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Western Press Review: Options For Postwar Iraq, Plavsic's Sentencing, And Chechen Referendum

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 28 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Several of the Western dailies today focus their attention on the options for a postwar Iraq. Several commentators warn the United States and its allies that a realistic, workable political plan must be drawn up alongside military preparations if Iraq is to become a stable, democratic state in the coming years.

We also take a look at CBS News correspondent Dan Rather's recent interview with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, maintaining the U.S. commitment to rebuilding Afghanistan, the scheduled 23 March referendum on a Chechen constitution, and the sentencing on 27 February for war crimes of former Bosnian Serb President Biljana Plavsic.

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:

An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" says U.S. President George W. Bush sketched "his postwar vision for a more democratic, stable Middle East" this week in a 26 February speech at the American Enterprise Institute. The U.S. president committed to "a major rebuilding effort in Iraq, aimed at setting a democratic example for the entire Arab world."

Bush said the world must make sure that one oppressive leader is not merely replaced with another. He also pledged that U.S. forces, if they invade, would remain in Iraq as long as necessary, but -- as Bush put it -- "not a day more."

The editorial says the U.S. president's plan is certainly "ambitious" and representative of "the large stakes at play" in a possible war. "But it would be far worse to commit U.S. blood and treasure to ousting Saddam only to retreat and let the country and region sink back" into old habits.

CHICAGO TRIBUNE:

In the "Chicago Tribune," columnist Don Wycliff says he remains unconvinced of the U.S. administration's justifications for possible war in Iraq. Wycliff says he supported the use of U.S. military force in Kosovo, Bosnia, and in Rwanda to end ethnic conflicts and would likely consider supporting future U.S. interventions. But Wycliff says he does not support the idea of U.S. action in Iraq, even for the professed purpose of preparing Baghdad for a democratic regime.

He goes on to say that three reasons for these doubts spring to mind. First, he says, he does not think the United States will be successful. He says at best, the United States can depose the regime of President Saddam Hussein. But "after that, it's anybody's guess what happens next."

Second, Wycliff says that even if the United States could ensure the emergence of a democratic regime, indigenous Iraqi citizens have yet to rise up themselves ahead of possible military action. But he adds that might not be surprising, "considering how those who did this in 1991 were sold out by the U.S.," who failed to provide their uprising with military support.

Finally, Wycliff says he is "deeply distrustful of the administration's motives for this war." Nuclear power North Korea "poses a far more immediate threat" to U.S. allies and interests than Iraq does," he says. Yet inexplicably, an "obsession" with Iraq has topped the U.S. administration's priorities.

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:

In a separate item in the European edition of "The Wall Street Journal," staff writer Michael Kelly writes from Kuwait. Regarding Iraq, Kelly says, "the horror of tyranny is that it truly is a horror: an immense, endlessly bloody, endlessly painful, endlessly varied, endlessly endless crime against not humanity in the abstract, but a lot of humans in the flesh. It is, as [author George] Orwell wrote, a jackboot forever stomping on a human face."

Kelly says he understands why many "dislike the idea, and fear the ramifications of, America as a liberator." But he says he cannot understand "why they do not see that anything is better than life with your face under the boot. And that any rescue of a people under the boot -- be they Afghani, Kuwaiti or Iraqi -- is something desperately to be desired. Even if the rescue is less than perfectly realized."

Or even, he says, if the rescuer is -- as some might view the United States -- "a great, overmuscled, bossy, selfish oaf.... Or would [you] choose the boot?"

THE INDEPENDENT:

In Britain's "The Independent," columnist Johann Hari says, "the best route to a democratic Iraq is to support the Iraqi democrats and the wishes of the Iraqi people." And their desires have always been clear, he says: to be rid of President Saddam Hussein and then rebuild the country.

Hari says the "5-million-strong Iraqi exile community overwhelmingly supports this route, and the evidence we have from within Iraq suggests that the people there agree." But Hari says there should then be a rapid transition "to a civilian democracy under UN supervision within a few years."

Hari says the United States has not chosen to become involved in Iraq's future "because of a sudden burst of altruism." Instead, the United States is acting out of "a new sense of enlightened self-interest." The United States has long pursued a policy of "fostering sympathetic authoritarians in the Middle East." But now, says Hari, the United States realizes "that such client states have a vested interest in not educating their populations [because] illiterate people [are] much easier to repress." And it is these "bitter" populations that "are more likely to become fundamentalist and more likely to rage against America, as the Americans have finally [learned]."

"The democratization of Arab and Middle East countries is one of the most exciting progressive causes in the world," Hari writes. "It is sad that so many of us, living in comfortable democracies, seem to have forgotten the great promise that democracy offers to oppressed peoples."

DIE WELT:

Several German newspapers discuss the sentence handed down yesterday by the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague to former Bosnian Serb President Biljana Plavsic. Plavsic was sentenced to 11 years in prison for war crimes committed in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the early 1990s.

Plavsic is the highest-ranking political leader from the Balkans conflict to be sentenced by the UN court since it was set up in 1993 to prosecute and try suspected war criminals from the former Yugoslavia.

Katja Ridderbusch, writing in the daily "Die Welt," says that Plavsic, in coming forward and admitting her guilt, has brought the future of her country a small step forward.

Ridderbusch says The Hague tribunal has now been "rehabilitated." She says Plavsic's sentence was a good sign after all the years when the court was criticized as going after only peripheral characters in the Balkans. The court was looked at as a "paper tiger" -- although it seemed formidable, in reality it was toothless.

Ridderbusch says Plavsic's trial has reestablished the tribunal's "credibility and authority."

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG:

In an editorial, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" discusses the fact that Plavsic surrendered voluntarily to The Hague tribunal and pleaded guilty to war crimes. The court took this fact and her advanced age -- 72 -- into account in passing a somewhat milder sentence for such grave crimes.

"This case may be regarded as a small but significant step toward the distant aim of establishing a global justice [system] under which unrepentant political criminals would receive more appropriate punishment," the paper says.

BUSINESSWEEK:

Writing in the weekly news magazine "BusinessWeek," Stanley Reed says U.S. policymakers have sketched out a vision for a post-Hussein Iraq that "springs quickly back from the devastation of wars and dictatorship, establishes a real Arab democracy, and becomes an outpost of prosperity and stability" in the Mideast. But skeptics and antiwar protesters around the world "fear something worse: A new nightmare for the Mideast, as the U.S. discovers how unmanageable [Iraq] really is."

Reed describes Iraq as "a desperately poor, faction-ridden country where power has been exercised by the sword" for centuries. He says the Iraqi president is just the top man "in a vast web of patronage and repression, much of which would likely remain" even after Saddam.

A postwar Iraq would likely also be burdened with severe economic trouble, says Reed. Even oil reserves are "unlikely to be a panacea" due to the "decrepit" condition of the infrastructure. Iraq's massive debt will add to this burden, and creating a real private economy out of nationalized assets "will take years."

But Reed says there are positive factors at work in Iraq, as well. Iraqis are relatively well-educated, and the status of women "is better than in most Arab countries." Many Iraqi exiles hold advanced university degrees in a plethora of subjects and "remain intensely concerned about the fate of their home country."

Reed says creating a "democratic, prosperous Iraq" could "cost plenty" in both effort and resources.

DIE WELT:

Torsten Krauel in "Die Welt" looks at U.S. President Bush's stated vision for the future of the Middle East. Iraq will be a democracy, free to dispose of its oil. Palestine will enjoy a viable democracy. Israel will therefore have to remove settlers from occupied Palestinian territory and come to an agreement with Palestine on their contentious problems.

"Peace in the Middle East is Bush's personal aim," says Krauel, adding that his concept of a free and peaceful region is the "most far-seeing vision" put forward for years.

Krauel says it would be wrong to see the Bush administration's policy as a "fig leaf" for a U.S. "oil war." Americans, he says, with their unconstrained approach, have a good sense for the aspirations of ordinary people. In the periods following past wars, the United States did not leave behind occupying forces but instead left constitutions and parliaments.

This consideration should apply in discussing the future of Iraq, and it is one with which Germans have personal experience.

THE NEW YORK TIMES:

An editorial in "The New York Times" says Afghan President Hamid Karzai's visit to the White House on 27 February "was meant to symbolize America's continuing commitment to Afghanistan." But such symbols are not enough, the paper says.

The Bush administration has budgeted reconstruction aid for Afghanistan "below the levels authorized by Congress." Moreover, the U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, has been assigned the task of also negotiating with Iraqi opposition groups.

"With the administration increasingly consumed by Iraq," the paper says "there is a risk that Afghanistan's needs will be shortchanged."

"The New York Times" notes that the authority of Karzai's government is "still virtually limited to Kabul, with large areas of Afghanistan too insecure for relief workers." International peacekeeping troops are also "unwisely restricted to the capital."

The paper says that given these circumstances, Washington "needs to accelerate its efforts to train a new Afghan army."

The United States "can afford no slackening in aid or attention to Afghanistan," says the paper. "Victory on the battlefield could turn hollow without the staying power to finish the job."

JANE'S INTELLIGENCE REVIEW:

A report in "Jane's Intelligence Review" by Mark Galeotti discusses the referendum on a new Chechen constitution scheduled for 23 March. The hope is that the referendum will ultimately allow for elections and the creation of a "popular and legitimate local authority" able to ensure stability. In what Galeotti calls a best-case scenario, this might include the scaling back of Russian troops in the region from 80,000 to around 20,000.

But many are "deeply skeptical" of these proposed changes, seeing them as "little more than a token gesture towards normalization, both to pacify the Russian public [and] also legitimize brutal security operations." There are also worries that thousands of displaced Chechen refugees will be effectively excluded from voting while 20,000 Russian troops stationed in Chechnya are entitled to vote.

Galeotti says the referendum "will be held and won." Elections will then "almost certainly" be held. "The key unknown remains how far the Kremlin is really prepared to devolve power to the Chechen authorities and to accept a degree of amnesty and power sharing."

He says Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to "talk tough" and rule out compromise. But he is also aware that the war is not being won, and Galeotti says "the ground may be being prepared for some kind of political concession."

Political reform in Chechnya cannot win the war, says Galeotti. "But it does provide another opportunity for Putin to start making peace rather than waging war, if he chooses to accept it."

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:

In a contribution to "The Wall Street Journal Europe," anchor and Managing Editor Dan Rather of the CBS Evening News discusses his recent exclusive interview with Iraq's President Saddam Hussein. Rather says Hussein's story of the years since the 1991 Gulf War have been "a complex story of conflict and diplomacy."

Saddam Hussein considers himself to be "the consummate survivor," says Rather, and has achieved this through "consummate calculation." He describes the Iraqi leader as "self-possessed," with a demeanor that is "a studied mix of the natural and the affected." Hussein listens "intently" when spoken to, is "a skilled practitioner in the art of eye contact," and weighs his answers "carefully."

Rather says after the interview, Hussein asked several questions about U.S. public opinion. Rather says he described to the Iraqi president the "profound effect" the 11 September attacks had on Americans and the "deep concerns" they have "about anyone who poses a similar threat."

Rather says that, after asking Hussein in turn about the Arab world's opinions of Osama bin Laden, he was "left with the impression" that Hussein "feels the pressure of competing on the one hand with [U.S.] President Bush in the court of world opinion and, on the other, with Osama bin Laden for the hearts and minds of the Arab and Muslim worlds."

Rather says if or when war does come to the region, Saddam Hussein "believes he will find a way to absorb the first, devastating blow," and escape to "gather his resources for the next battle."

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

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