Accessibility links

Western Press Review: Seeking Clarity On Iraq, Russian-Georgian Tensions, Europe's Muslims

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 9 August 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The debate continues in the Western press today over a possible U.S. military operation in Iraq. As an attack seems increasingly likely, several commentators call on the U.S. administration to sort out the details and drum up allied support. Other issues considered today include tensions between Russia and Georgia, Serbia's splintering opposition party, and Europe's growing Muslim community.


British Prime Minister Tony Blair is beginning to have doubts regarding U.S. plans to attack Iraq, says Rachel Sylvester in Britain's "The Independent" daily. Blair is widely considered Europe's staunchest American supporter on foreign policy issues, but Sylvester says doubts are growing within his administration about a U.S.-led mission to effect an Iraqi "regime change." However, she acknowledges there may also be an element of self-interest in Blair's attempt to play down his support for U.S. plans. The prime minister could face "a massive revolt from his own MPs [members of parliament]" if he sends troops to Iraq.

There are now "genuine and growing tensions" between the U.S. and British administrations over how to deal with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, says Sylvester. Blair is "increasingly worried about the practicalities of any attack and irritated by the lack of clarity emanating from Washington." The British prime minister "sees himself as a crucial 'bridge' between Europe and America. But, on Iraq, the two continents are further apart than ever." Without a "clear game plan" from America, she says, Blair is beginning to wonder whether the "special relationship" between Britain and America "is too much of a one-way street."


In "The Washington Post," columnist George Will says U.S. action in Iraq may be justified but the U.S. Congress must formally declare war first, as stipulated by the U.S. Constitution. He says surely none of the 537 members of Congress, "all sworn to defend the Constitution, believes that the sort of force contemplated for 'regime change' in Iraq can properly be launched without recorded votes by both [upper and lower] houses."

He says while U.S. presidents have conducted war in the past without official congressional approval, "the Iraqi matter is different." Will says "the justifiable, but undeniably radical, policy of preemptive war" demands that Congress plays a major role. "What is underway is without precedent in U.S. history," he says. "It is a methodical and semi-public preparation for a massive military operation [to] compel a change of regime in a nation that is intensely and increasingly menacing." Preemptive action, he says, is justified in this case by the principle of "anticipatory self-defense."

Will concludes that "War of the sort being contemplated is not the sort of plunge into uncertainty that a prudent president wants to embark upon alone," even if the Constitution permitted it.


Germany's "Die Welt" today considers the Serbian political scene ahead of presidential elections on 29 September. As there is less and less unity in the country, it seems moderately nationalist President Vojislav Kostunica is gaining political ground at the expense of the reform-orientated government Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition.

DOS has decided on Deputy Prime Minister Miroslav Labus as their presidential candidate, but he has still not been officially endorsed. The commentary says if the party continues to fragment, then Kostunica -- who has been running a very close tie with Labus, according to opinion poles -- will see his chances of victory increase.

"Die Welt" notes that there is also the chance of early parliamentary elections, which it says would further weaken the reform camp centered around Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic.


A "Los Angeles Times" editorial today notes that as the United States considers toppling Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, European allies "are becoming increasingly jittery." The paper says that unless U.S. President George W. Bush genuinely involves U.S. allies in the decision-making, he "risks splintering NATO over the most momentous issue it has faced since the end of the Cold War."

The editorial says that some hawks within the U.S. administration "dismiss the Europeans as little more than wimps and maintain that the U.S. can do the job by itself. But the value of having the European allies on board should not be underestimated," the paper maintains. "A unilateral American action would set a dangerous precedent for India, China or Russia to launch their own wars. There are also immediate practical advantages: Should a war be successfully concluded, European peacekeepers could help reconstruct Iraq."

The paper concludes: "The war on terror can be prosecuted much more effectively with the allies than against them. If Bush truly believes that Saddam must be removed, he needs to make the case not only at home but abroad."


The "International Herald Tribune" carries a contribution by Francis Fukuyama, author and professor of international political economy at Johns Hopkins University in Washington. Fukuyama says that while radical Islamism represents an ideological challenge to Western liberal democracy, in the end, "modernization and globalization will remain the central structuring principles of world politics."

But another important question is now emerging, he says: Is the idea of "the West" really a unified, coherent concept? Or is there a growing divide, not between "the West and the Rest," but between the United States and the rest of the world?

There are stark differences between America and other Western nations, says Fukuyama. Europe values a "rule-based international order," in which the will of the international community matters more than any individual state. Europeans believe supranational institutions are the best way to avoid nationalist conflicts, such as those that characterized the last century.

Americans, by contrast, "tend not to see any source of democratic legitimacy higher than [the] democratic nation-state." Thus the unilateral announcement that the U.S. would seek regime change in Iraq, alone if necessary. But Fukuyama says Europeans "are horrified by the announcement of a virtually open-ended doctrine of preemption [in] which the United States alone decides when and where to use force."

Fukuyama concludes by saying that the new U.S.-European rift is not just a transitory problem but indicates two fundamentally differing views within Western civilization of the nature of democratic legitimacy.


Matthias Rueb in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" discusses White House doubts concerning its Iraq policy. Even though after the 11 September attacks President Bush was empowered by the U.S. Congress to use "all necessary and appropriate means against nations or organizations in the war against terrorism," he now says an attack on Iraq is subject to consultations with Congress and U.S. allies.

In spite of differing opinions within the American military, the commentary says this does not mean that the anticipated attack on Iraq has "blown over."

Nevertheless, the situation is complex, says Rueb. Unlike the all-out support accorded to the U.S. in the Gulf War of 1991 to drive Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, which the UN mandated -- and unlike the war in Afghanistan after the September attacks -- there is little backing for toppling Saddam in a possibly protracted solo U.S. war, which could lead to considerable loss of life.

The difficulties of dealing with the aftermath of such a war pose an entirely different set of problems, Rueb adds.


An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" looks at Russia's claims that Chechen rebels have been crossing the border into Georgia and using the Pankisi Gorge as a base of operations. The paper says Georgia has dealt with Russia's accusations of harboring "terrorists" for years.

Georgia is "understandably unwilling" to give Russia an opportunity to justify military intervention on its territory, as the paper says the latest tensions are not about terrorism at all. Rather, they are part of Russia's "long-standing desire to reassert control over its Westward-looking former satellite."

The issue, says the paper, is "a serious flaw in Moscow's worldview. It still dreams of former SSRs (Soviet Socialist Republics), such as Georgia and Moldova -- another unwilling host to Russian military bases -- as subordinates. Given that fact, and a Russian military itching for a fight it can win to distract attention from its embarrassing and bloodstained record in Chechnya, it's no wonder the Georgians are nervous," the paper says.

The editorial suggests that as Russia "recasts its relationship with the West, Moscow needs to re-evaluate its attitude toward its former Soviet vassals."


The British-based weekly "The Economist" discusses the multimillion-strong and growing Muslim population in Europe. Most Muslims integrate successfully into Western societies, says the magazine. They "work hard, hold strict family values [and] submit readily to the laws of the land."

But there are some problems as well, the magazine says, some of which affect all immigrants. Many immigrants tend to come from poor, rural areas. They suffer from discrimination, and difficulties with the host country's language may make finding work difficult. Often, these factors prompt them to withdraw into their own world, surrounded by others like them.

"The Economist" calls on governments to take steps to increase Muslims' integration into their European host societies. They "must be given citizenship, the right to vote and all other rights that other citizens enjoy." Moreover, "common-sense policies like language-teaching, job-creation schemes and anti-discrimination programs" must be promoted.

The magazine says for those that are "disaffected or alienated from society," religion can often provide "a potent, and not necessarily benign, kind of solace."


France's "Le Monde" discusses Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's warning to the United States yesterday. Faced with the possibility of a U.S. operation to topple his regime, Saddam warned the Americans that such a mission would end in what he called a "shameful disaster" for them, adding that Iraq stood ready to fight to the death against any foreign invader. But the same day, Saddam also restated his proposition for a "peaceful" and "fair" dialogue with the UN, and again asked the Security Council to lift economic sanctions against Iraq.

For its part, the U.S. administration has attempted to reassure the rest of the world that it would duly consult Congress before taking military action. Moreover, it emphasized that no final decision has been made regarding possible American intervention in Baghdad. But U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney did explain that the return of inspectors to Iraq would not alleviate American anxieties regarding Iraq's weapons program.

"Le Monde" says Washington's allies appear hesitant to support a U.S. mission to effect "regime change" in Iraq. Arab nations in particular -- unlike during the 1991 Gulf War, to which many lent their support -- are apprehensive about the possible consequences of U.S. action.

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