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Western Press Review: Looking Past A War With Iraq To The Consequences Beyond

  • Daisy Sindelar

Prague, 16 September 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary and analysis in today's Western press continues the debate over U.S. desires to drum up world support for a campaign to depose Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.


A commentary in "The New York Times" suggests: "Whatever one's stance on how best to handle Saddam Hussein, it is crucial to understand one thing: United Nations inspections, as they are currently constituted, will never work."

The authors -- Gary Milhollin of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control and Kelly Motz of the Internet publication -- cite the failures of past inspectors. They write: "While the [United Nations Special Commission, or Unscom] did manage to destroy tons of missiles and chemical and biological weapons, it could not complete the job. Iraqi obfuscations prevented it from ever getting a full picture of the entire weapons production effort. The commission's replacement, the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (Unmovic), which has not yet been allowed to enter Iraq, will have even less success given its structure and policies."

Even if Unmovic inspectors are allowed into Iraq, the authors say, it will be years before they could build up the level of experience possessed by Unscom. Even after "years of practice," Milhollin and Motz say, "Unscom became adept at launching surprise visits to weapons sites, yet Iraq's intelligence operatives defeated it more often than not. It was a rare inspection when the Iraqis did not know what the inspectors were looking for before they arrived."

In the end, they say, inspectors can only do one thing well -- confirm whether a country's declarations about its weapons programs are true and complete. "It is feasible for inspectors to look at sites and equipment to see whether the official story about their use is accurate," they say. "It is a different proposition altogether to wander about a country looking for what has been deliberately concealed. That is a task with no end."

For inspections to work, the Iraqis must be truthful about the extent of their weapons programs. As long as Saddam Hussein remains in power, Milhollin and Motz conclude, "that is not likely to happen."


In "The Washington Post," columnist Sebastian Mallaby writes that the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush has been "justly" criticized for fighting a war in Afghanistan and then "fumbling" the reconstruction. If they repeat this formula in Iraq, he says, "their mistake won't be equivalent. It will be worse, much worse. Indeed, it will undermine the whole argument for attacking Iraq in the first place." He adds: "There can be no victory in Iraq unless the United States sticks around to ensure that the successor to Hussein is better."

Iraq, Mallaby argues, was a "dangerous, brutal place" before Hussein. Past tensions arose from the country's internal divisions among Kurds, Sunnis, and Shiites. In a post-Hussein Iraq, he says, "these ethnic tensions will not disappear. They will threaten the country with chaos, and that chaos is likely to provoke yet another round of fierce crackdowns by yet another strongman." Moreover, he adds, "the destruction of civil society under Hussein has left few viable institutions other than the army. That doesn't augur well for the democracy that Bush promises."

All of which -- Mallaby says -- raises questions about the wisdom of regime change. Unlike the Afghan war, with its clear mandate to remove the terrorist threat, a war in Iraq might "replace one nuclear-[hopeful] America-hating tyrant with another." Attacking Iraq makes sense only if the U.S. is committed to helping create an attractive alternative to Hussein. Mallaby concludes that: "Given a sufficient effort, Iraq's dark history can be bucked. But Bush will have to discover an appetite for nation-building that he has lacked until now."


An editorial in Britain's "The Guardian" daily says "the fact that every global recession in the past 30 years has been preceded first by a crisis in the Middle East and then a spike in the oil price does little to reassure those fretting over the economic consequences of a war on Iraq." The world's financial observers seem to be opting for a view that a strike against Hussein would be more of a "burden" than a "boon."

The reason, says the editorial, is oil: "A battle-scarred Iraq [will] not instantly produce millions of barrels of oil, despite the country's extensive reserves." Moreover, "if the Iraqis lashed out at Saudi Arabian and Kuwaiti installations, crude [could] end up costing $100 a barrel." This will hurt oil consumers and producers alike.

All this would come at a time when all the world's economies are headed for a downturn. The editorial says: "American consumers are still spending on cheap Jeeps and property, but the stock market is slipping ominously downwards." And if the U.S. economy is spluttering, other economic superpowers are sinking. Europe is struggling to export goods, and consumers appear reluctant to spend. Japan, the land of falling prices and wages, appears incapable of reviving its own fortunes, let alone the world's.

The editorial notes that no one recession is the same as the last, and that it is impossible to predict with any certainty which way this downturn will go. It notes, however, that "rising oil prices at first spark inflation, but end up being deflationary by reducing purchasing power. These two conditions could usher in a very different downturn -- one which policymakers have not dealt with in Britain since the 1920s and in the U.S. since the 1930s." The editorial concludes: "War will do more harm than good to the U.S. economy, and it is foolish to suggest otherwise."


An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal" today comments on Russian President Vladimir Putin's tacit offer to go along with a U.S. attack on Iraq in return for a "global wink" at Russian military intervention in southern neighbor Georgia.

The paper writes that equating Iraq with Georgia is preposterous and that Moscow is trying to punish Georgia precisely for trying to cooperate with the West, in part by letting U.S. forces train and equip Georgian military to fight rebels from Chechnya.

"The Wall Street Journal" says Washington must now define its "preemptive doctrine" and could take a first step by drawing a line between the different cases of "peaceful" Georgia and Iraq, which is ruled by a "lunatic dictator."


A Stratfor commentary says Washington and Moscow appear to be discussing a deal in which Russia would agree to a U.S. attack on Iraq in the UN Security Council in exchange for Washington's nod toward a Russian counterterrorist operation in Georgia.

Stratfor says the deal would seal Iraq's fate, removing a major obstacle in the way of a U.S. offensive, while allowing Russia the possibility of finishing its ongoing war in the breakaway region of Chechnya.

However, the long-term consequences of such a deal could be damaging, Stratfor writes. Russia could spark a civil war in Georgia, while Washington -- no longer dependent on Moscow for approval on Iraq -- would likely pressure the Kremlin to withdraw its forces from Georgia, causing relations between Russia and the West to suffer.


Commentator Robert Harris, writing in Britain's "The Independent," says both British Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.S. President Bush used the occasion of the first anniversary of the 11 September terrorist attacks to drum up support for a war initiative in Iraq.

But, Harris writes, "a careful study of the words of both leaders suggests that, despite all the efforts of Western intelligence -- and Western journalism -- there is still no direct evidence linking Iraq to the horrors of September 11."

Harris argues that if Western democracies have proved "astonishingly successful" over the past 90 years in defeating military dictators, it is because they are, essentially, peace-loving countries. "Again and again," he writes, "it is the very fact that the other side has landed the first blow that has given the democracies the moral strength to go on to defeat their enemies."

Bush and Blair, Harris hypothesizes, might argue that Iraq is such a menace that it would be "irresponsible" to wait to see if it decides to act. But he asks: "Where is the evidence that Saddam [Hussein] is secretly planning an assault on civilian populations in Europe or America? He has never done so before."

He continues: "He can't kill us all in a first strike. He must know that if he ever did try to mount a September 11-style atrocity, he and his regime would be dismantled as quickly and thoroughly as the Taliban was in Afghanistan. So why would he want to do it? Supposedly because he's 'evil.'" This, Harris concludes, "is the psychology of the comic book."


Heiko Flottau looks at the situation in the Middle East in today's "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" and says "the Arab world is too weak to determine its own future." He goes on to explain: The rulers in Riyadh and Cairo, Damascus and Amman seem "to have been turned into stone" as they observe how their long-term defender in Washington is forging war plans. The well-behaved Arab League welcomes U.S. President George W. Bush's incorporation of the Security Council to acquire a license to attack Iraq -- a reaction that amounts to little more than "obsequious congratulations."

The Arab states, like so many others, are helpless in the face of an American ultimatum. But the difference, says Flottau, is that the Arab world "had every justification for dealing with the Saddam Hussein problem." The main reason, however, that the Arabs tolerate Saddam Hussein, who has held power for 23 years, is because they themselves, although not dictators of the same caliber, rule "with very thin democratic legitimization." This means that they can hardly force "their colleague" to resign.

Meanwhile, the United States is launching an ever more forceful campaign against those Arab leaders who are becoming ever less acceptable. Saddam Hussein is the first in line, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat the second, and perhaps Syria's Bashar al-Assad the next. Even the Saudis, whom the Americans have long protected, may incur American displeasure.

Many Arab statesmen criticize American diplomacy, but the paper writes that if the Arabs wish to determine their own fate then they have to be strong. The path to that goal is "long and stony." Therefore President Bush is able "to lead them by the nose at his own discretion."

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