Accessibility links

Western Press Review: Iraq, North Korea Continue To Dominate Commentary

  • Don Hill

Prague, 17 January 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary continues to examine crises in Iraq and North Korea, and considers an array of other topics.


"The Wall Street Journal Europe" charges that UN weapons inspectors in Iraq have lost sight of their mission. It editorializes sardonically: "Iraq's chemical weapons program is so vast that even [chief inspector] Hans Blix can find it. Such was our initial reaction to yesterday's big news: The discovery, south of Baghdad, of 11 warheads in 'excellent condition' designed for the specific purpose of delivering and dispersing chemical weapons."

The newspaper continues: "Iraq offered contradictory excuses concerning the find, at one point saying that the warheads had been included in its weapons declaration, at another that they had been forgotten."

The editorial says: "So what explains the apparent desire of the UN team to downplay their fortuitous find? Quite simply, they have come to consider their main job not as disarming Saddam Hussein but as averting war and are willing to rewrite Security Council Resolution 1441 to do it."

The newspaper says: "Mr. Blix knows, to be sure, that his inspections will have to be at least credibly tough if he is going to keep stringing the United States along. That, along with American intelligence, likely explains yesterday's discovery, and it's why he may yet come up with more incriminating evidence. But as for the chances of his actually declaring a smoking gun -- we'd say slim to none."


Adrian Hamilton of "The Independent" comments from London that the West should apply the lessons of the Kosovo-Serbia war and the fall of Slobodan Milosevic to Iraq and Saddam Hussein. Hamilton writes: "The relevance of Serbia to Iraq is closer than many of the opponents, or proponents, of war against Saddam Hussein like to admit."

The commentary continues: "The difficulty of extrapolating from the Kosovar experience to the Iraqi situation today is in determining just what the balance of outside intervention and internal power structures is."

The writer says: "If there is one obvious lesson here for Iraq it is this: to succeed, the outside world has to talk as one. Once it became clear that NATO was coordinated around the concept of 'whatever it takes', President [Boris] Yeltsin felt he had to intervene to stop a war. And once the Russians put the screws on Milosevic, he had to give in."

Hamilton concludes: "Saddam Hussein's support is probably as hollow as Milosevic's, although the opposition is nothing like as organized or ready to take over. The pressure only works if there is not a whiff of division, or even foot-dragging, in the UN Security Council."


The "International Herald Tribune" carries a commentary by author Joost R. Hiltermann, who is preparing a book on U.S. policy toward Iraq. Hiltermann accuses the U.S. administration of President George W. Bush of transparent cynicism in citing as justification for war Saddam Hussein's notorious poison-gassing of his own people.

Hiltermann writes: "The public record shows that Saddam's regime repeatedly spread poisonous gases on Kurdish villages in 1987 and 1988 in an attempt to put down a persistent rebellion. The biggest such attack was against Halabja in March 1988."

It is now known, the writer says, that the United States was aware at the time "that Iraq carried out the attack on Halabja. And that the United States, fully aware it was Iraq, accused Iran, Iraq's enemy in a fierce war, of being partly responsible for the attack. The State Department instructed its diplomats to say that Iran was partly to blame. The result of this stunning act of sophistry was that the international community failed to muster the will to condemn Iraq strongly for an act as heinous as the terrorist strike on the World Trade Center."

The writer says: "Sensing correctly that it had carte blanche, Saddam's regime escalated its resort to gas warfare, graduating to ever more lethal agents. Because of the strong Western animus against Iran, few paid heed. Then came Halabja."

Hiltermann writes: "Some of those who engineered the tilt [toward Iraq] today are back in power in the Bush administration. They have yet to account for their judgment that it was Iran, not Iraq, that posed the primary threat to the Gulf; for building up Iraq so that it thought it could invade Kuwait and get away with it; for encouraging Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs by giving the regime a de facto green light on chemical weapons use; and for turning a blind eye to Iraq's worst atrocities, and then lying about it."


Michael Stuermer of "Die Welt" comments on the U.S. role in world affairs, such as the Iraq and North Korea crises. "Who else, if not America?" he asks.

Stuermer writes: "America wants a world order. The only thing worse would be if America abandoned this aim. In that case, Europe would experience the moment of truth."

Stuermer says that Germany, for example, is neither willing nor able in times of crisis and war to mold its own fate. He writes: "When the country is seriously faced with weapons of mass destruction, cyber war and global terror, its gaze wanders. It is good to live in freedom and prosperity. But one can only have what one is prepared to fight for."


"The Irish Times" says in an editorial that the United States has amended -- belatedly and opportunistically -- its policies toward North Korea, but that its new approach nonetheless deserves to succeed.

The editorial says: "The Bush administration is determined not to allow the developing confrontation over North Korea's reactivation of its nuclear weapons program to eclipse or deflect its preparations for a war against Iraq."

The newspaper continues: "This week [U.S. President] Bush offered to talk to the North Koreans about a program of energy and food aid in return for a weapons control regime. He is prepared to cooperate on a multilateral basis with China, Russia and the United Nations to achieve that objective, disregarding the apparent contradiction between such a policy of deterrent engagement towards North Korea and the confrontational one towards Iraq."

The editorial concludes: "Much is at stake in Korea, not only for its inhabitants, but for its neighbors and the wider world, as the confrontation over Iraq escalates. This week's change of course by the Bush administration is explained by these circumstances. It deserves to succeed, despite its opportunism."


Columnist Charles Krauthammer writes in "The Washington Post" that the U.S. position on North Korea has collapsed, mostly from talking too much and then being forced to back away.

He writes: "In less than a month we have gone from tailored containment to shoeless appeasement. It usually takes longer. It began when the Bush administration responded to North Korea's brazen nuclear breakout by immediately -- and explicitly -- taking the military option off the table. This was a serious mistake. There was no need to bluff, but there was equally no need to advertise our helplessness."

Next, the writer says, "The Bush administration came up with a new policy of 'tailored containment.'" The commentary says that "high appeasement mode" followed. Then, Krauthammer writes, after more provocation, the U.S. administration announced that it was, after all, willing to talk with the North Koreans.

The writer concludes: "Giving up ground every three days -- sanctions threatened, then sanctions withdrawn; a pledge not to talk, then talks initiated; a pledge of no rewards, then rewards offered and then quadrupled -- is disastrous. Better to say nothing than to keep moving backward."


"The Wall Street Journal Asia" deputy editorial page editor Danny Gittings resurrects the notion of Korea as part of an axis of evil. He says the United States is unlikely to get the help it seeks from China. Gittings writes in a commentary: "When it comes to toppling the (North Korean] regime, or applying the kind of pressure that would leave Pyongyang with no choice but to abandon its nuclear programs, China is in a uniquely qualified position. For all the giveaways in Seoul's sunshine policy, the amount of aid that flows from South Korea is still only a fraction of the support Beijing provides in propping up its faltering Communist neighbor."

The writer says: "Even a regime so willing to let its citizens starve could not survive an end to these supplies. That means Beijing has the power to bring Pyongyang to its knees."

He concludes, however: "China is faced with a choice between two evils. But the lesser evil, from the standpoint of the Beijing leadership, is not the one the rest of the world would choose. Having an ideologically friendly, even if alarmingly erratic, regime as its northern neighbor is still preferable to seeing one of the world's last Communist regimes make way for one which could bring American troops to China's frontiers for the first time."


The Swiss daily "Neue Zuercher Zeitung" warns that North Korea should not be permitted to browbeat the United States into acceding to its demands.

The newspaper editorializes: "The North Korean dictator would like to gain a free pass to do as he pleases, and moreover gain the blessing of the United States with security guarantees and diplomatic recognition."

The editorial says: "Washington should make it plain to Pyongyang that not even with threats of atomic weapons, recognition is not to be had at a sale price. At present, sweetmeats for [President] Kim Jong-il are counterproductive. It would be more meaningful to plainly set the price for compliance with the wishes of the dictator and to stick to it. It does not matter that the price is high in the eyes of Pyongyang. Without an international verifiable relinquishing of nuclear power, there can be no progress toward security on the Korean peninsula."


"The Wall Street Journal Europe" comments in an editorial on a lawsuit that victims of the October hostage taking and rescue in Moscow have filed. The newspaper says that even if it fails to win compensation for its plaintiffs, it might at least result in some truth being told.

The editorial says: "We normally hear of class-action suits and cringe. But this one is worth watching. When Russian security forces raided a Moscow theater in October and freed the many hundreds of hostages being held by Chechen rebels, they used a mysterious gas -- which included the volatile anesthetic fentanyl -- that ended up killing far more hostages than the terrorists did."

The newspaper says: "We wouldn't wish an American-style tort system on Russia, of course. But a movement to hold those in positions of power to account is something Russia could stand more of. Whatever its legal merits, the suit may bring out truths that have so far been shielded from the public. Ultimately, though, it will be up to voters to bring real accountability to government."


Under the headline, "Don't Be Taken In By This Franco-German Love-In," Martin Woollacott of "The Guardian" comments: "The rest of Europe has always been ambivalent about Franco-German cooperation, complaining of drift when the two countries have not been close and of being bossed around when they are strongly aligned. 'Le Monde' noted this perennial fact in commending the agreement this week between Paris and Berlin on constitutional proposals for the EU, which may be followed soon by proposals for parallel social legislation in the two countries and a degree of integration in defense policy. The paper concluded that France and Germany must now proceed with tact in urging these ideas on their partners."

The writer concludes: "Europe's problems as it tries to reorganize itself politically at a time of international crisis over Iraq and perplexity over future relations with the U.S. are not likely to be made worse or better by truly concerted Franco-German policies. Germany and France, as always, agree on a few things, and disagree on many others. The working out of these disagreements is enormously important to the future of Europe, but it is precisely that working out which has been once again postponed."

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