Accessibility links

Western Press Review: Commentary Addresses Situation In Iraq, Oil

  • Don Hill

Prague, 1 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The invasion, occupation and governance of Iraq dominate commentary in Western newspapers surveyed in our press review today.


Britain's "The Independent" says in an editorial that the UN's role in developing an interim government in Iraq has been exposed as a sham. It says: "The tragic pattern has become almost familiar, so often have we seen it over the past year. No sooner have the first flickers of hope appeared on Iraq's battle-scarred horizon, than they are brutally extinguished, leaving the outlook even gloomier than it was before. One week ago, the United Nations appeared to have made impressive headway in finding well-qualified Iraqis prepared to serve in an interim government until elections next year. Now, not only is the whole process deadlocked over the choice of president, but it turns out that the guiding role the UN was supposed to have been playing has never been anything of the kind."

The newspaper says "a 'vital role' for the UN was one precondition of broad international support for any interim Iraqi government. Another was the need for a definitive end to the occupation." It says a third condition also was that Iraqis be seen to have been given full control of their government.

"The Independent" editorial concludes: "With four weeks to go, none of these conditions has been met and the process of forming the government has been exposed as a sham. The best solution now would be a return to the drawing board, especially if the only other alternative is the battlefield."


"New York Times" writer Dexter Filkins writes in a commentary in the "International Herald Tribune" that U.S. officials' assertiveness, combined with UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi's unexpected passivity, may be turning Brahimi's product into little more than a new arrangement of old faces.

Filkins writes, "When Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations envoy, arrived last month he declared that he would crisscross Iraq to give the people a new government, one that he suggested would be more independent of America's heavy-handed ways."

The writer says: "Now, as Brahimi nears the end his work, Iraqis are discovering that his task was not so simple."

"With his slate of appointees expected to be announced soon, the appointments named and leaked so far suggest that what Brahimi ultimately accomplishes may turn out to be less a revolution than a rearrangement, less a new cast of characters than a reworked version of the same faces."

The commentary says: "Not only did the Governing Council endorse [Iyad] Allawi [for prime minister], but it seems to have convinced Brahimi of its own worth. According to two Iraqis with knowledge of the negotiations, Brahimi agreed to appoint four Council members and its foreign minister to eight of the senior-level government jobs so far."


The "Financial Times" publishes today a commentary by Michael Lind, a senior fellow of the New America Foundation. Lind serves up a pessimistic summary of what he calls "the collateral damage done by [U.S. President] George W. Bush's war in Iraq."

The writer says: "The debacle in Iraq has discredited the American neoconservative dream of a benevolent U.S. empire, freed from the petty restraints of multilateral diplomacy and international law. But the neoconservative vision is not the only dream that has died in the rubble of Fallujah and torture cells of [Abu Ghurayb] prison. What until recently was the alternative endorsed by many Democrats and some centrist Republicans -- U.S. world leadership exercised through multilateral security institutions -- can also now be included in the collateral damage done by George W. Bush's war in Iraq."


Columnist E. J. Dionne Jr. comments today in "The Washington Post" that part of the mounting criticism of President Bush is the result of changed momentum, that the same behavior that won him favor earlier draws him disfavor now.

Dionne writes: "Nothing succeeds like success and nothing fails like failure. In politics, this means that if a leader is seen as doing well, his side in the debate holds together and suppresses disagreements that are quite real but don't seem worth pursuing if they get in the way of winning.

"It also means that if a leader is perceived as doing badly, those quite real disagreements are seen as much more important. Parts of the leader's political coalition try to disengage themselves from the perceived failure and differentiate themselves from those whom they see as incompetent and thus representing something other than the true faith."

The writer comments: "The beginnings of a conservative crackup under this President Bush flow directly from the perceived failures of his policies in Iraq. Whatever one's view of the war, things are not going as promised, or as hoped for. Bush dominated politics in the months after September 11. Almost everything he said or did then was seen as a sign of strength and fortitude. Now when he does the same things, they are seen as signs of stubbornness and a lack of reflection. The line between the virtues and the flaws is slim, and decisive."


"New York Times" columnist William Safire rises to the defense of progress in Iraq. He says that newspapers are failing to recognize good news when they see it. Safire writes: "Have you read the encouraging headlines from Iraq? 'Monthly U.S. Combat Deaths Down by Half in May' is one. 'Radical Shiite Cleric's Militia Decimated in Holy Cities' is another. And finally: 'Iraqi Leaders, Defying U.S. and UN Dictates, Choose Prime Minister.'

No, those were not headlines anybody could see. In Gloomy Gus newsrooms, good news is no news. And as handover day arrives in a month, casualties may well rise, the semi-truce with Muqtada al-Sadr's force in Al-Najaf may break down -- decimated means reduced by 10 percent -- and, most likely, political bickering may break into the open in the selection of an Iraqi sovereign transition government. But consider the possibility, for a change, that a day after our Memorial Day, we Americans have cause for cautious optimism."

Safire says that the Governing Council's independent behavior is another cause for rejoicing. He writes: "The naysayers were astounded, along with the United Nations' Lakhdar Brahimi and the White House's Robert Blackwill [deputy assistant to the president and coordinator for strategic planning for the national security adviser] when Iraqi leaders started acting last week like Iraqi leaders. No thanks, they said to the UN-U.S. notion of an interim government of toothless technocrats, and rejected Brahimi's choice for the top slot. Like real politicians, they cut a few deals and chose one of their own -- a secular Shiite, not an Islamist or a Sunni or a Kurd -- to be prime minister. Iyad Allawi is the Acceptable Arab. At the Ambrosetti conference in Italy last year, he and Adnan Pachachi -- a Sunni in his 80s close to the Saudi royals -- were the only Iraqis present. They spent most of their time in close consultation with Amr Moussa, head of the Arab League."


Writing of Saudi Arabia, "The Times" commentator Michael Binyon says that the Saudi government, which has survived many crises, now seems doomed by its contradictions. Binyon writes: "The latest attack on foreigners [beginning on 28 May] comes after an open declaration of war last year by Al-Qaeda on the House of Saud."

The writer says: "King Fahd is an invalid and his regent half-brother, Crown Prince Abdullah, is almost 80. The putative successors, remaining members of the so-called Sudairi Seven and sons of Ibn Saud's favorite wife, are aged and divided. Some, such as Prince Sultan, the governor of Riyadh, are capable pragmatists; others, such as Prince Nayif, the hardline and religiously fanatical minister of the interior, are authoritarian and viscerally anti-Western. No succession has been agreed; nor common strategy found to meet the current challenges. Compromise is now impossible."

Binyon writes: "The oil boom has transformed everything and society is fiercely riven. A younger generation is aching with frustration."

He says: "The ruling family has little room to maneuver. For its own existence, it cannot jettison either of the two contradictory policies: appeasement of puritanical Islam and alliance with America. The crackdown on terrorism depends on assuaging the religious hierarchy. The alliance with America is vital to pump and sell oil. But the House of Saud is deeply disillusioned with an ally that it feels repeatedly took its support for granted. The ruling family hopes to ride out the crisis. Al-Qaeda is making that all but impossible."


"The Irish Times" and the "Financial Times" find the same word to describe the current threatening condition of Saudi Arabia. The word is "instability."

"The Irish Times" editorializes: "Strategically and economically Saudi Arabia is more important than Iran or Iraq. These attacks raise the question of how vulnerable the ruling regime there is and what the consequences for the rest of the world would be if it is undermined. The question is inseparable from the wider issue of peace and stability in the Middle East -- especially between Israel and the Palestinians and the future of Iraq. The political interconnectedness of these issues is starkly revealed by these latest atrocities, as are their potentially dangerous economic consequences."

The newspaper says: "It is ruled by an archaic system of interlocking families which no longer have the resources to meet growing demands for employment and political reform from a more and more sophisticated population. The rulers are divided between reformist and repressive wings. A prolonged Islamist insurgency combined with rising political conflict opens up a prospect of indefinite uncertainty."

The editorial concludes: "President Bush has called for democratic change in the Middle East harnessed to a democratic transformation in Iraq. But the actual policies he has followed have weakened the potential agents who could deliver such an objective and intensified the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Saudi Arabia is now joining this dangerous cocktail of regional instability that endangers the rest of the world."


Under the headline, "Change Is Needed for Saudi Stability," the "Financial Times" editorializes:

"As things stand, Saudi Arabia provides near laboratory conditions to incubate thousands of bin Ladens. The oil-dominated economy produces few jobs to employ a fast-growing, restless population. Neo-central planning inhibits investment, while getting Saudis into jobs now occupied by millions of foreigners raises costs because locals get paid, on average, three times more. School textbooks drip with religious bigotry, while technology exposes Saudis to the full blast of modernity. The stultifying control of the mosque and political grip of the security services underpin a bloated monarchy."


In "The New York Times" today, author and Saudi studies scholar Craig Unger critiques what the headline calls "The Great Escape" of an estimated 300 Saudi Arabians from the United States immediately following the 11 September 2001, attacks -- evidently, he said, with the approval of the U.S. administration of President Bush.

Unger writes: "The [U.S. 9/11 investigating] panel has indicated that it has yet to find any evidence that the FBI checked the manifests of departing flights against its terror watch list. The departures of additional Saudis raise more questions for the panel. Richard Clarke, the former counterterrorism czar, told 'The Hill' newspaper recently that he took full responsibility for approving some flights. But we don't know if other Bush administration officials participated in the decision.

"The passengers should have been questioned about any links to Osama bin Laden, or his financing. We have long known that some faction of the Saudi elite has helped funnel money to Islamist terrorists -- inadvertently at least. Prince Ahmed bin Salman, who has been accused of being an intermediary between Al-Qaeda and the House of Saud, boarded one of the evacuation planes in Kentucky. Was he interrogated by the FBI before he left?

"If the commission dares to address these issues, it will undoubtedly be accused of politicizing one of the most important national security investigations in American history -- in an election year, no less. But if it does not, it risks something far worse -- the betrayal of the thousands of people who lost their lives that day, not to mention millions of others who want the truth."


"The Washington Post" devotes substantial space to a submission by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf describing what he calls his doctrine of "Enlightened Moderation."

Musharraf writes: "The world has become an extremely dangerous place. The devastating power of plastic explosives, combined with high-tech remote-controlled devices, as well as a proliferation of suicide bombers, has created a lethal force that is all but impossible to counter. The unfortunate reality is that both the perpetrators of these crimes and most of the people who suffer from them are Muslims. This has caused many non-Muslims to believe wrongly that Islam is a religion of intolerance, militancy and terrorism. It has led increasing numbers of people to link Islam to fundamentalism; fundamentalism to extremism, and extremism to terrorism. Muslims can protest however vigorously they like against this kind of labeling, but the reality is that such arguments are not likely to prevail in the battle for minds. To make things even more difficult, Muslims are probably the poorest, most uneducated, most powerless and most disunited people in the world."

Musharraf writes: "My idea for untangling this knot is Enlightened Moderation, which I think is a win for all -- for both the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds. It is a two-pronged strategy. The first part is for the Muslim world to shun militancy and extremism and adopt the path of socio-economic uplift. The second is for the West, and the United States in particular, to seek to resolve all political disputes with justice and to aid in the socio-economic betterment of the deprived Muslim world."

He traces the history of the current wave of Islamic terrorism, and says: "And then came the bombshell of Sept. 11, 2001, and the angry reaction of the United States against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. All subsequent reactions of the United States -- its domestic responses against Muslims, its attitude toward Palestine and the operation in Iraq -- led to total polarization of the Muslim masses against the United States. It is not Islam as a religion that has created militancy and extremism but rather political disputes that have led to antagonism among the Muslim masses."

President Musharraf writes: "I say to my brother Muslims: The time for renaissance has come. The way forward is through enlightenment. We must concentrate on human resource development through the alleviation of poverty and through education, health care and social justice."