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Western Press Review: Iraq Attack, Saddam's Re-election

  • Don Hill

Prague, 16 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary today in the Western press monitored by RFE/RL continues to pursue two related topics: the potential of a U.S. preemptive attack on Iraq and yesterday's Iraqi presidential referendum.


Two scholars writing independently in the "Chicago Tribune" and "The Washington Post" say that a first-strike assault on Saddam Hussein's nation and the likely aftermath would expose an unwarranted U.S. arrogance. In the "Tribune," Susan B. Thistlewaite, president of the Chicago Theological Seminary, writes: "President Bush has gotten his congressional mandate to launch a war on Iraq. America will, for the first time in its modern history, attack someone who has not attacked us or our allies first. We will exercise a first-strike option, something the United States did not do even at the height of the Cold War."

Thistlewaite writes: "We now abandon any pretense that this proposed war against Iraq is just. It cannot be justified." And she concludes: "St. Augustine wanted to know if Christians could resist barbarians. If the United States strikes first against Iraq, then it is Americans who have become the barbarians. We have learned nothing in more than 1,500 years of moral reasoning."


Leon Fuerth, a visiting professor of international relations at George Washington University, comments in the "Post": "The Bush administration may have decided that if the United States ultimately invades Iraq, it will establish a military government under the control of an American military officer who will simultaneously run and redesign the country, on the model of General Douglas MacArthur in Japan after World War II. Whether this turns out to be the policy of the Bush administration, the fact that consideration of such an approach has reached this level warns us that there may be a dangerous intoxication with American power, and a serious loss of judgment as to its limits, among the most senior persons in our government."

"One can imagine that if the president takes his time, plays out his hand with the United Nations, allows inspectors to return to Iraq and awaits the inevitable demonstration of bad faith by Saddam Hussein, he might be able to deal with Iraq with meaningful, rather than nominal international support."

The writer adds: "And he might then also be able to deal with the aftermath of a change of regime in the same way. But much of the time the administration's overall approach to policy breathes impatience with the opinion of others, eagerness for military action despite protestations to the contrary, and an ideologically driven indifference to consequences that could prove devastating to fundamental American security needs."


In the current edition of the French monthly "Le Monde Diplomatique," Ignacio Ramonet takes up the arrogance theme and says that European nations that support the U.S. position are behaving as "vassals." "An empire does not have allies, it has only vassals. This is a fact of history that most governments in the European Union seem to have forgotten."

Ramonet says that the new Bush doctrine claiming a U.S. right to attack nations before they attack the United States "means that the international order laid down in 1945 at the end of World War II and overseen by the United Nations has come to an end. In a break with what we have known since the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989), [the United States] is now assuming a position as leader of the world. And it does so with a mixture of contempt and arrogance."

The writer continues: "Apparently unaware of the structural change, many European leaders -- in the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, Netherlands, Portugal, Denmark, and Sweden -- are reacting to U.S. imperial pretensions with a servility befitting feudal vassals. In the process they are abandoning national independence, sovereignty, and democracy."


"The Wall Street Journal in Europe" presses an opposing view. In an editorial, the newspaper says the main U.S. failing lay in letting Saddam's government get this far. The editorial says, "There is no doubt that Saddam, with his oil billions, has single-handedly called into being a worldwide industry devoted to brokering illegal weapons technologies."

It dismisses calls for diplomatic approaches and new inspections as the cries of "peacemongers." "Various peacemongers have called for sending inspectors back to a country that has spent 10 years learning how to hide its weapons labs and stockpiles from inspectors. It's no longer possible to treat this as anything but a fig leaf for surrender. The worm finally turned last week, when the CIA chief sent a letter to Capitol Hill implying to some that we dare not move against Iraq lest Saddam strike back with a catastrophic terrorist attack."

It concludes: "We can blame ourselves for letting it get to this point. Deterrence is finally beginning to work -- for Saddam. Happenstance and 11 September have given us one last opportunity to regain the initiative over whether and how he will end up using his terror weapons. That opportunity, though, will vanish fast."


Writing in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, commentator Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger discusses the relative power positions of European nations and the United States. "A growing rift looms between the United States and its old European partners. While Americans have no political reservations or moral scruples about employing their power, Europeans have little to put up against this, and have grown accustomed to putting their weakness on a moral pedestal. Europeans aren't the only ones to feel uneasy about the new U.S. security strategy."

Frankenberger suggests that Europe itself allowed its lack of influence to develop by devoting too few resources to its own military power. "Based on their military spending, the Europeans certainly look like mere assistants." The writer concludes: "Any concept for the solution of major future issues has to have a solid basis -- above all greater military spending and strategic concepts. But while those are the Europeans' prime tasks, the United States would do well not to dismiss its partners' seriousness and goodwill."


Writer Christopher Buckley attempts a humorous irony in a fictitious question-and-answer essay in "The Washington Post." Here are some excerpted samples:

"Q: Where do Americans stand on invading Iraq?"

"A: According to the latest polls, a majority of Americans are for 'doing something' about Iraq, unless this means higher gasoline prices, a further decline in the stock market, U.S. casualties or an epidemic of smallpox."

"Q: Does President Bush have political motives in stirring up national sentiment against Iraq?"

"A: While he has emphatically denied that the November elections play a role, a CD-ROM disc recently found in Lafayette Park belonging to Karl Rove, the president's political counselor, contains a file labeled, 'How We Can Make the Democrats Look Like Dips in November by Fomenting War.'"

"Q: Why hasn't the United Nations enforced the resolutions it passed on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction?"

"A: Under Article 45 (b) of the UN Charter, 'the primary responsibility for saving the world from itself shall be the United States' problem' while the UN 'shall concentrate on vetoing any U.S. attempt to do something about it and denouncing it for unilateralism.'"


In a commentary published in "The Wall Street Journal Europe," U.S. Army General Barry R. McCaffrey, a thrice-wounded Vietnam War veteran and now a professor at the United States Military Academy, speculates on the ability of Iraq's armed forces to defend themselves against an attack by the U.S. military. In the final analysis, they can't, he says, but they can inflict severe damage on their way to defeat.

"In my judgment, [Saddam's elite] Republican Guard forces simply are not capable of dealing with the violence, tempo, night operations, and precision munitions of a U.S.-British air-ground assault. Untrained in urban warfare, they would be largely surrounded in the cities by a Shia population that despises them. Finally, it is believed that few of the common soldiers have the stomach to die for Saddam."

The writer says: "The conflict on the battlefield, however, will be bloody at times, and will likely involve the employment of chemical weapons to attack U.S. forces upon arrival. In the end, allied forces will be compelled to kill the 15,000 troops of the Special Guard, and the cohesion of the Guard divisions will be pulled apart. Unfortunately, U.S. forces are likely to endure significant casualties during a short and violent military campaign."

German press commentary devotes considerable space to the results of yesterday's Iraqi referendum in which President Saddam Hussein received a 100 percent voter endorsement of extending his presidency for another seven years.


The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" editorializes that a personality cult in Iraq is reaching new heights. "All in all, the people in [Iraq], as in most of the neighboring countries, have no opportunity to express an opinion. Even though Saddam Hussein may be confirmed with exactly 100 percent, nothing alters the fact that in a mere 20 years he has ruined the country through wars -- the very country that seemed to be the most promising in the region and therefore, regardless of its autocratic structure, was supported by those Western governments who now want to be rid of the dictator."


Commentator Peter Muench writes in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" that Saddam may have been unopposed in Iraq, but he had a hidden opponent in U.S. President George W. Bush: "The secret of this choice is an invisible opposition candidate. His name is George Bush. If Saddam wins, then Bush must be the loser. But this also applies vice versa."


Commenting in the "Handelsblatt," Markus Ziener compares the results of the referendum with the attitudes of the East Germans under communism who were proud of their leaders. "There are not a few people, maybe even a majority, who would vote for the head of the state [even if they have a choice]. The reason is 'pride,' the pride to resist, to resist the Americans." The commentary continues, "The ridiculous illusion of the personality cult and the permanent ban on thinking for oneself are restricting the country ever more."

Ziener concludes that continuing sanctions against Iraq, which imposes misery and thus resentment on the population, "plays the role of an involuntary stabilizer of the president."


Under the ironic headline, "A Nailbiting Night in Baghdad Central," Britain's "The Guardian" editorializes that elections like Iraq's would put "psephologists" -- or election analysts -- out of business.

The editorial says: "The contest for the presidency which took place [in Iraq] yesterday involved just one candidate -- incumbent President Saddam Hussein. The question before the voters was this: Do you agree for Saddam Hussein to remain the president of the Iraqi republic? Little scope here, one might think, for the exercise of psephological skills, with their swings, their demographics and their differential abstentions; and no chance at all for the pollsters to redeem their reputations by getting the exit polls totally right. Last time Iraq went through this exercise, Saddam took 99.96 percent of the vote. Few yesterday doubted his chances this time of matching or bettering that. Iraqi psephologists, once they'd gone down to vote, could safely take the day off."

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