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Western Press Review: Commentators Assess Iraq's 'Retreat'

  • Joel Blocker



Prague, 16 November 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary today and over the weekend focuses largely on Iraq's 11th-hour decision Saturday to allow United Nations inspectors unfettered access to all its potential mass-destruction weapons sites. President Saddam Hussein's abrupt reversal of his previous expulsion of UN personnel came amid threats of an imminent U.S.-British air strike against Iraq. Commentators seek to assess Saddam's action and what it means for the West.

NEW YORK TIMES: This must be the last time that Iraq tries to manipulate the Security Council

The New York Times' editorial is headed "Back from the Brink with Iraq." The paper writes: "The latest confrontation with Iraq has ended with another promise from Saddam Hussein....The apparent peaceful resolution is welcome, and can be credited to (U.S.) President (Bill) Clinton's renewed willingness to back diplomacy with the threat of force. But this must be the last time that Iraq tries to manipulate the (UN) Security Council."

The editorial goes on: "Too many times before, Iraq has tried to slip free of its commitments to cooperate in the elimination of its stocks of biological and chemical weapons and the missiles that can deliver them....Faced with a credible threat of force, Iraq has backed down, only to resume its defiance at a later date."

The NYT adds: "If Baghdad again attempts to restrict inspections, Washington, with support from Britain and other allies, need not wait for weeks or even days to respond. The Clinton administration, which reacted too passively last August, when Iraq first began barring surprise inspections...has rightly made it clear that the American reaction will be prompt and certain, with no further warnings necessary."

NEW YORK TIMES: The Clinton Administration takes a half-measured approach

New York Times columnist William Safire takes a more skeptical view of Saddam's action. He writes of "the Clinton Administration's half-measured approach to the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. Its limited aim," he says, "is to lower temporarily Iraq's ability to make weapons with which to blackmail the world.

Safire goes on: "That desire for delay is why Clinton hesitated for months after Iraq shut down inspections that were getting too close to finding weapons. It's why he sought a last-minute negotiation, and why he aborted air strikes."

The commentary goes on: "In pulling our bombing punch, the president offered the hope that the Kurds under our protection may hook up with Iraqis we slip money to and, listening avidly to our radio broadcasts, overthrow Saddam. Worth trying, but quite a covert burden on a CIA otherwise focused on diplomatic monitoring of the West Bank."

USA TODAY: The Administration let Saddam get by with shutting down access to new inspection sites



The daily USA Today says that both "Saddam (and) Clinton Got a Reprieve." The paper writes: "The crisis was born in August, when for the first time, the Administration let Saddam dictate terms for inspection of his chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs."

The editorial adds: "Just as UN inspectors neared what they thought were critical links in Saddam's biological weapons chain, the Iraqi dictator shut down access to new inspection sites.....The Administration let him get by with it.... Saddam was emboldened to demand more, and he did."

USA Today also says: "On paper at least, the assurances Iraq provided over the weekend to avoid an attack negate that mistake. After Clinton rejected its first conditional offer, Iraq pledged to 'clearly and unconditionally' cooperate with the UN Special Commission, which is charged with eliminating weapons of mass destruction, and with the (UN's) International Atomic Energy Agency."

WASHINGTON POST: There can be no reliable solution to the menace as long as Saddam stays in power

In an editorial yesterday entitled "Saddam Hussein's Retreat," the Washington Post wrote: "The Administration is right to be wary. Saddam Hussein has had more than three months, without inspectors on the ground, to advance and conceal his weapons work. A return now to the pre-crisis status quo could leave him with new momentum ....He would still remain able to jerk the United States around. He would remain in power."

The paper also said: "Iraq's view of the terms on which inspections are resumed is trickery. Baghdad wants...the ending of inspections while the economic sanctions against Iraq are quickly and permanently terminated....But Iraq cannot be given sanctions relief on conditions of its own devising....Only when everything possible has been done to ensure that terrible new weapons are not being put in outlaw hands can the sanctions regime be reviewed."

The editorial concluded: "Such is Saddam Hussein's record...that there can be no reliable and abiding solution to his menace as long as the Iraqi tyrant stays in power."

WASHINGTON POST: The U.S. can no longer count on 'the Pax Americana' that prevailed since the Gulf War

Today's edition of the Washington Post carries a news analysis by Barton Gelman that calls Saddam's action Saturday only a "formal retreat." He writes that Saddam has for years "tried to finish off the UN Special Commission...U.S. and other officials (now say the effort is) succeeding."

Gelman says further: "There is almost no-one left, in the commission or out, who argues that it has the means to finish its work against determined Iraqi efforts to frustrate it....The Clinton Administrations' strategic imperative is to manage two kinds of long-term decline in its position against Iraq."

He goes on: "One (of them) is the decline of the commission's diplomatic backing and its daily struggle on the ground in Iraq. The Administration now shares the views of...Moscow, Beijing and Paris that the commission's reach exceeded its grasp....A second decline...is the passage of a historical high point of American influence in the Middle East....In the region....the U.S. can no longer count on 'the Pax Americana' that prevailed since the Gulf War."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Saddam's concession is a dramatic victory for the U.S.

Los Angeles Times Syndicate columnist William Pfaff writes today that "Washington does well to accept Saddam Hussein's last-minute retreat before the threat of U.S. attack....His concession is a dramatic victory for the U.S., and a very serious humiliation for him, which may have serious consequences for his authority."

Pfaff argues that past use of force against Iraq has not worked. "Bombing," he says, "offers no conclusive solution (to the problem of mass-destruction weapons. Bombardment) would probably worsen a situation in which the UN and the U.S. are demanding total political submission. (Saddam) has now offered as close to total submission as one is likely to get in the real world."

He adds: "American long-rage planners are reported to be thinking seriously about reconciliation with Iran, and a future shift of U.S. commitments away from the troublesome Arab scene. They suggest a new U.S. alliance triad composed of Israel, Turkey and what they optimistically expect to become a liberalized Iran."

WALL STREET JOURNAL: Administration should change its current Iraqi policy

A commentary by Zalmay Khalilzad in today's Wall Street Journal Europe takes a very different point of view. The writer, a former high official in the U.S. Defense Department, says that "the current crisis with Iraq was entirely predictable; Saddam Hussein has been playing a cat-and-mouse game with the U.S. and the international community on a regular basis....Each time, he grows in stature at home and in the region."

The commentary calls on the Administration to change its current Iraqi policy. "Washington," Khalilzad argues, "must take three steps: First, encourage the establishment of a broad-based (Iraqi) opposition --including Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis. Second, provide (the opposition) with economic, political and military support ...Third, pursue Turkish and Saudi support for such a strategy."

Khalilzad sums up: "Changing strategy means making a sustained and serious effort to help the Iraqi people get rid of their oppressive government and to allow Iraq to take its proper place in the region and the world."

DAILY TELEGRAPH: The UN lacks the resolve to prevail against evil

Britain's Daily Telegraph titles its editorial "The Disunited Nations." It writes: "The latest confrontation with Iraq is once again demonstrating the inability of the United Nations to deal effectively with rogue regimes....The Security Council is divided, the Iraqi dictator's hold over his country appears unshakable, and the work of UN weapons inspectors has been frustrated."

The paper continues: "The UN record in former Yugoslavia and Iraq suggests that the (1991) Gulf War (unity) was an aberration. In normal times, the world body lacks the resolve to prevail against evil. In Bosnia, it has been shunted aside in favor of NATO. It is now time to do the same for Iraq."

The DT also says: "The U.S. and Britain, the toughest of Saddam's opponents, are hamstrung by Security Council divisions....The case for NATO members' cutting loose from UN restraints rests on the belief that he represents the greatest single threat to world peace."

FINANCIAL TIMES: The Iraqi leader has rewound the film to where it was last February

In a news analysis for the Financial Times, the paper's Middle East Editor David Gardner says that "Saddam Hussein set a new benchmark in international brinkmanship on Saturday night. Whether he knew it or not, U.S. bombers had taken off by the time he fired off his letter promising to cooperate with the UN weapons inspectors he forced to withdraw from Iraq last week."

The analysis continues: "Both Washington and London feared...that Saddam would catch them on the hoof. He would back down just enough to make it difficult to justify air strikes, but not enough to meet their security concerns about what he may have left in his armory of chemical and biological weapons. And that is more or less what he has done."

Gardner also says: "The Iraqi leader has rewound the film to where it was last February, when his partial obstruction of (UN weapons inspections) was not enough to convince France, Russia and the Arab states that bombing would improve prospects for containing him."



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