That is the challenge confronting Najib.
The Khaleej Times, Dubai, on sexual crimes in Brazil:
It’s the biggest country in Latin America and has great potential to be a superpower in the future, but the rampant street crime in Brazil’s major cities are a big security challenge for the government.
The gangs, petty thieves and drug peddlers, who lurk in the streets of Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia, are a vexing problem for Brazil — the country that will be hosting the 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Olympics.
Recent cases of sexual crimes in Rio de Janeiro — Brazil’s commercial hub — have especially generated a big hullabaloo in the international media, raising concerns about the security of scores of tourists who are expected to visit the country for the sporting events.
The latest case of rape on a moving bus in Rio de Janeiro has shocked the country, and triggered a vibrant discussion on social media. An armed assailant, who was under the influence of drugs, according to witnesses, got on a bus and hit a 30-year-old woman before raping her. Apparently, the man had forced the driver to keep on driving, while he committed the heinous crime.
This case has followed the gang rape of an American tourist on a moving bus in March, while her French boyfriend was handcuffed and physically abused by assailants with a crowbar. The case received a great deal of media attention for its uncanny similarity with the Delhi rape case that sparked huge protests in India.
The high incidence of sexual cromes in cities like Rio de Janeiro and Delhi show the difficulty of curbing crime in overpopulated places. Soaring migration especially makes it difficult for the authorities to enforce law in a sprawling cities where posh neighborhoods exist alongside shantytowns. But if countries like Brazil and India have to aspire to become superpowers one day, they have to ensure that their women are protected.
The Jerusalem Post on Budapest meeting:
The World Jewish Congress, which represents Jewish communities worldwide, usually holds its annual plenary assembly in Jerusalem. But this year a different venue was chosen.
In a brave show of solidarity for Hungary’s embattled Jewish community, the WJC’s leadership decided to hold its conference in Budapest. The message was clear. …
The WJC then invited the populist, ultra-conservative Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban to speak before the three-day assembly opened on Sunday. It was a perfect opportunity for Orban to openly address the rising levels of anti-Semitism and xenophobia since his ascent to power in 2010.
But Orban’s speech was disappointingly lacking in content. …
While most attention has focused on Jobbik, which became the third-largest party with about 17 percent of the vote in a 2010 election campaign that vilified the Roma, the strengthening of Jobbik is “only a symptom,” Peter Feldmajer, chairman of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Hungary, told Reuters. …
The Hungarian Education Ministry’s decision to add to the public school syllabus literary works of known anti-Semites and nationalists, including those without artistic distinction, can be seen as a concession to the extremists. So is ministers’ silence over the growing cult of Miklos Horthy, Hungary’s leader from 1920 to 1944. Statues have been erected and several streets and squares have been named in his honor, despite Horthy’s checkered past. Though he refused to deport Hungary’s Jews, Horthy was an ally of Hitler and passed anti-Semitic laws. And after the Nazis invaded, he stood by when Hungarian gendarmes rounded up more than 500,000 Jews and sent them to their deaths.
Like most politicians, Orban must send out different messages for different audiences.
At the WJC conference Orban declared that anti-Semitism is “unacceptable and intolerable.” But the sad realities of Hungarian politics make it difficult for Orban and other ambitious politicians to appear to be too much of a philo-Semite.
The WJC’s courageous show of solidarity with Hungary’s Jews is an important gesture in the ongoing battle against European anti-Semitism. But with hatred of those perceived to be different so entrenched in Hungarian society, the future is not encouraging for Jews and other “minorities” who call the Magyar nation home.