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Western Press Review: Debating U.S. Policy On Iraq And Iran's Internal Political Struggles

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 18 July 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Several Western dailies today devote considerable attention to whether the United States will follow through on its stated plans to effect a so-called "regime change" in Iraq. Many questions remain unanswered regarding what form such an operation would take and what risks it would involve. The economy is also discussed, as are Iran's domestic political struggles.


"The New York Times" carries a contribution today by Wendy Sherman, State Department counselor under former U.S. President Bill Clinton. Sherman says the current U.S. administration's truculent rhetoric when dealing with nations such as Iraq and North Korea is not sufficiently nuanced. A comprehensive approach to foreign policy and security interests must rely "on a wider range of foreign policy tools than cruise missiles."

Sherman says the administration of President George W. Bush has not yet made a case for invading Iraq "by answering the key questions of why, how, and what kind of regime comes after that of Saddam Hussein." She says Americans themselves and the rest of the world "need to know what the likely consequences are of a unilateral military assault on Iraq. But the administration has not articulated its plans, and so Iraqis and citizens of other Arab states often perceive America to be imposing its will rather than promoting its vision."

The U.S. must begin "a clear and purposeful dialogue" with its allies, she says. It must also encourage internal debate on this question. "By failing to engage with others, the administration has created unnecessary anxiety in Europe as well as in the nations nearer Iraq. It has potentially increased Jordan's vulnerability as planners talk of staging an American invasion from within its borders. And it has left a vacuum of hopelessness throughout the region."


An editorial in the British "The Independent" today says that Washington, as well as London, are engaged in "shameless saber-rattling" in their recent dealings with Iraq. A Pentagon plan for a U.S.-led assault on the Gulf nation was leaked to the press, soon followed by a well-publicized meeting of Iraqi exiles in London that discussed toppling Saddam Hussein's regime. Interviews with prominent Iraqi exiles are getting heavy media play, and there is news that U.S. and British special agents may already be in the country.

"The Independent" says the "most positive interpretation" of all this would be "that Washington is merely trying to scare Baghdad," in the hopes of triggering an internal Iraqi revolt or pressuring Saddam Hussein to comply with UN weapons inspectors. But the editorial says the "unconcealed joy in Washington" over the recent failure of UN-Iraq talks suggests that this is not the case.

"The Independent" suggests the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush might be preparing for military action in Iraq to "save Mr. Bush's political skin and that of his Republican Party" in mid-term congressional elections this autumn. Such a "cynical application of military force would be recklessness of the highest order," the paper says. "That this prospect seems more than marginally plausible is the severest of indictments on the image that the Bush regime has projected abroad."


In Britain's "Financial Times," Roula Khalaf and Richard Wolffe say an "important delaying factor" in any U.S.-led military campaign in Iraq is the "divisions within the exiled Iraqi opposition. The disparate groups have little influence inside the country and, aside from the Kurds in northern Iraq, they are unlikely to play any role in a military campaign. But Iraq appears to have been rattled by the London meeting of 80 former military and civilian opposition members to discuss hastening the removal of Mr. Hussein." Some analysts are calling this a propaganda coup for the United States.

The U.S. is beginning to seek support from some of its regional allies. But Washington faces "an uphill battle" in persuading key Iraq neighbors to help in a military campaign. Jordan, the closest American ally in the region, has made it clear it does not want to host U.S. military equipment within its borders. Iran is also expected to stay on the sidelines. Iran, as part of George Bush's "axis of evil," fears becoming a U.S. target after Iraq. The paper says some Iranian officials suggest cooperation with the U.S. in its Afghan campaign "has only led to stronger anti-Iran rhetoric from Washington," which gives them "little incentive to help the U.S. in Iraq."


Tehran-based journalist Ardeshir Moaveni, writing in "Eurasia View," discusses the 10 July resignation of Ayatollah Jalalaledin Taheri, a top-ranking reformist Iranian cleric and a member of the influential Assembly of Experts, which is tasked with electing the supreme leader. Moaveni describes Taheri as a staunch supporter of reformist President Mohammad Khatami and an outspoken opponent of extremism and corruption. What Moaveni calls Taheri's "shocking" resignation may be a harbinger of political struggles to come.

Taheri's resignation seems to have "opened a spirited campaign to break the conservatives' hold on power," Moaveni says. The efforts of Iranian reformers have been consistently derailed "by the ability of unelected conservative bodies to control Iran's political and economic agenda." These conservatives use their power "to deny the popular majority's desire for political and economic liberalization."

Many reformers view Taheri's resignation as "a calculated political move designed to reinvigorate the reformers' political fortunes." His departure may mark an important shift in their political strategy, as they have been divided over how best to oppose hard-line policies. One thing is clear, says Moaveni -- that Taheri's resignation "has raised the stakes for both sides considerably." He says the conservatives may now be hard-pressed to retain their controlling influence, particularly if Taheri's move "sparked a string of resignations by reform supporters."


In the "Financial Times," Fred Bergsten of the Institute for International Economics discusses the fall of the U.S. dollar, calling it a necessary and desirable economic adjustment. "A substantial correction of the overvalued dollar was as inevitable as a substantial correction of the overvalued U.S. stock market," he writes. The only questions were "by how much and when" the dollar would adjust itself. Up to now, he says, the dollar's fall has been so gradual "that there has been no noticeable impact either on prices or on interest rates."

The U.S. economy still looks much stronger than Europe's, says Bergsten. U.S. productivity growth remains high, which "virtually assures medium-term growth of at least 3 percent." And in spite of recent corporate scandals, he says "there is little risk of capital flight and a free-fall of the dollar."

"Hence," says Bergsten, the dollar "should be permitted to complete its necessary correction over the next year or so, with, one hopes, a trajectory as orderly as that of the past six months. The U.S. should maintain its policy of nonintervention. The U.S. and the Group of [Eight] industrial nations should insist that other countries refrain from taking any measures that would impede the adjustment." He says the result will be "both a stronger world economy and removal of one of the main threats to its sustainable growth in the future."


An item in Belgium's "Le Soir" daily discusses the election of A.P.J. Abdul Kalam by a large majority to India's presidency. The paper describes Kalam as a "pacifist" and an advocate of nuclear deterrence, as well as the father of India's nuclear and space programs. The paper also notes that Kalam is only the third president to be a member of India's Muslim minority. "Le Soir" says this should send a clear and positive signal to Pakistan, as well as to Hindu and Muslim extremists, given the recent tensions over Kashmir between the two nuclear neighbors.

Kamal is supported by the coalition of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the National Democratic Alliance, and the main opposition party, Sonia Gandhi's Congress Party. Given this support, "Le Soir" says it was virtually guaranteed he would triumph over his political rival, 87-year-old Lakshmi Sehgal, the first woman to contest a presidential election in India.


Babak Dehghanpisheh, writing in the international edition of "Newsweek" magazine, asks what kind of life lies ahead for the many Afghans seeking to return to their country following the demise of the Taliban regime. The country desperately needs skilled professionals, says Dehghanpisheh, as "most of its educated classes either were killed or fled from the Soviets, mujahedin, or the Taliban." Many now are heeding Transitional Authority President Hamid Karzai's calls for professionals to return to rebuild the country and its infrastructure.

But Dehghanpisheh says for many, the return of such skilled emigres "is breeding resentment among those Afghans who stayed behind during the country's dark years." Many professional Afghans are being rewarded with prominent positions upon their return. And some "resent the fact that these Afghans have laid claim to the fruits of a victory they did not win." Whatever the exiles' experience in the West, says Dehghanpisheh, they "at least enjoyed the benefits of a peaceful society."

Many returnees are also finding that even with good jobs, many are "less at ease in their homeland than they expected." The danger is that many won't stay to see out Afghanistan's reconstruction -- and the nation could once again find itself being drained of its own human and intellectual resources.


Syndicated columnist William Pfaff writes in the "Los Angeles Times" that there is a "note of frustrated anger" in European criticisms of the U.S. administration's foreign and economic policies. Europe's "idealistic interventionism and legalism" are pitted against U.S. "market fundamentalism, aggressive nationalism, and exceptionalist convictions of the current government in Washington." America's repudiation of arms-control treaties and the new International Criminal Court, as well as the "implausibility and contradictions" in its Mideast policy, have all drawn Europe's ire.

However, Pfaff says while Europe is "generous with criticism, their governments consider themselves powerless to challenge the United States." Trade matters are an exception, he says. The European Commission "consistently challenges the United States on trade and competition issues, and often wins." But ultimately, says Pfaff, "political and intellectual cringe still marks European policy."