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Western Press Review: Commentators View Gulf War Disdainfully

  • Don Hill

Prague, 17 January 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary today in newspapers in the United States and Britain -- the countries that led the Gulf War against Iraq 10 years ago -- is generally disdainful of the war's outcome.


In Britain, the Independent daily says in an editorial: "Ten years ago, a UN force unleashed war on Saddam Hussein, five months after the invasion of Kuwait. The dictator was humbled. More than ever, it seemed, his fall might be imminent. So far, so good. But then," the paper adds, "the West lost its nerve."

The Independent's editorial goes on: "Ten years on, Saddam is still in power, and the news could hardly be worse. In 1991, the unfinished business with Saddam seemed the worst possible option. Now, things are in some respects even worse. The double failure -- failing to oust Saddam then, and punishing the Iraqi people now [with UN sanctions] -- means that there is little to be proud of, and much reason for governments to feel ashamed."


A columnist in the Independent issues an even more severe -- and broader -- indictment. Robert Fisk says that NATO, in its war against war criminals, itself behaved criminally. He writes: "NATO is on the run. It's not difficult to see why. The moral crusader against Serb barbarism wielded a sword made of depleted uranium, called DU for short. And as more and more evidence proves a terrible connection between DU weapons and an explosion of cancers and leukemia's among thousands of civilians who were close to DU detonations, the sword now appears far more disturbing than the object of the crusade."

Fisk adds: "After ignoring the hundreds of children -- and thousands of adults -- who died in a plague of cancers and leukemias after the use of DU in the Gulf War, the Americans and the British are still vainly claiming that there is 'no evidence' of any ill-effects after its use in Bosnia in 1995. Or in the war against Serbia in 1999."

The writer concludes: "Yes, I know Saddam is a wicked man. But the dying children of Iraq are not war criminals. Yes, I know the Serbs butchered their way across Bosnia. [And] that is the whole point: because if our governments are at last forced to acknowledge that DU is responsible for the slow death of thousands of civilians, and that they secretly knew this would happen all along, then they will have something in common with Iraq and Serbia. They, too, will have committed a war crime."


The Wall Street Journal Europe, a consistent critic of the administration of U.S. President Bill Clinton, also looks back at the Gulf War's aftermath with disapproval. The newspaper says in an editorial: "American policy toward Iraq lies in tatters and Saddam still thumbs his nose at the civilized world. [Incoming U.S. President] George W. Bush and his team will soon face a difficult choice -- either make sanctions work or find a reasonable, face-saving way to end them. Neither alternative will be easy."

The editorial argues: "It is not just a question of unfinished business and undoing President Clinton's record of ruin and neglect. It is time for Mr. Bush to think seriously about the endgame. If not, the drift of events will wash away the sanctions, allow Saddam to wave his hunting rifle triumphantly on television and undo one of the greatest accomplishments of the president-elect's father [that is, leading the Gulf War alliance that defeated Saddam militarily]."


The New York Times today carries a commentary by James Rubin, assistant secretary of state for public affairs during nearly three years of Clinton's presidency. Rubin says that questions about Iraq should be addressed not only to Clintonians but also to Bush's nominee for secretary of state, Colin Powell.

Rubin writes: "When [Powell] appears today before the Senate [in his confirmation hearings], many senators will be inclined to praise his qualifications and life story and move toward speedy confirmation. But first they should ask him some questions about his record of involvement in decisions to use American military power abroad."

Rubin goes on: "The senators should ask the general now whether, given what we know about Iraq's production of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, he underestimated the danger from Saddam Hussein. Does he still believe, as he did in 1990, that it was wrong to confront Iraq militarily over its invasion of Kuwait?"

The writer says: "As the war began, General Powell said of the Iraqi army: 'First we're going to cut it off, and then we're going to kill it.' Yet, at the end of the ground war, the Bush administration allowed much of Iraq's army to escape -- especially the Republican Guard, which has sustained Mr. Hussein in power ever since. The senators should ask General Powell whether he believes now that we should have destroyed as much of that army as possible when we had the chance."


One German commentator today, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung's Heribert Prantl, takes up the Gulf War question, but from a very different point of view. Prantl recalls the German public's objections during the war. He writes: "While TV viewers were supplied around the clock with official footage of a reportedly clean war, hundreds of thousands in Germany came together in what became ongoing and long-term demonstrations. Students declared a 'creative state of emergency,' churches asked people to pray for peace, unions picketed, fairground workers called off traditional celebrations and passersby joined in spontaneous inner-city demonstrations."

Prantl goes on: "The government of Helmut Kohl watched almost in disbelief as large numbers of young people, and often children, took to the streets. In Bonn, the then German capital and home of the German government, the question on many people's minds was why had there been no similar protests against the eight-year war between Iran and Iraq? The answer was simple," the writer says. "There was no coverage of the Iran-Iraq war on breakfast television. The Gulf War revived fears that had been dormant. It was also a shock to many when they realized how well politics had fed the illusion that eternal peace was possible."


On a different subject entirely, Klaus Bachmann comments in the Frankfurter Rundschau that there's more than is evident behind the disappearance and probable murder of Heorhiy Gongadze, a Ukrainian newsman who specialized in investigating possible corruption within his country's power elite.

Bachmann writes: "Indications in Kiev now point to the missing journalist as part of a power struggle tied up with access to Ukraine's gas market and the future of Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko's government. [Yushchenko's] deputy, Yuliya Tymoshenka, is a key figure in the Kiev power struggle. She is responsible for energy policy and for the regulatory overhaul of the country's gas market. Ukraine's elite political cartels receive their financing through the gas business."

The writer adds: "According to the word in Kyiv, President [Leonid Kuchma] had already started preparing Yushchenko's dismissal when [tape recordings implicating Kuchma in Gongadze's abduction and death] appeared." Bachmann concludes: "The scandal that ensued saved Yushchenko, and with him Tymoshenka, from dismissal. And since then the president has another problem. Across the country journalists and opposition supporters are now making a habit of taking their demand for a 'Ukraine without Kuchma' to the streets."


In Die Welt today, Thomas Delekat nostalgically recalls a distant time when the German mark used to mean something, and says it will take this summer one last run at glory before the European Union's euro common currency submerges it -- perhaps forever. The writer says: "We placed single pfennigs and the occasional ten-pfennig coin on the rails to be flattened by the weight of a passing tram, but never a whole shiny mark."

Delekat says further: "We lost them [the coins] through gaps in the floorboards, down drains or into secret cavities and marked the loss of each one with a flood of tears. We plopped them into piggy banks and then, in vain, tried to forget that they were there. We turned each and every one of them around and around and used them again and again for this or that. We balanced them on their edge and then watched as they spun round, wobbled and fell -- and if the eagle with its outstretched wings stared up at us, we had won. Later, we looked down at the eagle lying in the palm of our hands and thought it looked no grander than a sparrow."

The writer concludes: "In 348 days, the mark will no longer mean anything. While bidding it a painful and tearful farewell, the Bundesbank -- which produced the mark and maintained its value at all costs -- has commissioned a special issue of our favorite coin for the last time and exactly as we would like to remember it. One million," he says, "are to be produced and put into circulation during the summer, made completely from gold and weighing twice as much as the everyday version. Each special-edition mark will cost around 110 dollars, have a face value of one mark and secure a place in our memory as an immeasurable, rich, wonderful and beautiful treasure."