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Western Press Review: Debating The 'Blair Dossier,' German-U.S. Relations And The Mideast

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 25 September 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Much of the commentary in the Western media today discusses the case for war with Iraq, presented yesterday by British Prime Minister Tony Blair in the House of Commons. Commentators differ over whether Blair presented a convincing argument for preemptive military action or if the "Blair Dossier" merely restates the rationale heard in the past.

Other analysis looks at German-U.S. relations, following the German chancellor's narrow reelection victory on what has been called an anti-U.S. platform. Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder pledged that Germany would refuse to take part in any U.S.-led military action in Iraq -- a move that seemed to contribute to strengthening Schroeder's support in the polls. Other analysts take a look at the situation in the Middle East and the stumbling blocks to war crimes prosecutions in Croatia.

THE NEW YORK TIMES:

"The New York Times" Patrick Tyler says British Prime Minister Tony Blair's presentation in the House of Commons yesterday "makes an explicit and extensive case" that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has been attempting to rebuild the weapons arsenal that he possessed at the time of the Gulf War.

Tyler says that although many in the U.S. and Europe "will not see this as adequate cause to go to war," the report seems "clearly intended to make a strong case for the urgent return of inspectors" equipped with "the necessary pressure to force Iraqi cooperation."

The British intelligence report said the Iraqi leader has attempted to purchase uranium supplies in Africa; has chemical and biological weapons deployable within 45 minutes; and has a missile range that enables him "to strike cities and oil installations in neighboring countries."

The dossier also contains "a great deal of information that was previously known," says Tyler. It "confirmed that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction posed no discernible or imminent threat to the United States." However, U.S. regional allies -- including Israel, Kuwait, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia -- do fall within the missile range that Iraq is developing.

Tyler says that essentially, Blair's report advocates "robust [UN] inspections, backed by the implied or explicit threat of force."

THE IRISH TIMES:

An "Irish Times" editorial today says that in order for British Prime Minister Tony Blair to justify preemptive military action against Iraq, the case he presented yesterday at the House of Common had to make "an unanswerable case" containing three elements -- that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is in repeated breach of Security Council resolutions, is accumulating weapons of mass destruction, and is planning to use them.

The first of these contentions "is indisputable," the paper says, as Iraq is in breach of several UN resolutions.

On the second, Blair has presented a case that is "broadly convincing" that Saddam Hussein is seeking to accumulate mass weapons.

But the paper says it is on the third contention that Blair "has failed yet to convince." Blair stated "that the policy of containment has clearly failed. True. Iraq has flouted some 14 UN resolutions with impunity. But conventional deterrence, the other half of the old policy, has yet to be exposed as ineffective."

That the Iraqi leader plans to use any weapons he may have has yet to be determined. The "Irish Times" says Blair has "[produced] evidence that justifies the insistence by the Security Council on the immediate return of UN inspectors to Iraq. Should their work be obstructed again, it will be Iraq itself which may provide Mr. Blair with the last unanswerable strand of his case."

THE WASHINGTON POST:

In a contribution to the "Washington Post," Ivo Daalder of the Brookings Institution says that newly reelected German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's campaign pledge that Germany would not take part in a U.S.-led military venture in Iraq, even if mandated by the UN, was "politically shrewd." Schroeder "was down in the polls just six weeks before the elections by almost 10 points, and his strong opposition to U.S. policy helped him climb back on top."

But Daalder says this "raises an important question: Why did Schroeder believe that opposing Bush on Iraq would help him politically? Part of the answer clearly is that the pacifist streak runs deep in Germany. But part is surely also that American policies over the past 18 months have helped create a climate in which politicians believe it pays for them to run against America."

Writes Daalder, "From global warming to the Middle East, biological weapons to the International Criminal Court, the Bush administration has pursued policies that ignored German, and European, concerns. And it has often done so with little or no consultation."

This unilateralism has "convinced many that, on Iraq, the United States is more interested in getting rid of [Saddam] Hussein than enforcing Iraq's compliance with UN resolutions."

In Germany at least, he says, the costs of U.S. unilateralism are now evident. President George W. Bush "needs to understand that gaining support for his policies requires give-and-take over the substance."

FRANKFURTRER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG:

A "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" editorial today looks at the issue of war crimes and justice in the Balkans. The commentary notes that trials for war crimes are fraught with "long procedures, are full of obstacles and demand enormous effort." The UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague, responsible for trying crimes committed in the Balkan war of the 1990s, is playing "a pioneering role" in this endeavor. However, some accuse the court of having an anti-Serb bias, as many of the accused perpetrators of Balkan war crimes are Serbian.

On the other hand, Croatia was willing to cooperate with the court until it became a question of handing over General Janko Bobetko. Bobetko, 83, has been linked to alleged war crimes committed during the Croatian army incursion into territory held by rebel Serbs in an area called the Medak Pocket in 1993.

The Croatian government has refused to hand him over. The paper says that, whether he proves to be innocent or only partially to blame, he must be subject to proper legal procedures. And there should be no question of allowing for a preconceived blanket insurance of his immunity from the court.

THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE:

In a contribution to the "Chicago Tribune," Gary Geipel of the Hudson Institute says German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's campaign stance against a U.S.-led attack on Iraq was a political "masterstroke." Germans and most other Europeans want Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein "ousted, but they do not want to put their own weak forces on the line. Schroeder found a way to have it both ways. Expect him to 'clarify' his position in the coming weeks by offering verbal backing to a U.S.-led coalition against Iraq without sending any German military units to the war," Geipel predicts.

In practical terms, he says, European governments are offering the U.S. all they can, both politically and militarily. "Schroeder, and the millions of Europeans who see the world as he does, will not relieve the U.S. of major military burdens and in their diminished state will need to be consulted and cajoled even when America seeks nothing more than moral support. But consult and cajole we must. The Europeans, like no other potential allies, share America's values. They organize their societies as we do, around commitments, democratic institutions, free markets and individual rights."

Without Europe, the U.S. is "alone -- feared perhaps, but much more easily discounted and perhaps even defeated by those who reject the aspirations of freedom."

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU:

Peter Nonnenmacher in the "Frankfurter Rundschau" examines the relationships between Germany, the U.S., and Britain, in the aftermath of the reelection of German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, following a campaign that undermined Germany's relations with the United States. Schroeder's popularity jumped after he stressed Germany's refusal to participate in any military action to topple Iraq's Saddam Hussein.

Nonnenmacher cites British Prime Minister Tony Blair as saying both U.S. President George W. Bush and Schroeder deserve some credit. This statement was prompted by Schroeder's visit to London yesterday, during which Blair assured him of his political support while making clear that he also intended to support U.S. policy on Iraq.

Blair undertook a "risky balancing act," says Nonnenmacher, as the prime minister met with applause from the conservatives in the House of Commons and opposition among his Labour Party in presenting the dossier that was to prove the threat posed by Iraq and weapons of mass destruction.

While he was "all smiles" for the German leader, says Nonnenmacher, there can be no doubt of Blair's firm stand on Iraq policy. He stands squarely behind the U.S. policy, and should the UN fail to enforce its own resolutions on Iraq, Blair is willing to pursue another, perhaps military, solution.

HANDELSBLATT:

An opinion piece by Markus Ziener in the German financial paper "Handelsblatt" sees a deep rift developing between Germany and the U.S.

Ziener says: "This election victory casts a long shadow. Gerhard Schroeder risked much for his success, possibly too much. The chancellor has risked too much in the German-U.S. relationship in order to stay in power. This is something new in German election campaigns," he says.

And this situation does not benefit Schroeder's re-election. "The central theme of Germany's foreign policy -- the ties with its partner across the Atlantic -- are heavily damaged, and it will take a great deal to mend these fences."

THE WASHINGTON TIMES:

In "The Washington Times," Helle Dale of the Heritage Foundation, a U.S.-based think tank, says what was interesting about the German election was not the anti-American flavor of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's winning campaign. What was "truly interesting," she says, is what it says about Germany of the 21st century: "This 'new' Germany has no qualms about breaking ranks with its European Union allies on foreign policy when it feels like it, specifically over Iraq in this case, throwing the EU's aspirations for a common foreign and defense policy out the window."

Nor does the re-elected German chancellor "think much of the United Nations and its resolutions. Even with a UN mandate, Germany will not go along with [U.S. President] George Bush's Iraqi 'adventure,' Mr. Schroeder has promised. No German boys will die in the sand. This is hardly the posture of a leader making a serious bid for German permanent membership on the Security Council," Dale remarks.

THE INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE:

In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," Irene Khan of Amnesty International says the human rights situation in Iraq "is being invoked with unusual frequency by some Western political leaders to justify military action. This selective attention to human rights is nothing but a cold and calculated manipulation of the work of human rights activists."

These same Western governments "turned a blind eye to Amnesty International's reports of widespread human rights violations in Iraq before the Gulf War. They remained silent when thousands of unarmed Kurdish civilians were killed in Halabja in 1988."

Khan says the people of Iraq have continued to suffer at the hands of the Iraqi government, but they have "also borne the brunt of the United Nations sanctions regime since 1990. Sanctions have jeopardized the right to food, health, education and, in many cases, life for hundreds of thousands of individuals, many of them children."

She says claims that the Iraqi government "is deliberately manipulating the sanctions regime for propaganda purposes" does not absolve the UN Security Council from its share of the responsibility for failing to heed the calls to lift all sanctions provisions that result in "grave violations of the rights of the Iraqi population."

THE INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE:

In a separate contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," Middle East analyst Henry Siegman of the Council on Foreign Relations calls the suicide bombings of Palestinian extremists targeting Israeli civilians a "moral obscenity." But the ideas of "those in Israel who seek to exploit this [to] extend and deepen Israel's hold on the territories" are "also obscene," he says. It creates a situation that can only lead to the unjust expulsion or permanent subjugation of Palestinian residents.

Siegman says Israel's policy remains fixated on the hatred of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and has deliberately "resorted to measures that undercut Palestinians who seek to abandon violence and resume a political dialogue."

Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon "demanded seven days of quiet before returning to a political process. Six weeks of Palestinian quiet -- a period also marked by an unprecedented Palestinian debate about the immorality and political bankruptcy of Palestinian terrorism -- elicited not a single Israeli move away from its reliance on overwhelming military suppression."

The curfews and forced closings remained, he says. During this period, Israeli forces "killed 75 Palestinians, most of them civilians." Siegman says: "It is difficult to imagine a move better calculated to discredit Palestinians seeking to repudiate Hamas and Islamic Jihad and end the violence."

THE NEW YORK TIMES:

In "The New York Times," Thomas Friedman cites Israeli defense analysts as saying suicide bombings will only end if Palestinian political and spiritual leaders delegitimize the practice, and "only if their security forces and intelligence agencies are mobilized to prevent it." Therefore, he says, Israelis should "find the right pressures and incentives to get the Palestinians themselves to stop the bombings."

"Unfortunately," writes Friedman, "that message does not seem to have reached Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon," who, Friedman says, "has never had a plan for how to reach a stable accommodation with the Palestinians, is only interested in making the West Bank safe for Israeli settlers to stay [and] is going to lead Israel into a dead end [and] will take America along for the ride."

Sharon has not succeeded in making Israeli citizens safer, says Friedman. He has dismissed Yasser Arafat as "irrelevant," destroyed his security apparatus, and announced that Israel would ensure its own security in the West Bank. But when Palestinian suicide bombers commit more attacks, Sharon bombards Arafat's headquarters as if Arafat "sent the bombers himself."

Friedman says it makes no sense for Sharon to treat Arafat as if he is -- at the same time -- both "totally irrelevant and totally responsible."

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

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