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Western Press Review: Is An Attack On Iraq Imminent, Or Just One Of Many Options?

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 12 August 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Western media analysis and commentary today and over the weekend concentrates primarily on whether the United States will launch a military operation in Iraq. Several commentators question whether such action would improve global security or worsen it by destabilizing the Mideast region. Others question whether the administration of President George W. Bush has considered all the possible ramifications of its foreign policy.


An editorial today in "The New York Times" says the White House is acting as though the decision of whether to take up arms against Iraq is a "trivial concern" that can be ignored "in a rush to drive Saddam [Hussein] from power." But this, it says, "would be a terrible mistake." The U.S. president and the nation must "consider basic questions about Iraq and to address some of the critically important steps that Bush must take if he hopes to win U.S. and international support for a military campaign against Saddam."

The editorial remarks that rarely "in preparing for war has America seemed so isolated from potential military partners and allies as it does today in approaching Iraq." Both European and Arab leaders "have expressed strong misgivings" about the U.S. administration's intentions. "The New York Times" says if the U.S. does go to war, support from its allies "would help dissipate the impression abroad that the conflict was simply a grudge match between the Bush and Saddam clans. Without the help of allies," it adds, "securing a durable peace in Iraq would be especially difficult."


In a contribution to the "Los Angeles Times," Charles Duelfer of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and formerly of the UN Special Commission on Iraq, says the U.S. policy of "containing" Iraq is failing. But he emphasizes that the U.S. administration's stated goal of "regime change" in Iraq is "fundamentally a political -- not military -- action." He says the U.S. first needs to "formulate solid political goals and then design military actions aimed at furthering them."

The first objective, he says, should be to distance Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and his supporters from ordinary Iraqi citizens. But Washington also needs to make clear "that it does not seek to impose a handpicked leadership on Iraq: only to create circumstances where Iraqis can change their own leadership." Duelfer says "Iraqis and Iraqi institutions, including the army, should see their future as brighter under a different leader."

"Military planning then needs to be matched to these political objectives." Ideally, the Iraqi army would be convinced "that fighting for the current regime is not fighting for Iraq. Military targets must be selected to encourage such realizations." Duelfer says, "Careful coordination between political goals and military operations will significantly limit both lives lost and infrastructure damage."


In a contribution to the "Chicago Tribune," former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger says the time has come for the U.S. to clearly define "a comprehensive policy" on Iraq. He says "the case for removing Iraq's capacity of mass destruction is extremely strong," but a way "must be found to obtain adequate congressional and public support" for any chosen course. Kissinger calls the Bush administration's approach "revolutionary." He says regime change, "as a goal for military intervention, challenges the international system" and the principle of nonintervention in the internal affairs of other nations. "And the notion of justified pre-emption runs counter to international law, which sanctions the use of force in self-defense only against actual, not potential, threats." Therefore, he says, U.S. intervention in Iraq "will be supported only grudgingly, if at all, by most European allies."

Kissinger says while long-term U.S. strategy must address the legitimate causes of some of the resentments that feed terrorism, "immediate policy must demonstrate that a terrorist challenge or a systemic attack on the international order produces catastrophic consequences for the perpetrators." But any policy must be coupled "with a program of postwar reconstruction conveying to the rest of the world that our first pre-emptive war has been imposed by necessity and that we seek the world's interests, not exclusively our own."


In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," Martin Indyk of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution asks, "Does the Bush administration know what it is doing in the Middle East?"

Many of the administration's statements contradict the actions of its officials, Indyk remarks. Why did U.S. administration senior advisers meet last week with a Palestinian Authority senior adviser, a full-fledged member of the very Palestinian leadership that President George W. Bush has insisted must be replaced? Why also has there been no criticism from the U.S. of Egypt's sentencing of pro-democracy advocate Saad Eddin Ibrahim to seven years of hard labor? As a professed champion of global democracy, America's silence seems misplaced.

"These contradictions might be explained and rationalized," Indyk says. But this will not alter "their net effect." Indyk notes that in the Middle East, vital oil interests intersect with the war on terrorism. Additionally, the region is "seething with anger toward the United States."

Credibility "is essential to [U.S.] effectiveness there. But the administration's lack of coherence, and the widening gap between its rhetoric and its actions, are casting doubt on that credibility." Indeed, he says, "the randomness of American rhetoric on the Middle East is becoming its most distinctive pattern."


In a "Los Angeles Times" piece, syndicated columnist William Pfaff says U.S. President Bush "is talking himself into a position where he will have to go to war, even though there is no convincing argument that war would be good for the United States, or even good for Bush."

The U.S. military, he says, is "certainly not convinced that war is a good idea." The U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff "are wary of a war whose objectives -- beyond Saddam Hussein's overthrow -- remain murky, and for whose aftermath no serious policy exists." Pfaff says the generals are against war but the administration's "amateurs are for it." Pfaff asks, "Who among the neo-conservative polemicists and op-ed writers baying for war [in Iraq] has personally spilled blood, or seen it spilled...?"

The U.S. president himself was never at risk of fighting in combat in Vietnam, thanks to his father's political connections. And the leading hawks in the Bush administration "made their records as Defense Department bureaucrats." Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld flew for the Navy during peacetime, but Pfaff points out that "the only administration heavyweight who has actually fought in a war is [Secretary of State] Colin Powell, and he is the Bush administration's leading dove."


In Germany's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," Nikolas Busse says polls show "more support for a common European foreign policy, including a defense component, than for other big projects, including the euro and European Union expansion."

Yet Europe's "fledgling diplomacy rarely fulfills such lofty expectations," he says. "The EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy, which officially came into being in the early 1990s, has had only one great moment -- when Macedonia was on the edge of war last summer, the European states stopped bickering and let their foreign affairs representative, Javier Solana, represent the EU." But the EU's mediation efforts in the Mideast "failed dismally," he says.

France and Britain have concluded that the EU needs a presidency, while Germany rejects this approach. But Busse says "the idea of creating a European president stands a greater chance of advancing European unification than many other recent proposals. EU foreign policy suffers from a lack of continuity, with a different member state speaking on behalf of the EU every six months owing to the EU's rotating presidency."

He says an EU president "with a five-year tenure could bundle many of these activities together and ensure continuity." Nor, he adds, should one underestimate the symbolic value of a common European president.


In "The Washington Times," editor-at-large Arnaud de Borchgrave discusses a recent briefing by Laurent Murawiecz of the Rand Corporation think tank, in which Murawiecz warned that Saudi Arabia is the most dangerous Mideast regime and a supporter of terrorism. Murawiecz suggested that the United States should take a hard line with the Saudis and threaten to occupy its oil fields by force if it does not cease funding and supporting terrorists.

De Borchgrave says: "Someone, somewhere has taken leave of his/her critical faculties." Launching an offensive in Saudi Arabia to secure its oil fiends could trigger "whirlwinds of tempestuous fire from Malaysia to Morocco," he says. Murawiecz's characterization of Saudi Arabia as the region's "kernel of evil" is "twaddle in all its splendor," he adds. Saudi Arabia is not as devout a U.S. ally as Britain, de Borchgrave says, but it "has stood by the U.S. in countless geopolitical crises."

While the House of Saud's support for its fundamentalist Wahhabi clergy is a problem, the answer is "not a U.S. occupation of the Saudi oil fields, but the democratization of an absolute monarchy and its rapid evolution to a constitutional monarchy." De Borchgrave says Saudi Arabia is suffering from what he calls "geopolitical schizophrenia," but "the remedy is not an invasion add-on to Iraq."


An editorial in France's daily "Le Monde" says a judicial-political battle is going on in the United States that should interest all democracies, as it addresses the essential question of liberty versus security. So far, the overwhelming majority of Americans have approved of the way the Bush administration is handling the war against Islamic terrorism. But a limit may soon be crossed, the paper says, and Americans are sounding the alarm. Certain judges, the country's lawyers' organizations, and civil liberties association are on the front line. Some have already objected to the treatment of prisoners on Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the detainment of hundreds of unnamed people, who were denied representation, in the weeks following the 11 September attacks. But the U.S. administration wants to go further, the paper says. It wants to be able to detain anyone designated an "enemy combatant" without allowing for legal representation or being charged with a specific crime, depriving him or her of all civilian rights.

"Le Monde" says this strikes at the heart of American democracy and its balance of power, which is designed to guard against an unlimited expansion of the executive (presidential) branch. The editorial says the true representative of American democracy in this battle is not Attorney General (Justice Minister) John Ashcroft, but the dissenting judges and organizations. And they should win, the paper says.


"The Washington Times" discusses the 5 August demonstrations "in virtually every major Iranian city" against the theocratic regime of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Iranian civil unrest "is one of the least-reported stories today, and one that deserves much more attention," the paper says. Developments in the Middle East cannot be ignored, it says.

Khamenei's regime seems to be "increasingly isolated and vulnerable," and the world is right to distinguish between those who support his regime and "the many Iranians who wish for the return of the constitutional government they had before the 1979 revolution." But what policy should the West pursue? the paper asks. Should financial assistance be given to the opposition, or to covert action? All policy options should be debated, says the paper. And while the opposition's strength is growing, Western policy should be more active. The paper asks, "If, as it appears, most Iranians want freedom, and by achieving it they will rid the world of a dangerous terrorist regime, how best can we help them accomplish their objective?"