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Western Press Review: Coming To Terms With The Iraq Crisis

  • Charles Carlson

Prague, 18 February 2003 (RFE/RL) Today's Western press commentary continues to focus on the Iraq crisis and the rift that has developed between the U.S. and many of its Western allies on the issue of war.


In a commentary and analysis in the "Chicago Tribune," syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer places much of the blame for the present situation in the world today, including the Iraq crisis, on what he sees as a period of neglect during the 1990s.

"We are now paying the wages of the 1990s," Krauthammer writes. He places the blame on the Clinton administration, whose chief aim, he says, was "to make sure that nothing terrible happened on its watch."

In the 1990s, Krauthammer observes, the U.S. did little to stop Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein from building his arsenal. Clinton postponed coming to terms with the problem when North Korea threatened to start its nuclear program in 1993.

After the first World Trade Center attack in 1993, followed by the blowing up of two embassies in Africa and the attack on the "USS Cole," Clinton did little in return. Osama bin Laden was offered up by Sudan in 1996, but "we turned him away for lack of legal justification."

"Mortal enemies are dealt with not as combatants, but as defendants," Krauthammer writes. During the Clinton administration, he says rogue states "prospered, arming and girding themselves for big wars."

The danger can no longer be avoided, Krauthammer writes. The evidence behind U.S. President George W. Bush's "axis-of-evil" speech last year is now starting to be recognized even by the United Nations.

"We are in a race against time," he says. Once such hostile states establish arsenals, they become invulnerable. Such is the case with North Korea, Krauthammer concludes.


"The New York Times" publishes an editorial on the importance of reuniting the Security Council at this point in time.

It is not in America's long-term interests to simply walk away from the UN and important European allies over the issue of Iraq, the commentary implies. Iraq's unconventional weapons are not just an American problem, but an international problem. While the U.S. does not require broad support to wage a war on Iraq, it does need considerable help from Europe and the Arab world to manage the consequences, including the rebuilding of Iraq.

Washington needs to begin rebuilding lost support in the Security Council and to really define which steps Iraq must take in the next few weeks to avoid war, the commentary continues. The Security Council should pass a new resolution. The resolution should specify what forms of cooperation Iraq continues to withhold.

It would be a mistake, "The New York Times" says, not to recognize the antiwar demonstrations that have taken place across the world last weekend, particularly in Britain, Spain, and Italy, the three countries whose leaders have shown the most inclination to join Washington in military action. And as the editorial points out, UN inspectors still feel that the case for urgent military action has not yet been persuasively made.

Bush should heed these views and work with the Security Council to win support for a new resolution, the commentary concludes. The potential consequences of war with Iraq are far too serious to take on without broad international and domestic support.


A commentary and analysis from the "Chicago Tribune" entitled "NATO, With or Without France," focuses on the 16 February meeting of 18 NATO members in Brussels. It was agreed at the meeting that the alliance will begin preparing to defend Turkey if it is attacked by Iraq. Among the 18 members were Germany and Belgium, which had sided with France in opposing NATO moves to offer more protection to Turkey. France, the 19th member, "spent [16 February] defiant but on the sidelines," the paper writes.

It is anticipated that France will try to convince the EU to unite in opposition to U.S. demands that Iraq be forced to disarm. The French problem is that eight EU members have publicly sided with the U.S.

World attention will then turn to the UN Security Council. There, France will try to block any U.S. and British efforts for yet another resolution to hold Iraq to demands that it disarm.

However, France seems to have forgotten that it supported UN Resolution 1441 last fall. The resolution was the Security Council's latest order for Iraq to disarm.

Germany and Belgium refuse to be used by France, but this does not mean that they are warming to war. But with France "out of the room," those nations "remembered on Sunday [16 February] what the NATO alliance is all about: Friends protect their friends," the commentary concludes.


In a commentary in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," Christian Wernicke says Europe "will have to come to terms with the shock that questions of war and peace will not be answered in Europe. It is immaterial how unified the folks in the street are in saying 'no to war.' It is all the same whether the leaders in Brussels are bickering or making their peace. America will have the last word concerning Iraq."

Wernicke thinks that at best "it will be decided by the United Nations whether Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is disarmed by peaceful means or by force." And in the worst-case scenario, "it will be an almighty named President George W. Bush in Washington who will order an armed conflict."

Of course, for the Iraqi people, every war spells a catastrophe, but, says the paper, "for Europe, it is also a question of political survival." For if Bush decides to launch a war without UN blessing, then the European countries will become mere "subservient vassals." Moreover, Bush is signaling that he is forging ahead regardless of a loss of friends and allies in establishing a world at his own discretion.

Meanwhile, this has led to a rebellion in Brussels, where NATO members were at loggerheads in deciding whether to provide aid in defending Turkey against a possible attack by Iraq without also signaling that war was inevitable.

Then, only 24 hours later, the EU members held summit talks on the question of war with Iraq. But, says Wernicke, after their battle of words, the 15 EU members had little to say, except that Saddam must cooperate unconditionally with the UN -- and that weapons inspectors must be given more time. But on the issue of how much time is left, there was "loud dissonant silence."


In a commentary and analysis in the European edition of "The Wall Street Journal," entitled "Don't Lose Europe," commentator Fred Kempe focuses on European opposition to a possible war on Iraq. He refers to the demonstrations in Europe over the weekend, when "a record number of European protesters took to the streets against a potential U.S.-led war on Saddam Hussein." This, writes Kempe, "showed that European public opinion is stacked against [U.S. President George W.] Bush at the moment."

In addition, Kempe cites German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who openly challenged the American president in a speech on 13 February. Schroeder said that Washington must accept responsibility for its European problems. Particularly, he said, the Bush administration should accept blame for growing opposition to its Iraq policy.

It is possible, writes Kempe, that Washington overlooked Europe's political problems when so much focus was placed on terrorism, Afghanistan, and the Middle East in the first days following 11 September.

However, all this does not free the French of responsibility for encouraging confrontation with Washington. The French, in turn, say they are disappointed that the U.S. did not pay more attention to them after they backed the latest UN resolution against Iraq.

The Bush administration, Kempe concludes, should heed Winston Churchill's warning that the only thing worse than fighting with allies is fighting without them.


Anthony Dworkin writes a commentary and analysis entitled "Which Way to the War?" in Britain's "The Guardian." Dworkin is the editor of the Crimes of War Project website (, which reports on international humanitarian law and its application to armed conflict around the world. In the commentary, Dworkin discusses what constitutes a legitimate military target if the U.S. does go ahead with an offensive against Iraq.

While the world still hopes a war can be prevented, Pentagon officials have been leaking operational details of how they intend to destroy the Iraqis' will to fight. These plans involve the concept known as "shock and awe." The military operation will begin with a devastating display of high-tech firepower designed to plant confusion and panic among Iraq's leadership elite.

If the leaks are correct, Iraq's foot soldiers will not be targeted directly. The war is primarily against the regime and its security apparatus. "The aim is to shut down everything that Saddam and his inner circle rely on to stay in control," Dworkin concludes.

Dworkin next focuses on what counts as a military target. One area involves political sites, such as government ministries. Another involves electrical and water supplies, oil refineries, industry, and communications, which can be used by both civilians and the military.

Dworkin compares what may happen in Iraq with NATO's war with Serbia over Kosovo, where the aim was not to defeat the Serbian army in the field but to make President Slobodan Milosevic decide that his military campaign was simply not worth the trouble.

Dworkin hopes that in the event of a war, civilians may not be harmed so badly. Precision strikes by America's high-tech weapons should largely prevent innocent people from being injured.


In a commentary and analysis from "The Times," focus is placed on the disputes and discord afflicting Western democracies as they try to plan a joint policy toward Baghdad.

The focus has shifted from the situation in Iraq itself and how fast Saddam Hussein should be disarmed to heated discussions between allies. This has resulted in disunity inside NATO, where the refusal by France, Germany, and Belgium to allow defensive measures for Turkey's protection along its border with Iraq was interpreted as a threat to the survival of NATO itself.

There is clearly much further to go before these attempts at accord come close to matching the demands of the situation, the commentary concludes.


A commentary and analysis by times staff writer Sebastian Rotella in the "Los Angeles Times" entitled "Rift With Europe Runs Deep" discusses U.S. views on war and the strain on the NATO alliance.

"It seems hard to believe that the United States and Europe are actually old friends and partners," writes Rotella. Optimists, including White House officials, predict that this dispute between Europe and the U.S. will prove temporary. But others wonder if the dispute over Iraq is a symptom of a rift that has deepened since the end of the Cold War and that there will be a split with the United States.


A commentary and analysis on Armenia is found in "Eurasia View." The article is entitled "Armenia: A First-Round Victory for Kocharian?" and is written by Armenian analyst Anna Hakobyan.

The article deals with the re-election campaign of Armenian President Robert Kocharian. According to Hakobyan, the re-election campaign that Kocharian thought might end in the first round tomorrow may prove harder than he thought, with the chances of a runoff vote growing sharply as the election nears.

While opinion polls suggest that somewhere between 80 percent and 90 percent of the population will turn out, opinion polls also show that around 30 percent of the population remains undecided.

This could still deny Kocharian a first-round victory, Hakobyan concludes.

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