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Western Press Review: U.S. Mideast Policy, Other Subjects

  • Julia Guechakov

Prague, 26 February 2001 (RFE/RL) -- With the United States seeking to re-energize sanctions against Iraq 10 years after the Gulf War, much Western press commentary focuses today on Secretary of State Colin Powell's continuing tour of the Middle East. There are also analyses of the state of the U.S.-British "special" relationship after Friday's meeting outside Washington between U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, as well as comments on other subjects.


In a news analysis for the Chicago Tribune, correspondent Hugh Dellios says that that on his first visit to the Mideast as secretary of state, Colin Powell is finding a radically changed political landscape. Delios writes from the West Bank: "In marked contrast to the Arab support it enjoyed during the Gulf War, the United States now faces angry demonstrations, boycotts of American products, and open flouting of the Iraq sanctions." He goes on to say that if the Bush administration is to achieve its goals of reinforcing the containment of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and preventing an escalation of Israeli-Palestinian violence, "Powell's primary task is to overcome rising Arab antagonism toward the U.S. and its Mideast policies."


The Wall Street Journal Europe carries a commentary by Richard Butler, who was head of the UN commission that conducted arms inspections in Iraq from 1997 to 1999. He says that Powell's focus "must be on finding a new Iraq policy -- and fast."

Butler writes further that in shaping that new policy, the Bush administration has to take into consideration several new factors, mainly the dissolving of the international coalition for the containment of Saddam and the unraveling of the UN sanctions. He says: "Knotted to these problems is the growing unease felt in many quarters, including America's European partners, about a world with only one superpower."

"These circumstances," Butler continues, "call for a clear new U.S. policy toward Iraq, predicated upon an insistence that Saddam himself, as well as his ambition to acquire weapons of mass destruction, are a global danger." In exchange, Butler argues, the U.S. should consider a modified sanction's regime in which a firm distinction is drawn between military and non-military goods -- the former continuing to be prohibited.

He concludes: "This approach would represent significant movement by Washington toward the positions espoused by the three [UN Security Council] permanent members most strongly opposed to current U.S. policy -- Russia, China and France -- and to a lesser extent those held by the main supporter, Britain." And, he adds, it would "also show that Mr. Bush is prepared to work with his Security Council partners to solve this problem without sacrificing key principles or objectives."


Nicole Gaouette, in a news analysis from Jerusalem for the Christian Science Monitor, says that Powell's meetings in the Mideast "highlight [the fact] that, despite its new regional approach, the Bush administration may be spending more time, not less, on the Palestinian-Israeli situation if it wants support for its plans for Iraq." She writes: "The (Palestinian) intifada has a ripple effect, unsettling the region far beyond Israel's narrow borders." And, she adds, "in helping the U.S. punish Iraq, Arab countries run the risk of alienating their own people."

"All this means," Gaouette says, "that U.S. officials may have to get more actively involved in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians in order to gain support for their goals on Iraq."


Turning to the 23 February summit between Bush and Blair, the Wall Street Journal Europe writes in an editorial that what it calls the "real glue" for trans-Atlantic relations is not the personal rapport between the two nations' leaders, but rather "common national interest." The paper says: "[There is] probably no more crucial bilateral relationship for either side. Britain's global throw weight is significantly enhanced by its trans-Atlantic ties." And the United States, its says, "regardless of which party has the White House, has at least since World War Two viewed Britain as a piece of a larger European puzzle. American presidents of all stripes have embraced European integration as a means to a more stable and prosperous Europe. But," the paper concludes, "America has felt more comfortable about that process with Britain firmly at the table."


In a commentary for Britain's Sunday Observer entitled "Is Bush Scared of Us?," George Szamuely says that a "strong Europe is the stuff of Washington nightmares." He writes: "The Bush administration appears even more determined than its predecessor to stop Europe's independent military capability in its tracks." He says further: "Should Europe succeed in freeing itself from American tutelage it could ensure some restraint on U.S. global hegemony. Moreover, Europe might emerge as an alternative model of capitalism, one not dedicated to the unrestrained rule of business interests."


Assessing Powell's meetings in the Mideast over the weekend, Jose Garcon writes in a commentary for the French daily Liberation: "Ten years after the Gulf War, and despite the obligatory declarations of the new U.S. administration that it remains 'engaged to relaunch the peace process' in the Mideast, it is again Iraq's case which is at the center of U.S. preoccupations. And it is Baghdad which has taken the front stage in discussions [during Powell's meetings]."

Garcon also says that in all Arab capitals Powell "had the opportunity to gauge the difficulty of convincing Washington's Arab allies -- or his Russian counterpart [Igor Ivanov], whom he met in Cairo -- of the danger Iraq poses and therefore of the well-grounded [need] to reinforce the sanctions or to create an anti-Saddam Hussein regional consensus." Beginning with Powell's first stop in Cairo, he adds, the secretary was surprised by Arab anger. And, he continues, "[Powell] apparently was not any more successful regarding a resumption of peace negotiations in the Mideast."

Two comments today discuss the controversial pardons former U.S. President Bill Clinton granted hours before he left office on 20 January.


In an editorial, Britain's Financial Times says that when Clinton told his supporters immediately after leaving the White House that he is "not going anywhere," his words were meant as a warning to his successor, George W. Bush. But, the paper writes, "the words have become a bigger menace for the Democrats. [The] Congressional and Justice Department hearings into the [presidential] pardons are certain to prolong the scandal," the editorial continues. "This can only damage the Democrats as they struggle to mount an effective opposition to President Bush and prepare their bid for control of Congress in next year's elections."

In order to avoid that damage, argues the paper, Clinton "must stand back from the frontline of Democratic politics. As president, Clinton's sins were forgiven for the good of the party," it writes. "But Democrats can no longer afford to offer him endless indulgence. They must celebrate his strengths, but condemn his failings. It is an urgent task."


Presidential historian Michael Beschloss writes in a commentary for the New York Times that "it is hard to think of a president who has spent more time [than Clinton] thinking of moves that might impress future historians." Indeed, says the writer, "only history, which provides information and hindsight, will make possible a better understanding of the Clinton legacy. [Nevertheless,]" Beschloss concludes, "if the Clinton scandals metastasize, the most important thing future generations may know about the 42nd president will be the pledge he trampled -- to create 'the most ethical administration in the history of the Republic.'"