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Western Press Review: U.S. Diplomatic 'Isolation,' The Shifting Logic Of War And Age Redefined

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 6 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Several items in the Western press today discuss the UN Security Council meeting scheduled for tomorrow. The United States and Britain are widely expected to restate their ambition to forcibly disarm Iraq, while Russia, Germany, and France continue to insist war is not necessary, most recently in a trilateral declaration issued yesterday. NATO's core mission of mutual aid is also discussed today, as is Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov's redefinition of the concept of age and the recent violence in the Middle East.


An editorial in "The New York Times" says the UN Security Council seems to be "rapidly approaching a crippling deadlock over Iraq," which it says would be "the worst of all possible outcomes." Such an impasse would not only ease the international pressure on Iraq, it would also remove "the few remaining restraints" that have kept the U.S. administration "from going to war with its motley ad hoc coalition of allies."

"The New York Times" says the diplomatic stalemate could lead to a serious "breakdown in the system of collective security" established by the UN in the wake of World War II, thus ruining the Security Council "as a mechanism for unified international action."

Baghdad may be far from full disarmament, the paper says, but with "more time and an escalation of pressure," it may yet be compelled to full compliance. Thus, "it is not surprising" France and Russia are opposed to any UN resolution "that the United States would certainly take as permission to launch an immediate attack." But with divisions deepening in the Security Council, the U.S. may be tempted to "bypass further discussion [and] move directly to combat."

All sides are responsible for this predicament, says the editorial. But the U.S. administration "laid the groundwork for this mess with their arrogant handling of other nations." Although the administration initially tried to go through the UN regarding Iraq, its "obvious intention to go to war" undermined that very effort.


"The New York Times'" Patrick Tyler says the declaration issued yesterday by Germany, France, and Russia, in which they stated their opposition to war in Iraq at this point, may have set up "a final confrontation" at the UN Security Council tomorrow over a possible resolution authorizing the use of force. Tyler says the declaration "should be a reminder to Washington not only of the deep 'moral and ethical' aversion to war on the Continent, but also of the negative reaction to the tone emanating from the administration."

Moreover, the French-German-Russian communique "dispelled the notion" within the U.S. administration that Germany, France, and Russia could be coaxed "away from the opposing camp one by one," and instead reaffirmed their opposition to U.S. policy on Iraq.


"The Washington Post" staff writer Glenn Kessler says the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush "has become increasingly isolated" in its "determination to topple the Iraqi government." This leaves the U.S. administration is a "difficult" diplomatic position ahead of the Security Council meeting tomorrow, he says.

In contrast, Iraq "has made great headway" in dividing the Security Council, which now seems less likely to approve any U.S.-backed resolution authorizing military action. Tyler says the "blunt talk often used by President Bush and other senior U.S. officials when referring to Iraq [has] not translated well among foreign audiences." Bush has repeatedly indicated he was "tired of diplomatic delays, creating the impression he was eager for war and that he viewed the United Nations as a useless distraction."

Moreover, the U.S. administration's message "was confused as the administration first stressed 'regime change' as a goal," and then that Iraqi disarmament was the aim. Last week, Bush offered yet another reason for war against Iraq -- that war would spawn democracy in the Middle East.

Kessler says the administration has threatened that the UN risks rendering itself "irrelevant" if the United States wages war without UN backing. But, he says, "that argument has been turned on its head," as other nations "increasingly appear to believe a rejection of the U.S. position" is needed to "rein in an administration they feel has been consumed with hubris."


An editorial in Britain's daily "The Independent" says France and Russia appear ready to veto any new resolution authorizing the use of force to disarm Iraq tomorrow at the UN Security Council. However, the United States and Britain are hoping the UN will back a second resolution authorizing military action to ensure full compliance with earlier resolutions calling for Iraq's disarmament.

The paper says that, assuming chief weapons inspector Hans Blix fails to provide evidence of Iraq's "much-vaunted 'smoking gun'" in his report tomorrow, the Security Council will face a "stark" choice between the U.S.-British call for military action and the French-German-Russian appeal for inspectors to have more time. If indeed faced with such a "straight choice," the paper says the Security Council "should not hesitate. If there is a chance to disarm Iraq peacefully, this should be seized. There is no justification for risking lives, national economies and regional stability in military action that was not the absolute last resort."

Iraq has come quite a distance in the past six months, says the paper. "UN inspectors are back in Iraq, presidential palaces are being inspected [and] missiles are being destroyed." A second UN resolution should "increase the number of inspections, define specific objectives and set deadlines that Iraq must meet" instead of paving the way for war.


A commentary by Karl Grobe in the "Frankfurter Rundschau" discusses what he calls the "Arab Dilemma," made amply clear this week when a conference of Muslim countries was hastily called in Doha, Qatar. What was described as a last attempt by the Islamic world to help avert a war against Iraq degenerated into a shouting match.

Grobe says a lack of unanimity in the Arab world on the issue of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein stepping down was due to fears of "a domino effect." The fall of Hussein may lead to the ouster of the unpopular royals in Saudi Arabia, where unemployment has reached 32 percent. Should a new democratic order come into being in Iraq, Grobe says this phenomenon "could be contagious." Crown Prince Abdullah is making a pretense at reform but, at the same time, is stifling any debate on this issue. He remains bound to the United States, but does not want a war in Iraq. "The Arab world is faced with several dilemmas" on the Iraq issue, Grobe concludes.


In the "Chicago Tribune," columnist Clarence Page says U.S. President George W. Bush repeatedly changes the reasons he cites for why war in Iraq is necessary. "For a while, it looked as though the Bush administration would only invade Iraq if [Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein refused to rid himself of weapons of mass destruction," Page says. But now that Iraq realizes "the U.S. and the UN are serious and has stepped up its compliance," President Bush has begun speaking of "changing Iraq's regime, [whether] it complied with weapons inspections or not."

President Bush has also cited Baghdad's alleged links with terrorist group Al-Qaeda as a reason to topple the regime. But the administration then "failed to turn up evidence" to link them. Next, Bush said the UN must enforce its earlier resolutions on Iraq's disarmament or risk sliding into "irrelevance." This was a "good point," Page concedes. But the U.S. president then nebulously claimed regime change in Baghdad was going to bring democracy to the Mideast and even bring peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Page says that "mission creep" occurs when there is a lack of clarity over what, exactly, is the objective. The public wants to know why they are fighting, and their leaders "scramble to come up with an answer that sounds attractive enough, even when they haven't worked out many of the details."


An editorial in Tel Aviv-based "Ha'aretz" daily says recent Israel Defense Forces operations in Gaza Strip refugee camps "appear to have been carried out with reckless abandon." The paper says taking care "not to harm innocent bystanders [has] disappeared."

Dozens of civilians have died in recent weeks, the paper notes. "Of the 72 Palestinians killed in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in February, 25 were civilians. [In] demolishing the homes of terror activists," Israeli forces have also "destroyed the property of neighbors who had nothing to do with anti-Israel activity" -- "before falling victim to terror attacks, reprisals and counterterrorism operations."

"Ha'aretz" says the "declared intentions" of the administration of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon -- to adopt a "heavy-handed" approach against terrorists but a "merciful" policy "toward unfortunate Palestinians who only want to live and make a living" -- "have gone up in the smoke of the tanks and the dust of the bulldozers."


A commentary in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" draws attention to the recurring violent exchanges between Israelis and Palestinians, which the paper says have "hardly been taken seriously of late, since all attention has been focused on Iraq."

Yet as talk of a possible war in Iraq continues, the paper says "there is a war" going on in the Mideast. Both sides have suffered many injustices. Amid unrelenting suicide attacks by Palestinian extremists, Israel has chosen to pursue "an arrogant, egocentric and self-righteous policy." This, in turn, creates a climate of hopelessness and despair on the Palestinian side, fueling a murderous, suicidal ideology that subsequently leads to more hard-line Israeli reprisals.


The "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" also remarks on the new wave of terror in the conflict between Israel and Palestine. In the past week, about 40 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip. The paper says the terrorist organization Hamas "is not concerned with an end to Israeli occupation, but an end to Israel." On the other hand, Israeli military operations aimed at the destruction of the terrorist infrastructure serve Hamas as a welcome excuse for continued attacks.


In a contribution to "The Wall Street Journal Europe," U.S. Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns describes the alliance as the "indispensable bridge across the Atlantic." Debate heated up in recent weeks when Turkey invoked Article 4 of the Washington Treaty for the first time in NATO history, calling for member nations to discuss its defense in the event of a war in neighboring Iraq. After much diplomatic wrangling, a decision was reached on Turkey's protection.

Burns says that, had the alliance not acted, "it would have dealt a severe blow to the basic credibility of NATO itself." The "core fabric of the Alliance is that we have a collective responsibility" of mutual aid, he says. Thus NATO proved that it is able to do what is necessary.

Burns says future NATO members should also rest assured that the alliance will provide a solid guarantee of security. He says events of the past weeks should be a reminder of NATO's "unique role [among] international institutions. NATO's strength is its ability to take action," he says. "While other organizations have the luxury of just talking about problems, NATO's credibility hinges on its effectiveness in acting to protect its members. NATO has never subordinated itself to any other organization -- even the UN -- and it never will."


In Britain's "The Guardian" daily, columnist David McKie says there is "little [to] admire" in President Saparmurat Niyazov of Turkmenistan. Niyazov "runs a vicious police state, [and his] taste for self-glorification makes [President] Kim Jong-il of North Korea look shy and retiring." Niyazov has recently elevated himself to the status of a prophet. He has renamed months and days of the week after himself or after family members, and "honored airports, seaports, a meteorite, yogurts and perfumes by attaching the name Niyazov to them."

Yet McKie says Niyazov "has one real reform to his credit. By presidential decree, adolescence in Turkmenistan lasts until you are 25; old age does not arrive until you are 85; and the age range from 62 to 73 has been designated 'inspirational.'"

McKie says perhaps few doctors would agree with Niyazov's view of aging. And the designation for old age, which officially ends at 97, "leaves 98-year-olds and their elders in limbo." However, says McKie, "since life expectancy for the average Turkmen male is 60, that may not be too much of a problem."

"Still," he says, "at least most people in Turkmenistan know where they are on the course of their journey through life, which is more than they do round here [in Britain]."

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this press review)