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Western Press Review: On Iraq, They All Verge On A Precipice

  • Jolyon Naegele



Prague, 17 February 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Preparations for an Anglo-American military strike against Iraq occupy editorial pages across Western Europe today.

LE MONDE: The official line is not quite so self-confident as in previous power struggles

In Paris, le Monde comments "the preparations for war against Iraq this week are in a decisive phase -- more psychological than logistical. Top officials in the Clinton administration are strengthening their efforts to convince US public opinion of the justification of a return to force and prepare them for the possibility of victims, Iraqi and American." A broad majority of Americans is already convinced of the necessity to help the international community to succeed in halting the danger of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. But the official line is not quite so self-confident as in previous power struggles with Saddam Hussein."

GUARDIAN: A British parliament would do well to view the latest crisis from a broader historical perspective

The left-wing British daily, the Guardian in an editorial today warns: "A British parliament -- and a government which is current EU president -- would do well to view the latest crisis from a broader historical perspective than that likely to be adopted by a US congress and administration... Parliament also needs to consider how far Britain's close adherence to the US line may weaken its own independent voice".

TIMES: To fail to act would deal a near mortal blow to the UN's authority and respect for international law

But former British Foreign Minister and EU peace negotiator in ex-Yugoslavia, David Owen, in a commentary in the Times of London says: "One only has to consider the former Yugoslavia, Somalia, Rwanda or Korea to recognize that today's America is reluctant to undertake the role of world policeman. The US has decided to act to enforce the UN decisions. The British government is surely right to commit our forces. The only war aim is that UN inspectors are given unconditional, immediate access to Iraqi sites where they suspect weapons of mass destruction are stored or manufactured. To fail to act would deal a near mortal blow to the UN's authority and respect for international law."

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: In politics there is often only a choice between unsatisfactory possibilities

Guenther Nonnenmacher in Germany's conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung today says "in politics there is often only a choice between unsatisfactory possibilities. It is just the same with the question of whether Saddam Hussein's obstruction of the UN inspectors should be militarily punished. The current activities, serious as they are intended to be, give the impression more of a psychological backdrop for preparing a military intervention than as a diplomatic means to avoid it...." The author concludes: "Clinton can not simply give up his threat that Iraq will be punished militarily if Saddam continues to sabotage the UN inspection team... The tyrant of Baghdad knows this and is ready to risk the greatest material damage to his country as long as America suffers politically either because a military strike would split the Arab world or because Clinton by staying out of military sanctions would come off as a paper tiger. This is a tactic of contemptible cynicism; at its core are calculations of power and prestige, calculations of a tyrant who until now has survived all attacks.

TAGESPIEGEL: Professional blindness makes it difficult for Washington to answer the question of 'what comes after'

Robert von Rimscha, comments in Berlin's Tagespiegel today that this time, in marked contrast to the Gulf War seven years ago it is more difficult to make it clear to Americans the direct danger presented by Saddam Hussein: "Since the liberation of Kuwait, Iraq has not been cited by anyone for supporting an international network of terror organizations. While it is theoretically a possible scenario that Saddam Hussein could send a case of his future atomic weapons and his existing biological and chemical weapons to New York, it is not enough to convince Americans of the necessity of a war... At the end of this week the military preparations will be finished and the Olympic games will also be ending. Then it can start... In one to two weeks, 12,000 tons of bombs are to fall on Iraq. And then? Then the UN will be allowed to conduct its inspections? It is a war-obsessed professional blindness that makes it difficult for Washington to answer the question of 'what comes after'."

IRISH TIMES: To count as just, a war must be fought in self-defense

Seamus Murphy, a theologian, commenting in Dublin's Irish Times today, says the proposed strikes against Iraq fail the moral test. "To count as just, a war must be fought in self-defense or in defense of others unjustly attacked, and since there are other criteria to be met, not all wars of self defense necessarily count as just.... At the time of the Gulf War many western critics of the US-led offensive either interpreted the just war theory too strictly, or rejected the theory as out of date because it did not indicate that President Bush was wrong to authorize the offensive. A few years later many of the same people were all in favor of NATO bombing the Serbs, regardless of its effectiveness, thereby erring on the side of laxity.... Where the proposed Anglo-American military action against Iraq is concerned a number of points can be made: 1: aerial bombing (as in the Second World War) targeted at civilian population centers -- as with the use of land mines and chemical or biological weapons -- fails the discrimination criterion and hence is immoral...2: sanctions are indiscriminate and the nature of the Iraqi regime is such that they affect civilians far more than soldiers....3: attaining military objectives usually requires ground forces... 4: ridding Iraq of weapons of mass destruction is morally laudable. Unfortunately, we do not have an international legal order, backed by force, and overriding national sovereignty", the Irish theologian concludes.

LA REPUBBLICA: If Italy concedes to the United States use of its bases that could provoke a flood of political declarations...

The left-center Rome daily la Repubblica comments on the domestic political fallout in Italy of air strikes on Iraq: "the 'Iraqi bomb' risks exploding under the feet of the Prodi government. The simple hypothesis that Italy concedes to the United States the use of its bases for the blitz against the Iraqi regime (the use of which Clinton has never officially requested) could provoke a flood of political declarations... causing serious embarrassment to the government."

CORRIERE DELLA SERA: There is no shortage of opponents among Iraqi dissidents or of enemies abroad

Italy's conservative daily Corriere della Sera of Milan commenting on the Iraqi leader, says: "just like in the war seven years ago, Sadaam Hussein is feeling the earth burning underfoot. There is no shortage of opponents among Iraqi dissidents or of enemies abroad. Saddam knows exactly that plans to murder him are building up proportionately to the sharpening of the crisis with the international community."

NEW YORK TIMES: Saddam has to be stopped

Across the Atlantic, Thomas L. Friedman, in a commentary in today's New York Times, comments: "With a US bombing of Iraq now increasingly likely, the question being raised by those uneasy with such a strike is: What is the end game? Is America just throwing its weight around to punish Saddam Hussein?" Friedman says "the answer is really very simple. It comes down to two words: weapons proliferation. If Iraq - already a repeat user of poison gas - is able to snub its nose at the UN weapons inspectors, then the world's ability to fight the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction elsewhere would be fundamentally compromised. Libya and its friends would all be less afraid to develop germ weapons and nukes. We would all end up in a much more dangerous world. That's why Saddam has to be stopped."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Moscow is acting more and more like Saddam Hussein's lawyer

An editorial yesterday in the Los Angeles Times says "at times in recent days high Russian officials seem to have implied that ... differences (with the US) are fundamental enough to jeopardize the cooperative relationship that has developed between Washington and Moscow since Soviet communism collapsed a little more than six years ago. If so, Russia has adopted a high-risk strategy indeed... Except for its nuclear forces Russia has all but ceased to be a military power, too poor to send its fleet to sea or even to adequately feed its shrunken and demoralized army. That is a continuing humiliation for a country that for so long boasted of its military might and its readiness to use force to further its interests. The simple truth is that Russia today is in no position to threaten military intervention in the Middle East, as it did in decades past. But it can make threatening noises, as President Boris Yeltsin did recently with his somewhat daffy warning that US military action against Iraq could ignite a world war. Such statements do not enhance Moscow's credibility. Russia, of course, has genuine interests in Iraq.. (and) has a major economic stake in seeing the sanctions end and a major political stake, in Iraq and the larger Arab world, in appearing sympathetic to Baghdad in its confrontation with the United States. All this" the Los Angeles Times editorial says "has led to Moscow acting more and more like Saddam Hussein's lawyer.

TORONTO GLOBE: Air strikes are ultimately about forcing Iraq to let the inspectors continue to perform a job which air strikes alone cannot accomplish

Canada's Toronto Globe and Mail in an editorial today says: "the trouble with military action is that it isn't the most direct way of revealing and deactivating Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. The US-led air strikes, if they come, are unlikely to be aimed exclusively at hidden stockpiles of chemicals or clandestine warehouses of missile parts. These are hard to find: hence the need for inspectors. Attacks will likely instead focus more on knocking out other things that Mr. Hussein holds dear, such as his air force. Air strikes are ultimately about forcing Iraq to let the inspectors continue to perform a job which air strikes alone cannot accomplish.

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