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Western Press Review: Bush Versus The World?

  • Daisy Sindelar

Prague, 17 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Today's Western press review focuses on the mounting Iraq crisis, with the weekend's worldwide antiwar protests and the continued rift between the U.S. and many of its Western allies.


In an analysis in "The New York Times," correspondent Patrick E. Tyler looks at the latest developments in the Iraq crisis and writes, "There may still be two superpowers on the planet: the United States and world public opinion."

U.S. President George W. Bush's campaign to disarm Iraq, Tyler says, has put him "eyeball to eyeball with a tenacious new adversary: millions of people who flooded the streets of New York and dozens of other world cities to say they are against war based on the evidence at hand." Such protests may not discourage Bush, but Tyler suggests they may temper the enthusiasm of leaders in other nations who have put their support behind a war in Iraq. This includes the group of Arab nations who resolved yesterday in Cairo to deny support for military action against Iraq.

"War," Tyler writes, "is affected by psychology and momentum." Over the past week, he says, it is the antiwar movement that has taken the momentum away from the Bush administration. The growing rupture between the U.S. and principal European partners like France and Germany -- exacerbated by the hawkish and taunting language of U.S. officials like Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld -- is one of the reasons.

The 14 February presentation to the United Nations Security Council by chief weapons inspector Hans Blix is another. Blix's indication that inspectors were making "noteworthy progress" in Iraq -- and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's failure to counter with new evidence -- are likely to slow any U.S. plans for military action.

There is still time for the pendulum to swing back in favor of war. But "for the moment," Tyler writes, "an exceptional phenomenon has appeared on the streets of world cities. It may not be as profound as the people's revolutions across Eastern Europe in 1989 or in Europe's class struggles of 1848, but politicians and leaders are unlikely to ignore it. The Arab states' declaration in Cairo seems proof of that."


The "Los Angeles Times" publishes a commentary by Charles Kupchan, a professor of international affairs at Washington's Georgetown University and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Looking at last week's "tortured diplomacy" in NATO and the Security Council, he writes, "As the Bush administration edges ever closer to launching a war against Iraq, it is putting on the line the partnerships and principles that have served as the foundation of the international system since World War II."

There are valid reasons for seeking to depose Saddam Hussein, Kupchan says. But in doing so, he adds, "the United States risks compromising perhaps its most precious asset -- its international legitimacy. [In] the tense days that lie ahead, Washington needs to weigh carefully whether the gains that will accompany the downfall of [Saddam] are worth the demise of the Atlantic Alliance and America's increasing isolation in global affairs."

Kupchan writes that, in a certain way, "the West is in the midst of coming apart." The end of the Cold War has made Atlantic unity less pressing. The rise and expansion of the European Union is making its members more confident, and less likely to automatically agree with America. But "the principal source of the West's erosion," he writes, "is America's belligerent and unilateralist behavior."

Kupchan writes that such behavior -- demonstrated by everything from the U.S. rejection of the international Kyoto Protocol on climate change to Bush's recent assertion of unilateralism during his State of the Union address -- "arises from the conviction [that] the more powerful the United States is, [the] more the rest of the world will get in line. But exactly the opposite is happening."

He concludes: "The impending war against Iraq represents a point of no return. Should the United States go it alone and attack Iraq without broader international support, it will cease to be a model for the world and instead be seen as a dangerous Goliath that needs to be tamed."


Many commentators in the Western press focus on the mass antiwar demonstrations held around the world this weekend. Joachim Kaeppner writes in "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" that the protesters in Germany, which has been among the most outspoken opponents of the U.S. stance on Iraq, are not "irresponsible pacifists."

Instead, he says, they are "the voice of a civil society of a Western democracy" which does not want war; a society for whom the reasons for declaring war are dubious and unconvincing. Ultimately, Kaeppner says, Germany's rejection of war "is also a sign of maturity."

Kaeppner expresses hope that this new German alliance -- ranging from antiglobalization activists on the left to Christian conservatives on the right -- represents a genuinely new peace movement. Unlike similar protests in the past, fueled by a sense of moral self-righteousness and sectarian thinking, the current movement is united and strong. Germany's protesters are less anti-American than they are, simply, pro-peace. A certain victory has already been won, Kaeppner says, in the very fact that people have risen to say no to war.


An editorial in Britain's "The Independent" daily suggests that Prime Minister Tony Blair, like U.S. President George W. Bush, may have put his authority at risk by backing war in Iraq.

Following the 14 February report by chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix before the Security Council -- which failed to make a case for imminent war and instead pressed for longer inspections period -- Blair, the paper writes, "finds himself firmly attached to the losing side of the argument. [And] now that the case has been exposed to the scrutiny of world opinion, the people [have] taken to the streets to say what they think of it."

In other words, the paper says, Blair supported bringing the case to the United Nations "as a detour intended to pick up supporters [of a war in Iraq] along the way. [Instead,] it has allowed the passengers to get out and argue about the way forward."

For Blair, the result is a sharp loss of authority at home. "Even if the Iraqi military collapses at the first whine of high-altitude bombs, and there is rejoicing in Baghdad's streets at the fall of Saddam, there will be many previously well-disposed people in this country who will be disillusioned with the prime minister," the paper says.

It adds: "Blair has not answered the fundamental objection to this war. [How] can the world be a safer place when the U.S. is perceived to be -- and indeed is -- a power untrammeled by international law, world opinion or global institutions?"


An editorial in Britain's "Financial Times" says: "In the past three days, [British Prime Minister Tony] Blair's nightmare became more than a remote possibility. He might yet have to choose between joining a war without UN approval and saying 'no' to the U.S. president."

The editorial says Blair's next move will be to show agreement with European leaders on the necessity of including the UN in the disarmament of Saddam Hussein. He will also try to make his case yet again to the British public that the Iraqi leader is a menace who will cause great civilian suffering in his country if the international community fails to act.

But thereafter, the paper says, his troubles will really begin: "If Blix returns to the Security Council on 28 February with a similar report to that of last Friday [14 February] -- no smoking gun, no clean bill of health yet no damning assessment of Mr. Hussein's motives -- the U.S. seems unlikely to brook any further delay. Then Mr. Blair would be forced to decide: should he join a U.S. mission or not?"

Unless there is support from the Security Council for a second resolution authorizing force, Blair is left with only two options, the paper writes. "He could still back military action but only if he was willing to go against his word to the British people, to act against the vast body of public opinion, and to defy many in his own government and cabinet. He would have to pray for a quick, decisive victory without messy consequences."

"Alternatively," the paper continues "he could refuse to back force, widen a transatlantic rift on policy and eat humble pie at Jacques Chirac's table. It would not be pleasant."


Rolf Paasch in the "Frankfurter Rundschau" discusses the U.S. attitude toward the Iraqi opposition, which increasingly feel betrayed as the U.S. stance on a postwar plan for Iraq continues to evolve.

"The pupils are criticizing their master," says Paasch of the Iraqi opposition-in-exile, which is contesting the altered plans of the Bush administration. Washington has backed away from establishing a United Nations-run administration in Iraq, and now envisages a U.S. military transitional administration, even intending to decide on its own who are to be the members.

For 12 years, the U.S. has lavishly supported the Iraqis in exile. Now, though, one of the most important advisors in Washington on Iraqi issues, Iraqi National Congress member Kanan Makiya, says, "The [Iraqi] opposition will turn from being a close U.S. ally throughout the 1990s to being an opponent of the U.S. on the day of liberation."

Paasch says in spite of generous U.S. financial support, the opposition has failed dismally in attempts to topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, both because of failed support from the U.S. and because it overestimated its own ties within Iraq.

Hence, says the commentary, for strategic and tactical reasons the U.S is forced to adopt a "realpolitik" strategy toward the Iraqi opposition. That strategy, says Paasch, is threatening to destroy all the democratic demands of the already operating Kurdish autonomous government and the hitherto suppressed Shi'ite majority in Iraq.

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