Prague, 9 September 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary and analysis in the Western press today is dominated by discussion of a potential U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, following a weekend meeting on the issue between U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Britain is viewed by many observers as being America's most staunch ally in the event of a war with Iraq, as most other U.S. allies are calling for a United Nations resolution to be issued before military action is taken. Much of the media also focuses on commemorating the 11 September attacks in the United States, as the one-year anniversary of the event approaches, as well as regaining a focus in Afghanistan.
An editorial in Britain's "Independent" notes that British Prime Minister Tony Blair says he and the U.S. president have a "shared strategy" for dealing with Iraq. The paper wryly remarks that they also have "a shared tactic for dealing with the growing reluctance of their respective publics to go to war." Both leaders have "cleverly" suggested "that the threat of a nuclear attack on their home populations is real and imminent."
Blair claimed there would be "direct implications" for Britain if Saddam Hussein acquired nuclear weapons. U.S. President George W. Bush cited the International Atomic Energy Agency as saying Iraq was six months away from nuclear capability -- something the IAEA, in fact, has not said. The paper adds that he U.S. Defense Department itself reported last year that "Iraq would need five or more years" to make an atomic bomb.
The "Independent" says both leaders "may have briefly obtained the headlines they wanted" with their misleading tactics, but the case for military action "is going to have to be more soundly based." Iraq has chemical and biological weapons and has tried to acquire nuclear weapons, the paper says. And the international community "has a responsibility to try to restrain him." But the editorial says to leap from agreement on these points to ordering an invasion "is to cross several bridges too far."
In Germany's "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," Wolfgang Koydl considers whether U.S. President George W. Bush is correct in his claims that Iraq possesses nerve gas, chemical weapons, and is close to obtaining nuclear arms.
Recalling past American policy toward the Soviet Union, which was characterized by farsightedness, Koydl claims that American policy is not based on wishful thinking this time, as has been claimed, but on a "bold vision" of a newly created Middle East, "where democracy, pluralism and well-being prevails." He says Bush is intent on toppling Saddam Hussein, which could be the first step toward undermining the rule of other dictators in the region.
Koydl goes on to qualify the underlying motives for U.S. interest in the Middle East. "The U.S. has never acted without considering the advantages for itself," he says. "But America's genius lies in its ability to combine its own interests with the well-being of others." When the U.S. benefits, other countries also enjoy prosperity, he says. "The world profits [from] pluralism and parliamentary democracy," as much as from more mundane material benefits. Perhaps the Arabs will also soon enjoy these fruits, Koydl says, provided Bush does not stray from his path.
THE WASHINGTON POST:
Two "Washington Post" columnists take opposing sides in the debate over a possible U.S.-led attack on Iraq. The daily's Sebastian Mallaby says: "Pretending that Saddam Hussein does not pose a threat is like pretending that global warming or global poverty poses no threat: It involves ignoring the evidence. Hussein has amassed biological and chemical weapons and seeks nuclear ones. He has proven his willingness to use this arsenal against Iran and against the Kurds. He has demonstrated his massive attachment to massively destructive weaponry by withstanding a decade of international pressure to get rid of it."
Mallaby says the Bush administration, "to its enormous credit," is willing to face this problem. He remarks that "All responses short of war have been attempted" by previous U.S. administrations. Under former President Bill Clinton, the U.S. "tried diplomacy, sanctions, air strikes and support for the internal opposition; none of this stopped Saddam Hussein from keeping his weapons." Mallaby concludes that "If you take the Iraqi threat seriously, it's hard to avoid the unpleasant conclusion that war may well be necessary."
THE WASHINGTON POST:
The "Post's" William Raspberry takes a different view. He calls the U.S. administration's focus on Saddam Hussein "monomaniacal," and suggests that America is transferring its anger toward the elusive Osama bin Laden to Saddam Hussein instead. He says a psychoanalytical interpretation would note that the Iraqi leader, "without having done much of anything since last September, has become immensely bigger and more menacing precisely as Osama bin Laden [has] become less available."
Raspberry questions why the U.S. is so urgently and single-mindedly focused on Iraq right now. He calls it "a little weird" that the U.S. is "willing to take lethal, potentially globally destabilizing action" on the mere surmise that Saddam Hussein either has such weapons or intends to use them against the United States. The U.S. "took no useful action in the face of pretty firm knowledge" to this effect before last September, he notes. Raspberry says the notion that the United States is the number-one Iraqi target is shaky "speculation." But that the U.S. "would be the principal target after an attack on Baghdad is beyond doubt. How, then, would such an attack reduce the threat of anti-American terrorism?" he asks.
THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE:
In the "Chicago Tribune," Steve Chapman says the United States is losing its focus on Afghanistan and is diluting its mission there by prematurely turning its attention to Iraq. He says: "Sometime in the last 12 months, the Bush administration let its attention be diverted from the country that spawned the worst terrorist act in our history to a nation that had nothing to do with it. Before it has really begun to rebuild Afghanistan, the United States government is moving toward a war that, if successful, would give us the additional responsibility of administering Iraq."
"Let's face it," writes Chapman. "Americans are a lot better at winning the war than securing the peace. We quickly accomplished most of our military mission in Afghanistan. Then we started looking for the exits."
Chapman asks, if the U.S. is hesitant to complete the task in Afghanistan, "despite our memories of Sept. 11, how will we handle the far bigger task that awaits us in Iraq?" Once the U.S. topples Saddam Hussein's regime, America will have to occupy Iraq "for years to make sure it doesn't dissolve into chaos." But confronted with this scenario, Chapman predicts the U.S. will feel "an irresistible impulse to do as little as possible" and get out as soon as it can -- as it usually does -- "without much regard for the consequences."
In France's "Liberation" daily, political analyst Christian Lequesne of the Center for International Studies and Research (CERI) remarks that history has made Europe more accustomed to terrorism than it has the United States. Europeans have, at various times, been forced to live with terrorism, he says, whether from the Basque separatist movement ETA or the pro-independence Irish Republican Army.
In addition, says Lequesne, the Cold War forced Europeans to grow used to living geographically close to an enemy just on the other side of the Iron Curtain. "The Cold War led Europeans to consider safety as a relative notion," he says. "While, for Americans, any outside threat to their security is considered intolerable, the Europeans seems more inclined to distinguish the unacceptable threats from those that are tolerable."
From this follows Europe's idea that one does not necessarily seek to annihilate an enemy at all costs, says Lequesne. One can also negotiate with enemies. This is part of the cultural gap between the trans-Atlantic allies, he says: Americans are inclined to believe that global security relies solely on the military capacity of the United States to annihilate its enemies by force. Hence the Bush administration's current policy on Iraq. But Europeans, on the contrary, "are quicker to favor persuasion over coercion, dialogue over [the use of] the cannon, in managing global security."
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG:
An editorial in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" considers several issues in light of German elections on 22 September. The commentary recalls the slogan made famous by former U.S. President Bill Clinton: "It's the economy, stupid." The paper says the same holds true for the German election campaign. The poor state of the economy and unemployment are placing German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's election bid in jeopardy. Nevertheless, Schroeder did regain some support in the television debate last night with his conservative challenger, Edmund Stoiber. Schroeder's gains in the poll can also be attributed to his role as the man that is protecting Germany from engaging in a U.S.-led war with Iraq.
The commentary, however, criticizes this stance, saying that differing opinions and conflicts of interest limit Germany's potential for having any influence on U.S. policy. The chancellor should have learned from French President Jacques Chirac how to act diplomatically in dissenting on this issue, the paper says.
Moreover, the commentary questions what Berlin will do if Saddam Hussein proves to be more dangerous than anticipated. Social Democrat leader Schroeder has placed the credibility of Germany's foreign policy in jeopardy in order to win popularity, it says. If he has miscalculated, the paper predicts, then he himself will suffer the consequences.
THE FINANCIAL TIMES:
A "Financial Times" editorial says at their weekend meeting, President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair were agreed in believing Iraq's Saddam Hussein is continuing to develop nuclear weapons, thus "posing an unacceptable threat to the world." At a corresponding meeting in Hanover, however, "President Jacques Chirac of France and Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of Germany underlined that a unilateral attack on Iraq by the U.S., even if backed by the U.K., would be unacceptable."
The paper says these two positions converge, however, "in suggesting a shared goal of eliminating the weapons of mass destruction still presumed to be part of Baghdad's arsenal; and agreeing that achieving this requires as a first step the return of United Nations weapons inspectors to Iraq."
The "FT" says the British prime minister "appears to have persuaded" the U.S. president "that international support can only be built by going the United Nations route. This would require a new Security Council resolution requiring Iraq to readmit inspectors within a short time frame, spelling out that the slightest hindrance to what would be intrusive searches would lead to military action."
Saddam Hussein "should be given the chance" to comply with renewed inspections, the paper says, emphasizing that this approach "is the only one with a chance of winning Arab and continental European backing."
THE INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE:
In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," David Phillips of the Council on Foreign Relations' Center for Preventive Action says if the United States "plays it smart, the UN Security Council will end up endorsing an agenda to disarm Iraq and depose Saddam [Hussein]." The U.S. president has a chance to make his case for UN approval when he addresses the General Assembly later this week (12 September).
Phillips says "Allowing the United Nations to take the lead would bring Britain and France solidly on board" with plans for military intervention in Iraq. He predicts that other countries would follow suit. Even the Arab world, he says, "would reconsider its recalcitrance toward regime change."
He says the United States can corner the Iraqi regime "by letting diplomacy run its course. Rather than a rush to arms, a carefully calibrated diplomatic strategy would address global concerns about American unilateralism, and advance the ultimate goal of regime change."
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:
In the "Wall Street Journal Europe," Robert Bartley discusses what the United States has learned as a result of the 11 September terrorist attacks. He says one thing learned is that the "character of remote regimes can become a life-and-death issue" for civilians halfway around the globe. "Technology continues to shrink the globe," he says. When the Taliban provided a base there for Osama bin Laden, "some 3,000 Americans paid with their lives. A high-tech society [provides] rich prey for terrorists."
Bartley says the U.S. also learned that "in the new epoch, America becomes a magnet for distant quarrels. A factional dispute in Wahhabi Islam erupts into death in downtown Manhattan." Technology is making weapons more dangerous, and the possibility exists that the next such event "will involve biological, chemical or even nuclear attacks."
Bartley says "the world has grown too small to tolerate" states that deal with terrorists, or that are seeking weapons of mass destruction, or that are ruled by what he terms "madmen." He says 11 September 2001 made clear that the modern world creates new opportunities for those that seek to do harm. But he says "if we cannot muster the resolve to keep it from happening again on a grander scale, we will have learned nothing at all."
(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)