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Western Press Review: Debating U.S. Action Against Iraq And Central Asia's Crackdown On Dissent

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 31 July 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The review of the Western press today largely focuses on the possible launch of U.S. military operations against Iraq. The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee begins in-depth hearings today to discuss questions such as the potential threat that Iraq poses to the United States or global security and the immediacy of any danger. What are possible responses to a threat, aside from military action? Other topics include Central Asia's crackdown on dissent and European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana's recent visit to Iran.


In "The Washington Post," Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay of the Brookings Institution welcome the opening of U.S. Senate hearings on possible military action against Iraq, saying, "it's high time Congress got in on the act by debating the wisdom of taking military action."

But they say two days of hearings with experts "on the what, when, how, and why of changing the regime in Iraq can in no way substitute for action by Congress as a whole." Under the U.S. Constitution, only Congress has the power to declare war, not the president. This article has been flouted in the past by not defining military operations as "wars." But Daalder and Lindsay say, "Initiating action against Iraq would be an act of war."

Before any military action is launched against Iraq, "Congress must decide whether to declare war. [Those] who believe [U.S. President George W.] Bush can initiate such action on his own authority are profoundly mistaken."

They say the Bush administration "should welcome a debate and vote." If the president "cannot persuade Congress to authorize military action, then we have no business initiating war," they write, adding, "That's what it means to be a democracy."


An editorial in "The Irish Times" welcomes reports that there are divisions within the Bush administration over how to proceed against Iraq. There seems to be a "significant digression" from earlier thinking on the issue, it says, when the administration sought outright "regime change" in the country.

Now, the prospect of an "inside-out" strategy is gaining credence. This strategy calls for seizing the capital, Baghdad, and key points across Iraq, effectively paralyzing the state and military apparatuses. This approach still leaves open many strategic and operational questions, says the paper. But the "much more fundamental issue for President Bush is whether an invasion of Iraq is necessary or desirable at this stage. Increasingly, it appears, there is a view among the membership of the Joint Chiefs that the policy of containment has operated effectively [and] that an invasion would represent an unnecessary risk."

"The Irish Times" says U.S. allies around the world "will earnestly hope that this view is in the ascendant." Under the circumstances, "the world should be grateful for the doubts that are reportedly developing within the U.S. military establishment."


In "The New York Times," columnist Thomas Friedman says one aspect of a possible U.S.-Iraq war that has not been duly considered is the potential effect on oil prices. He says prices could either leap to $60 a barrel from current prices in the mid-20s or drop to $6.

What if Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein responds to an American attack "by firing Scuds [Scud missiles] with chemical or biological warheads at Saudi Arabian and Kuwaiti oil fields?" Friedman asks. The world oil market would lose "not just Iraq's 2 million barrels a day, but millions more. And what if the war drags on and we have as much trouble finding Saddam [Hussein] as we've had finding Osama [bin Laden]?" Friedman says.

"If prices skyrocket because of a war in the Persian Gulf, [oil producers] Venezuela, Iran, Nigeria, and others will cut back their output and keep prices high to milk the moment for all it's worth."

Or else, Friedman says, everything goes according to U.S. plans and Saddam Hussein is replaced by a reformist and democratically minded leader. Iraq could then modernize its oil fields and quickly increase its oil exports, leading to a drop in world prices. This is why Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Kuwait want Iraq to remain "a pariah state," says Friedman -- so it "can't produce more oil."


"The New York Times" today carries a contribution by Graham Allison of Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. Allison says the most difficult strategic challenge the U.S. faces in a possible military confrontation with Iraq will be to anticipate the actions of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

The Bush administration has "forfeited the advantage of strategic, or even tactical surprise," says Allison. Saddam is now expecting a U.S. attack and has launched a series of deft diplomatic initiatives, he says, such as "settling outstanding territorial disputes with Kuwait, winning Arab League support for the proposition that an attack on Iraq constitutes an attack on all Arab states, [and] dangling lucrative contracts before Russia and France...."

Allison says that, beyond diplomacy, "lies the murkier realm of deterrence, including a credible threat of massive retaliation." Iraq already has weapons of mass destruction, including biological and chemical weapons, according to a 1999 UN report. And the announced U.S. objective is to topple Saddam's regime. How does one expect to use deterrence, asks Allison, when your enemy has nothing to lose?

Allison says the course of action Bush has chosen is in fact increasing Saddam's incentive to use "any means at his disposal."


In Britain's "The Independent," columnist Mary Dejevsky says for "the umpteenth time this year," both sides of the Atlantic are worked into a panic about an "imminent" U.S. assault on Iraq. She says detailed military plans have already been made public, and the U.S. administration insists almost daily "that Iraq represents so potent and immediate a threat that the only responsible course is preemptive" action.

But she says this may all be part of an elaborate bluff by the Bush administration in an attempt "to neutralize the threat from Iraq without the use of military force." This ruse rests on the premise that the Bush administration is ready to use force at the slightest provocation. But Dejevsky says while the "belligerent" language used by Bush "fosters that image, the reality is different."

She says Bush "displayed extreme caution before ordering U.S. forces into Afghanistan. [If] such restraint was exercised in planning the Afghan operation, it is hard to believe that Washington would act precipitately against Iraq." In fact, she says, "the more elaborate Washington's threats against Iraq have become, the less credible they seem."

Dejevsky writes: "In the cold light of day, the fact is that the U.S. is still engaged militarily in Afghanistan. Would it really open up a new and riskier front in Iraq?"


In Germany's "Handelsblatt," commentator Markus Ziener looks at the differing stances of the European Union and the U.S. toward Iran. Ziener writes that the European Union's foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who concluded a visit to Iran yesterday, has chosen a significant position to make clear the "deep current alienation existing between Europe and the U.S."

Whereas the U.S. has completely written off the Iranian reform movement, Ziener says, Solana is attempting to encourage the reformers and demonstrate Europe's independent policy toward Tehran.

Ziener, however, comments that "naturally, the Solana visit will not alter anything in the U.S.'s fundamental political aims." At the same time, he adds, "Washington would do well to study the European stance on Iran. For it is not only a question of trust or mistrust in the reform movement. The issue at stake is the postwar order, if [another] Gulf War is due." In which case, Ziener says, "Iran will play a key role, whether the U.S. likes it or not."

Ziener says he recognizes that Iran is one of three nations that U.S. President George W. Bush has labeled as part of an "axis of evil." Nevertheless, he concludes that Iran "is the only country among the rogue countries where there is a glimmer of democracy and pluralism, and in that lies the difference."


A "Los Angeles Times" editorial today says the former Soviet Central Asian republics are "marching backward politically, jailing opposition leaders or forcing them into exile, guarding against independent media that [are] a bulwark of democracy and a voice for those ruled."

Earlier this month, the Kazakh government sentenced opposition leader Mukhtar Abliyazov to six years in prison, claiming he abused his power while energy minister between 1997 and 1999. But his conduct as minister did not bother the authorities at all until November, the paper says, which is when Abliyazov "announced the formation of a new political movement calling for greater democracy and business freedom."

The "Los Angeles Times" says Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev "is one of a number of autocratic rulers hoping to leverage his support for the U.S. war against terrorism, so the U.S. will turn a blind eye as the clamps on potential political opponents are tightened."

It notes that Kazakhstan recently signed an agreement allowing U.S. military aircraft to land in the city of Almaty in emergencies. The paper says what Kazakhstan needs, as do other Central Asian republics, is "political openness." It suggests the Western world should do more to "push the autocratic rulers in that direction."


In Belgium's "Le Soir," Agnes Gorissen says it has often been repeated: U.S. President George W. Bush seeks a regime change in Baghdad. But she says the Bush administration must investigate other aspects of the "Iraqi question," notably the positions of the various global actors.

Gorissen says the European Union, with the exception of the British government, is unanimously opposed to military operations in Iraq -- not because they support Saddam Hussein, but because such a strike would be "irreconcilable with international law."

Washington cannot claim self-defense, she says, because the evidence linking Iraq to the 11 September attacks is meager. Arab and Muslim nations also oppose a U.S. strike, for the same reasons -- although they are also worried that it would destabilize the region by calling thousands of people into the streets to protest U.S. "aggression against an Arab brother."

Next, the Iraqi opposition must be considered, says Gorissen: Who would replace Saddam Hussein? The Iraqi opposition is divided among Sunni and Shiite Muslims, as well as other groups.

Finally, she says, Baghdad's position remains to refuse to admit weapons inspectors, because it suspects the U.S. and Britain will attack anyway.

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)