Prague, 27 January 2003 (RFE/RL) -- As UN weapons inspectors prepare to deliver a report to the Security Council later today, discussion in the Western media focuses on the progress of inspections and the possibility of U.S.-led military action in the Persian Gulf nation. Several newspapers have called on U.S. President George W. Bush to make clearer to a skeptical public its case for why military action might be needed. Other issues today include the evolving Afghan national army and how the Kremlin abets Russia's oligarchs.
In "The Times" of London, columnist Ben Macintyre recalls the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. In October of that year, the United States confronted the Soviet Union over its missile sites in Cuba, an allegation the Kremlin repeatedly denied. At the height of the crisis, then-U.S. Ambassador to the UN Adlai Stevenson produced aerial photographs proving the existence of the Soviet missiles. "It was a theatrical turning point," writes Macintyre. "World opinion rallied behind America and three days later the Soviet Union announced that it was removing the weapons."
U.S. President George W. Bush is now in need of an "Adlai Stevenson moment," Macintyre says. The U.S. administration must provide "conclusive proof of Iraqi weapons production" and show that Baghdad is in breach of UN resolutions. The "damning evidence" is surely there, says Macintyre. But public opinion is "unenthusiastic" about waging a war based solely on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's lack of cooperation. "To make the case for war -- and possibly avoid one -- the U.S. needs to make a graphic exhibition of its intelligence evidence, a coup de theatre similar to that of 40 years ago."
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
An editorial in "The New York Times" today says, "The countdown to war has begun." UN weapons inspectors will deliver a report to the Security Council later today and the council will "begin debating the wisdom of endorsing a war against Iraq." But the paper says the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush seems to be "gearing up for an invasion that it appears determined to conduct whether or not its allies approve. At best, it may give the Security Council a few more weeks to consider whether to approve an attack on Iraq."
The editorial continues, "We urge the administration to brake the momentum toward war." Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is "a brutal dictator who deserves toppling," and is surely in the process of developing weapons of mass destruction, the paper says. But, it adds, "this war should be waged only with broad international support. To go it alone, or nearly alone, is to court disaster both domestically and internationally."
Moreover, Bush has not convinced the public on the immediate need for what could prove to be a difficult and lengthy military commitment. There are risks worth taking, the paper says, "but the American public has not signed on for them" in this case. Bush has not been open about the possible costs and risks of this war, nor about "exactly why the United States is preparing to fight."
LOS ANGELES TIMES:
A "Los Angeles Times" editorial says U.S. President George W. Bush continues to insist that the onus is on Iraq to prove that it is complying with UN weapons inspections and that is has relinquished its weapons of mass destruction. "That may be legalistically true," the paper says. "But the American people are demanding more than legalisms. They are seeking, and they deserve, a definitive statement from Bush about why now is the time for war."
The paper says Bush "would find more support if Iraq had again invaded another country or been linked to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon." But on the contrary, Baghdad "has allowed United Nations weapons inspectors back into the country after an absence of four years."
U.S. allies and members of the UN Security Council continue to urge caution, suggesting weapons inspectors be given more time. Yet even as inspections continue, U.S. Army reservists "have been called from their civilian jobs and put on planes bound for Kuwait." These troops and the operational buildup in the region are "a needed show of force, intended to compel an otherwise recalcitrant Iraq to heed UN demands. But it's important to remember that the presence of tens of thousands of troops [is], of itself, not grounds for military action."
Military action is still preventable, the paper concludes. But going to war "without the strong support of the American people would bring disaster."
A "Financial Times" editorial today says U.S. and European allies are "playing hardball" over the issue of Iraq's weapons programs. Last week France announced that it would consider using its Security Council veto to block any new resolution authorizing force against Baghdad. In an alliance with Germany, the two nations also delayed a NATO decision on whether to support a U.S.-led war.
The disunity among trans-Atlantic allies is hardly surprising, the paper says. But the U.S. "is counting on Britain and probably still betting that France would in the end back a second Security Council resolution authorizing force. France seems to calculate that the U.S. would not go it alone without Britain, which in turn would not go to war without a second resolution."
Without another resolution, British Prime Minister Tony Blair "would risk a serious revolt within his cabinet and party," the paper says. And once the "warm glow" of last week's anniversary of the so-called Franco-German "friendship treaty" fades, French President Jacques Chirac may disengage from Germany's firm antiwar stance and "revert to trying to accommodate the U.S. within the UN framework."
The paper goes on to say that Iraq "has always been the most glaring failure of the EU's common foreign and security policy." And the increasing pressure from the U.S. "has only increased strains within the EU" on the Iraq issue.
Bruce Anderson, writing in Britain's "The Independent," discusses trans-Atlantic relations and says the U.S. has been happy to have British support within the context of their "special relationship" -- as long as London has done Washington's bidding. France, for its part, recklessly squandered an opportunity to influence U.S. foreign policy by being unrealistic and unnecessarily resistant.
Anderson says three things were already clear by the end of 2001: that the U.S. "was going to invade Iraq; [that] this would have wider consequences for the entire Middle East; and the Americans had not thought through those consequences." And this is where Europe could have played a greater role, he says. "Over the past 15 months, European diplomacy should have had one overriding aim: access to American policy makers, especially over Israel and Palestine. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, American officialdom realized that it did not know nearly enough about the Arab world. The Europeans should have put themselves in the market to remedy that deficiency. They failed, and it is now too late."
But "even if the Europeans had handled their diplomacy better, many people in Washington would have been reluctant to listen to what they had to say about the necessity of a generous settlement of the Palestinian question" ahead of any action in Iraq or as part of the war on terrorism. "As it is, the Europeans have given [U.S.] policymakers the excuse to close their ears."
THE WASHINGTON TIMES:
An editorial in "The Washington Times" says the world has just seen "a week of diplomatic chaos on Iraq, which was cynically initiated by France and Germany for their own domestic purposes." The paper says it is noteworthy that German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder made his "extraordinary assertion" that Germany would not even back UN-sanctioned force against Iraq during a political rally. Schroeder, it says, is playing "the pacifist, anti-American card one more time."
But Schroeder's "categorical rejection" of even a UN-sanctioned operation in Iraq will either have to be eventually retracted, "or Germany will be left as an outcast." In contrast, France's vocal opposition to war has carefully left the "customary wiggle room, thus preserving the option to be seen to be supporting the war" -- at least in time for the "postwar period" benefits.
Commentary in the German press today examines the state of the alliance with the U.S. following U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's dismissive statement concerning "old Europe" last week, in which he implied that the U.S. is not dependent on Europe's support for its policies on Iraq.
Kurt Biedenkopf in "Die Welt" says that "maybe it is an exaggeration to speak about a crisis in the Atlantic alliance, but the tension over a possible war with Iraq weighs heavily on the relationship between Europe's core powers -- France and Germany -- and the U.S."
Yet, says the commentary, common interest and interdependence is such that an alliance with the U.S. will not falter, even though "Washington is pressuring European policies by trying to provoke the 'old' Europeans against the 'new' eastern ones, and -- if possible -- to weaken the new German-French alliance by isolating Germany."
A growing interdependence within the Atlantic community must also be taken into account -- economic, financial, and communication networks are more and more interconnected. The United States can hardly afford to ignore the alliance without damaging itself. Moreover, Biedenkopf says it seems unlikely that the American people would support President George W. Bush in pursuit of such a unilateralist policy, not only because of increasing opposition to a U.S.-led war with Iraq, but out of a sense of kinship with Europe, and the rest of the Western world.
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG:
Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" also discusses the "political alienation between America and Europe." He speaks of the "conflicting interests" that have prevailed ever since George W. Bush became president. Whereas European governments are calling for the "containment" of Iraq, Bush is set on war. There is no happy medium, says Frankenberger.
It would be preferable to determine the future of the trans-Atlantic relationship, he says, at least regarding common geopolitical and strategic issues. It would be wise for the Bush administration to realize that forceful leadership can be combined with respect for allies and that every argument or hesitation coming from Europe does not infer weakness. Politicians must grasp the fact that partnerships can only exist when there is more to offer than big talk, a denial of potential obstacles, and complacency.
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
In "The New York Times," Carlotta Gall writes from Orgun, Afghanistan, on the development of a national army. "Armed with Kalashnikov rifles and Russian-style helmets," soldiers in Orgun "are part of the Third Battalion of the new Afghan National Army and are the first to be deployed on active duty outside Kabul." The creation of a multiethnic army under central command from Kabul is seen as "the one solution to Afghanistan's endemic insecurity and powerful regional warlords. But only in the past few weeks, after months of training in Kabul, has the concept of a national force become a reality." Efforts to recruit and train soldiers have been "painfully slow," says Gall.
Locals were skeptical at first, she notes, as they viewed the U.S. troops training the Afghans as a foreign occupying force. "But after a concerted public relations campaign by the Americans based in Orgun and by the Afghans themselves to explain the soldiers' presence and the whole idea of the multiethnic army, the force has won acceptance and growing support." However, Afghan volunteers "are trusted by the populace in a way foreign soldiers never would be." And as an army that is not locally controlled but has its command center in the capital, "they can ride above tribal politics."
THE WASHINGTON POST
In a contribution to "The Washington Post," columnist Yevgenia Albats of the Moscow-based political weekly "Novaya gazeta" says the Kremlin continues to aid and abet its cronies while privatizing Russia's companies. The government pledged that the auction of Slavneft, Russia's eighth-largest oil company, would be free and fair. Chinese firm CNPC was ready to pay more than $4 billion for the company. But after discussions with Russian authorities, CNPC withdrew. The auction winner was announced as a firm representing both the Sibneft oil company -- "owned by Kremlin insider Roman Abramovich -- and the oil company TNK." The winning bid was $1.86 billion, or "less than half what the government could have gotten" in a freely conducted auction.
Albats says Sibneft gained control because it previously held "de facto control of the country's biggest TV network, Channel . Abramovich, one of the main financiers of [President Vladimir ] Putin's presidential campaigns, yielded his interests in Channel 1 to the Kremlin.... [In] return, according to sources, he was assured that he would be the winner in the Slavneft auction."
"No major corruption scheme in Russia can succeed without the help of the Kremlin," writes Albats. It is clear that the Kremlin "has plenty of ways [to] destroy any oligarch it wishes to, and just as many ways to enrich those who are loyal to it. The loser, of course, is the nation."
(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)