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Western Press Review: Baghdad Remains Untamed

  • Don Hill

Prague, 13 November 1997 (RFE/RL) -- "Could Saddam Topple the United Nations?" Richard C. Hottelet asks in a commentary in today's issue of the U.S. newspaper, The Christian Science Monitor. Hottelet is a longtime foreign correspondent for CBS, who writes on world affairs. His answer is yes.

Iraq continues to dominate press commentary in Britain, Germany and the United States. Commentators are virtually unanimous in condemning Iraqi President Sadam Hussein, and some criticize the U.S. administration of President Bill Clinton and the United Nations for being weak willed.


Hottelet comments: "Saddam Hussein is again rattling his cage. Given the nature of the man and his regime, this could become a threat not only to Persian Gulf peace and access to the world's largest oil pools but also to the future of the United Nations." The commentator says: "Should Saddam defy a new resolution and, especially, should he attack or harm American arms inspectors or pilots, the United States will likely act on its own. The implications for the UN are grave. Members of Congress and elements in American public opinion might well cause US withdrawal, recalling the UN's impotence when the Bosnian city of Srebrenica, declared a UN safe haven, was overrun by Serbs. Those with longer memories may harken back to the 1930s when the League of Nations started on the road to oblivion via Japan's invasion of Manchuria, Mussolini's of Ethiopia, and the Spanish Civil War."


In today's Frankfurter Rundschau, Katharina Sperber comments: "The bad boy is enjoying his vile successes. The parents argue among themselves about the best way to get him back on the straight and narrow and how hard his thrashing should be. His brothers and sisters admire him in sentiments which are fueled by an awful truth: impudence pays off."

"(But) other Arabs know that the lesson of impudence winning is a truth than could at any time turn on them. It is not enough to use force to enforce the absence of murder and manslaughter. Saddam Hussein has to be more strictly controlled than he has been." In a wordplay on an old popular song, "The Sheik of Araby," Sperber's commentary carries the headline, "The Cheek of Baghdad."


The Washington Post says today in an editorial: "Iraqi President Saddam Hussein flagrantly defies the United Nations. His henchmen busily conceal poison gas, germ weapons and missiles. The world community, outraged, summons all of its courage and indignation and responds with . . . a travel ban on some Iraqi officials. No more shopping at Harrods for Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz -- that'll show 'em."


Two former U.S. Defense Department officials in the last administration, Zalmay Khalilizad and Paul Wolfowitz, say that the United States should adopt an active strategy of seeking to topple the Saddam government. In a commentary republished today in the International Herald Tribune they write: "The Clinton administration has been reluctant to declare Saddam Hussein's removal a goal of U.S. policy, and as a result has failed to develop a serious strategy for achieving that goal." The writers say: "The United States should consider a comprehensive new strategy aimed at promoting a change of regime in Baghdad."


Wolfgang Koydl echoes that view in a commentary today in the Suddeutsche Zeitung. He says: "Six years have passed since the Gulf War and the same man in Baghdad is still playing the same cat-and-mouse game -- a version of Tom and Jerry. Saddam the tom cat is showing his claws, creeping forward, shrinking back, and in the end getting his paws burned. It is the same old sequence of events, and it is as old as the reason for it. Since former U.S. President George Bush did not bring the war against the Iraqi tyrant to a decisive conclusion, his successor Bill Clinton is, in his second term of office, still having to wrestle with the problem. The fact that Clinton also lacks a conclusive policy on Iraq, is making matters even more difficult. Simply waiting patiently for Saddam to be overthrown is not a strategy worthy of a superpower."


In The New York Times today, Douglas Jehl contends in a news analysis that one result of Saddam's intransigence is a dissolution of what the United States had hoped would become an Arab-U.S. coalition. Jehl writes: "In the heady aftermath of the Persian Gulf war of 1991, American officials dreamed of transforming the Arab coalition that helped to oust Iraq from Kuwait into a new Arab coalition for peace."

He says: "The idea of "Arab solidarity" has been floated often in recent decades, but often as little more than an empty slogan that fails to take into account rivalries of interest and ambition.

But its role has also sometimes been underestimated. Because of a shared culture and language, a sense of kinship among Arab peoples is felt much more deeply than that which exists, for example, between Americans and Europeans, and it has contributed to popular outrage in every Arab capital at the plight of Iraqis at the hands of the United States. In an important sense, the resistance now being shown by Arab leaders toward the United States and its policies amounts to stepping back in line with a public opinion they had previously been willing to flout."


The anti-Iraq military coalition is disintegrating, David L. Marcus wrote yesterday in The Boston Globe. Marcus said in an analysis: "With each day, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Bill Richardson learns how limited the U.S.-assembled coalition against Iraq really is. Against heavy odds, it has held together for six years of Iraqi mischief through a combination of praise, pleas and threats from the United States. But if the coalition remained intact as a diplomatic force, it no longer existed as a military one."


And reforming the old coalition is difficult, among other reasons, for the opposition of Russia and France, Washington Post staff writers Charles Trueheart and David Hoffman say in a news analysis today in the International Herald Tribune. They write: "The Security Council's new warning to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein drew support from the same coalition of major powers that drove Iraqi troops out of Kuwait nearly seven years ago. But it was a diminished, uneasy incarnation of the coalition that cannot disguise persistent differences of approach, notably between the United States and two major U.S. partners on the Security Council, France and Russia.

"The two countries' unbending opposition to threats of military retaliation against Iraq grew from a multitude of economic and geopolitical interests, from diplomatic tensions and deeply ingrained nationalist streaks, and from differing perspectives on the Middle East equation. Both countries have past and potential energy investments to protect, for instance, as well as political influence that they would like to retain."