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Western Press Review: Sabers Rattle In Persian Gulf

  • Don Hill

Prague, 28 January 1998 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. and British newspapers carry commentary today on threats by the administration of U.S. President Bill Clinton to resort to military force against Iraq. But the continental European press remains largely silent on the topic of war clouds gathering over the Persian Gulf.

GUARDIAN: What on earth it is supposed to achieve

The British newspaper The Guardian editorializes today that the nature of the benefits if any to be gained from an armed attack is unclear. The editorial says: "Plans are being drawn up for a new war in the Middle East. The target is Saddam Hussein. The allies committed to it are the United States and Britain. And we must ask what on earth it is supposed to be likely to achieve." The newspaper says: "Bill Clinton and (British Prime Minister) Tony Blair were absolutely right to agree yesterday that Iraq's obstruction of weapons inspections is serious. But the answer is not just to let the task force steam ahead into possible disaster. The search for non-military alternatives must steam ahead much more visibly on the horizon."

TIMES: The clock is ticking down towards a military strike

Writing from Washington today, Ian Brodie says in a news analysis in The Times of London that bombs conceivably still can be avoided but time is running out. Brodie writes: "Shrugging off his personal woes, President Clinton last night made it clear to President Saddam Hussein that the clock is ticking down towards a military strike."

The writer says: "He reiterated that Washington is keeping all options open, but is determined to ensure that Baghdad cannot pursue plans to develop chemical, biological and other weapons of mass destruction. He spoke as the mood has hardened appreciably in Washington into a belief that putting diplomatic pressure on Iraq is nearing its end. Republicans who control both the House and Senate have given him their backing."

NEW YORK TIMES: This threat is necessary and appropriate

In the United States, The New York Times said yesterday that the U.S. threats were essential, proper and credible, but that diplomatic avenues still must be traveled. The newspaper said: "Saddam Hussein's efforts to keep United Nations inspectors away from his biological weapons programs have brought the United States to the edge of military action. Clinton administration officials warn that a series of punishing air strikes could begin in a matter of weeks, if a last-minute campaign of intensified diplomacy and sanctions fails to force Iraq to obey UN Security Council resolutions. With a British aircraft carrier joining a powerful American naval task force in nearby waters, a credible capacity for heavy and sustained air attacks is already in place. This threat is necessary and appropriate. But a little time still remains to see what can be accomplished with the application of less deadly military force and intensified diplomacy and economic sanctions."

WASHINGTON POST: The president needs to identify the political changes he believes these strikes will achieve

International affairs commentator Jim Hoagland writes in a column in today's Washington Post that Saddam, expecting to benefit from a U.S. assault, won't yield. Hoagland writes: "The Iraqi dictator is counting on new U.S. bombing to strengthen his hand at home and abroad. He won't fold now."

The commentary concludes: "Clinton's failure to put Iraq high on his list of priorities convinced many potential and actual foes of Saddam that Washington was not serious about helping them get rid of him. A new round of military strikes that hurts Iraq, but does not hurt Saddam, will reinforce that view. The president needs to identify -- to himself, the nation and the world -- the political changes in Iraq he believes these strikes will achieve. Only then will he be able to thwart efforts by Saddam and others to portray new military action against Iraq as mindless violence being carried out for political purposes."

SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER: At some point, the waiting game will have to be brought to a close

A professor of politics at the University of Southern California in Santa Cruz commented yesterday in the San Francisco Examiner that the developing confrontation will take predictably painful twists and reap unforseeable results. Marco A. Mangelsdorf wrote: "The simmering dispute between Iraq and the United Nations shows signs of boiling over yet again -- with dangerous and unpredictable consequences.

Mangelsdorf said: "The most likely scenario looks something like this: Washington will settle for nothing less than unhindered access to suspected weapons production or research sites. Baghdad will continue to indignantly refuse such access. Further efforts to turn the screws tighter will face certain Chinese and Russian opposition while any moves to loosen existing sanctions will be rejected by the United States, giving Hussein more time to proceed with his clandestine weapons program. Images of malnourished and dying Iraqi children will continue with mounting criticism of deprivations suffered by that country. At some point, the waiting game will have to be brought to a close as Washington decides how long its security interests can tolerate such defiance."

ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION: Does Clinton have the credibility to launch an effective military assault?

Peter Slevin and Richard Parker write today in a news analysis the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "In political terms, President Clinton is battling charges that he had a sexual relationship with a White House intern, then coached her to deny it under oath. Does he have the credibility to launch an effective military assault? In diplomatic terms, there is not nearly the international consensus for military action against Saddam that there was in the wake of Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Can America persuade Russia, skeptical Arab nations, and its own reluctant allies that an attack will be fruitful? "Although Iraq's military has never fully recovered from defeat in the Gulf War, Pentagon planners say Saddam has dispersed his forces, his weapons facilities and his command centers, and also buried more of them deeper underground, making them harder to find and destroy. United Nations inspectors in Iraq had a difficult time keeping tabs on all of Iraq's weapons and facilities; the job is much harder for reconnaissance planes and satellites."

CHICAGO TRIBUNE: There are important differences this time

In a Chicago Tribune news analysis, David S. Cloud writes: "The Clinton administration escalated pressure on Iraq yesterday." Cloud writes: "Although Clinton (in his State of the Union address) did not mention the possibility of military action to force Iraq to cooperate with United Nations weapons inspections, his top aides are openly discussing Pentagon planning for a possible bombing strike sometime next month involving U.S. and British naval and air forces in the Persian Gulf."

The writer says: "U.S. officials say they would be only too happy if Saddam backed down in the face of American and British warnings, but the momentum behind military action is growing." He writes: "The pattern developing in this crisis has some parallels with 1990, when the United States forged a coalition to oppose Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and, eventually, in 1991, drove Iraqi forces out of the country. But there are important differences this time. For one, Iraq, though defying the international community, is staying within its own borders. For another, there is no massive buildup of U.S. forces in the region. There are three British and American aircraft carrier groups in or approaching the area, but no buildup of land forces."