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Western Press Review: A 'Reality Check' For America And Is War In Iraq Now Imminent?

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 4 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Discussion in the Western press today continues to focus on the anticipated return of United Nations weapons inspectors to Iraq and what might happen if Baghdad falls short of allowing them "unfettered" access. As the UN debates a new U.S.-supported draft resolution sanctioning the use of force if Iraq fails to comply, some commentators ask, is a U.S.-led military action in Iraq now imminent?


In "The Independent," columnist Robert Fisk says the United States is using the "same old trap" with Iraq that NATO used with Serbia before its 1999 bombing campaign. When an ultimatum is designed to ensure it won't be accepted, he says, it amounts to a declaration of war.

The U.S.-supported draft version of a new UN resolution states that weapons inspectors will have the right to establish "ground and air-transit corridors" through Iraq, which would then be enforced by the UN or by members of the Security Council. Fisk says the United States, as a Security Council member, would thus have its troops in Iraq. "It would be an invasion without war," he says, the end of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and just what the U.S. has been pushing for: "regime change."

This would be the end of Iraqi sovereignty, says Fisk. And no Iraqi government -- even one not headed by Saddam Hussein -- "could ever accept such a demand." He says the UN draft is "proof" that America wants a war. "[If] the United States truly wished to avoid war, it could demand 'unfettered access' for inspectors without this sovereignty-busting paragraph." Fisk concludes that the new draft resolution "is intended to give us war, rather than peace and security from weapons of mass destruction."


Martin Woollacott writes in the British daily "The Guardian" that the U.S. administration, under President George W. Bush, has already decided to launch military operations against Iraq. And, he adds, "all the world knows it." Continuing discussion and debate over new UN resolutions and arms inspections thus have an "unreal quality," as the final decision has been made by the "American conservatives" in Washington.

At this point, the rounds of international diplomacy have shifted focus from whether there should be a new Gulf War to "preventing an open break between America and Europe and Russia." Each nation is now seeking to position itself to benefit from the eventual outcome in Iraq by determining what stance best serves its interests. "The arguments now are not about right and wrong, but about where interests do or do not coincide."

The shared concern of European nations is now "to limit the damage to the American-European relationship." Woollacott says Europe "does not wish to find itself alone, after the war, looking at an alienated America in one direction and at a dangerously disturbed Middle East in another." This conflict "will settle much more than the fate of Iraq," he says. Its outcome will affect "the whole of international life for years to come."


Peter Hort in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" takes a critical look at Germany's foreign policy in general and the EU's "common" foreign and security policy in particular.

Hort suggests that now that German elections are over, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder should reassume his European responsibilities in search of shared, rather than divisive, policies. "Schroeder's egocentrism," says the paper, has irritated many. In addition to the disruption in German-American relations, Germany has to repair its relationship with France -- the partnership that Hort calls "the engine of European integration."

Despite the existing differences between Germany and France, especially on EU agricultural policies, French President Jacques Chirac greeted Schroeder with open arms after his election victory. The chancellor, Hort writes, "should seize this opportunity," for the dual challenge of EU expansion and overdue reforms requires a joint effort from all 15 EU members.

With regard to EU foreign policy, the commentary says, the Europeans have not yet fully grasped that most of today's challenges extend beyond national boundaries. Hort views the United States as the "last country in the world that, if need be, remains sovereign in its field of action and is capable of resolving situations such as the Iraq crisis of its own accord."


In "The New York Times," staff writer Nicholas Kristof writes from Baghdad saying U.S. President George W. Bush and his administration "seem to have convinced themselves that an invasion [of Iraq] will proceed easily because many Iraqis will dance in the streets to welcome American troops." But this view is "a potentially catastrophic misreading of Iraq." If the White House is hoping to receive popular Iraqi support that would aid a U.S.-led invasion and ensuing occupation, he says the U.S. administration is making a major error.

Kristof says that after interviewing scores of "ordinary people from Mosul in the north to Basra in the south," he has reached two conclusions. First, "Iraqis dislike and distrust Saddam Hussein, [and] many Iraqis will be delighted to see him gone." But second, "Iraqis hate the United States government even more than they hate Saddam, and they are even more distrustful of America's intentions."

He says few Iraqis are willing to fight for the current regime, but many are "willing to defend Iraq against Yankee invaders." Many feel "enraged at the U.S. after 11 years of economic sanctions." American bombing "of water-treatment plants [and] shortages of medicines led to a more than doubling of infant mortality, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization."

Kristof concludes that if President Bush thinks invasion and occupation "will go smoothly because Iraqis will welcome us, then he [is] deluding himself."


Heiko Flottau, in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," looks critically at U.S. foreign policy and tries to see the situation in the Middle East from an Arab perspective.

The columnist says that since the U.S. has not been able or, perhaps, willing to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it has found a new issue in Iraq -- an issue that a few bombs and marines might solve. This, at least, is the view taken by some Arabs, he says.

Flottau turns to history to explain that the Arab states constitute an "artificial world," which was created by Britain and France after World War I and shaped to conform to the interests of the great powers. In thus partitioning the region, he says they were "generous in their disregard for ethnic and religious realities, especially in establishing Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria."

Flottau says what Washington assumes would be a "democratization" of the region would be a relapse into the dark ages of the 1920s, when states were arbitrarily lumped together as the major powers chose.

This, he says, means toppling Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein will not usher in a new epoch of freedom. Anyone who wishes to promote freedom and democracy in the Arab multi-Muslim world must overcome another heritage of the colonial past: it must create a pluralistic state out of the Palestinian territories.


In today's "Chicago Tribune," columnist Steve Chapman says those advocating war with Iraq are depicting Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein as "reckless and warlike," and insist that the international community "must act now" to keep him from obtaining nuclear weapons. But Chapman says skeptics of this explanation might reply that Saddam "would never use those weapons against us because he knows we would obliterate his regime and his country." Yet Washington insists that although the U.S. nuclear arsenal "was enough to contain Joseph Stalin and Mao Tse-tung, it can't deter the Iraqi dictator."

The U.S. administration's assumptions are based on the Iraqi leader's past actions, such as launching a war with Iran in 1980 and the 1990 invasion of Kuwait. In Iran, Iraq went to war because Saddam was facing a tangible threat from the Ayatollah Khomeini's regime next door. And as Chapman points out, Saddam "was a U.S. ally at the time" -- and Washington continued to support him even after he ordered a gas attack.

Moreover, Chapman notes that the administration of former U.S. President Ronald Reagan approved the sale of bacteria cultures that could have been used to develop biological weapons such as anthrax. Chapman asks, "If [Saddam] was out of his mind, why didn't we notice it then?"


In France's "Le Monde," Cecile Prudhomme discusses the possible economic consequences if the United States launches military operations in Iraq. Prudhomme notes that although figures differ from source to source, it is clear that there has been a real exodus of Arab capital from the United States since the attacks of 11 September.

Some Arab investors have moved their capital out of U.S. markets for fear they could be frozen as part of an investigation in the "war on terrorism." Some American companies overseas have also experienced a downturn in business since the attacks last year. Prudhomme asks, if the United States finds itself pitted against the Muslim world, can it really risk losing this foreign financing at a time when its economy is already very fragile?

Muslim nations remain significant financial partners of the United States, he says. In a recent study, CDC Ixis economist Patrick Artus says Muslim nations take in 5 percent of the United States' exports, while 7 percent of American imports come from Muslim nations, half of which is petroleum. He estimates net assets from the Muslim world in the U.S. at around $450 billion annually, corresponding to 40 percent of the foreign portfolio investments received by the U.S.

Prudhomme goes on to cite financial analyst Michel Santi as saying if the U.S. goes to war in Iraq, it will do so only at great financial cost to itself.


In "The Washington Post," Charles Krauthammer questions why the United States should hinge its decision on Iraq on the will of the UN. In speaking of the United Nations, he says, one is really discussing the five permanent members of the Security Council -- the U.S., Britain, France, China, and Russia.

Britain already supports the American stance, he notes. But "by what logic does the blessing" of the three other council members "bestow moral legitimacy on American action?" he asks. "China's leaders are the butchers of Tiananmen Square. France and Russia will decide the Iraq question based on the coldest calculation of their own national interest, meaning money and oil." These nations are, in fact, "responsible for the hopelessly diluted and useless inspection regime that now exists."

Krauthammer incredulously remarks, "After a decade of acting as Saddam Hussein's lawyers on the Security Council, these countries are now to be the arbiters of America's new and deadly serious effort to ensure Iraqi disarmament."

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