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Western Press Review: Turkey's Troubles And How Iraqi Containment Kills

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 12 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Several items in the Western press today take a look at Turkey's difficult position in the wake of failed talks on the reunification of the divided island of Cyprus and as war in Iraq looks increasingly likely.

Other issues addressed include the failure of a containment policy in Iraq, the European Union's declining popularity in Eastern Europe, and diplomatic aspects of the expected U.S.-led conflict in the Persian Gulf.


A "Wall Street Journal Europe" editorial looks at the tough tasks facing Turkey's new prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, leader of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK).

The "Journal" says Erdogan must now resolve "a host of problems," all involving what the paper calls Turkey's "traditional challenges: its relationship with Greece in the north, Iraq in the south and the Kurds [in] its middle."

First on the list is what to do about Iraq. The parliament last month denied U.S. troops the use of Turkish bases in the event of war. Erdogan has said Ankara needs more assurances of how Turkey will be affected by a possible conflict, as it fears thousands of Kurdish refugees may flood its borders, possibly inciting hopes for independence among Turkey's own 12-million-strong Kurdish minority.

The paper remarks that perhaps the best way to guarantee that freedom for the Kurds in neighboring Iraq "does not beckon to Turkish Kurds is to make them feel at home in Turkey."

Next, Erdogan will have to mediate the Cyprus issue, after talks on reunifying the divided island ahead of European Union membership collapsed yesterday. But the "Journal" says the goal must remain to reunify the island as soon as possible after the Greek half joins the EU, despite the union's "rough treatment" of Ankara in recent years.

The "Wall Street Journal Europe" says if Erdogan can successfully mediate the thorny issues facing his country, "history will treat him kindly."


Writing in "The Washington Post," Walter Russell Mead of the Council on Foreign Relations says those who believe containing Iraq and its weapons programs is a reasonable alternative to war are wrong. Sanctions are the "cornerstone of containment." And "in Iraq, sanctions kill." Containment "is not an alternative to war," he writes: "Containment is war: a slow, grinding war in which the only certainty is that hundreds of thousands of civilians will die."

Mead notes that the 1991 Gulf War killed "between 21,000 and 35,000 Iraqis, of whom between 1,000 and 5,000 were civilians." But based on Iraq's own government figures, UNICEF (UN Children's Fund) estimates the international community's containment policy kills approximately 60,000 Iraqi children under 5 years of age every year.

While these estimates vary, Mead says "by any reasonable estimate, containment kills about as many people every year as the Gulf War -- and almost all the victims of containment are civilian." He notes that Iraq's President Saddam Hussein is 65; "containing him for another 10 years condemns at least another 360,000 Iraqis to death."

Iraqi publicity blames U.S. policy for this state of affairs -- but Mead says that is the wrong conclusion. Each year, the UN and the United States allow Iraq to sell enough oil "to meet the basic needs of Iraqi civilians. Hussein diverts these resources," and that is what kills. But Mead says the international community's containment policy "enables the slaughter."


Several German papers discuss yesterday's failure of UN-led talks on the reunification of Cyprus. Now, the European Union will press ahead and admit only the Greek sector of divided Cyprus.

Andreas Middle in "Die Welt" says "the future of Turkey depends on Cyprus." Turkey and their "new strong man," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, have prevented the peaceful reunification of Cyprus. From the outside, it looks as if the Turkish leader in Cyprus, Rauf Denktash, is "the scapegoat" for the island's problems. But without cover from Ankara, Denktash would have no leverage.

"The failure to reunify the island reflects Turkish policy," says Middle. "There is still no method of dealing with the military policy of Ankara."

This policy will, of course, undermine Turkey's attempts to integrate with the West and eventually join the EU. No Western government will consider Turkey as long it forcibly occupies part of an EU country, Middle says.


A commentary in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" warns that Turkey's attitude toward Cyprus will block the desire of the Cypriot majority to join the EU, merely because Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash is "blindly obsessed with the idea of his independent decisions."

The commentary condemns this stance and says it is incomprehensible that Turkey can aspire to EU membership while adopting such an obstructive policy.


A "Jane's Foreign Report" today looks at declining support for EU membership in Poland and the Czech Republic. Both nations face referendums on accession within the next three months, as pro-EU governments in Prague and Warsaw "face a struggle for survival against Euroskeptics and outright anti-EU forces."

Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller now finds himself in a minority administration after dismissing his Polish Peasant Party (PSL) allies. The PSL had made no secret over their Euroskepticism, emphasizing the adverse effects membership may have on Poland's agricultural sector, which employs 25 percent of its workforce.

In Prague, weeks of political infighting over choosing a successor to former President Vaclav Havel culminated in what "Jane's" calls "the worst of all possible outcomes for pro-EU forces," a victory for former Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus. While Klaus denies he is a Euroskeptic, comments he has made suggest he has a "strong ambivalence" to membership. Moreover, "opinion polls suggest Czechs are more dubious about the merits of EU membership than just about anywhere else in Eastern Europe."

"Jane's" says elections within a year in both countries seem "inevitable," but predicts Poland's Miller will be able to remain in power as head of a minority government. The fragile pro-EU center-left government in Prague is under increasing strain, and "Jane's" says its collapse may be "unavoidable." With membership for both nations due for next year, nether country "[could] have imagined that the path to accession would prove quite [so] treacherous."


In the "Financial Times," columnist Martin Wolf says a U.S.- and British-led war against Iraq in the coming weeks seems "close to certain." But he adds, "The question has never been whether there would be a war but when and whether the rest of the world would give one its blessing. This moment defines a new era," he says.

"The world's 'sole superpower' will eliminate a despicable regime that does, nevertheless, present no immediate threat." And it will do so "regardless of the opinions of Iraq's neighbors, most of its own allies and the rest of the world's sizable powers."

Wolf says, "Welcome to the post-post-Cold-War world." A new era of U.S. supremacy and unilateral action began with the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 and the subsequent war in Afghanistan. But in targeting Iraq next, Wolf says these events are about to become part of a new epoch.

The United States has decided that its own safety "is the supreme law." As the reasoning goes, "Having a duty to protect its citizens, the state is not merely entitled but obliged to take the required actions."

Moreover, he says, the U.S. is "adopting the ancient maxim that enemies may hate as long as they fear." But "hatred and humiliation breed terrorism." The United States "is no more likely to crush terrorism by military means than [Prime Minister] Ariel Sharon is to achieve the same aim for Israel."

And this new policy in Washington will shape the world "for good or ill, for years, perhaps decades, to come."


The leading editorial in France's "Le Monde" discusses President Jacques Chirac's speech this week (10 March) regarding France's opposition to a war in Iraq, in which he made clear that Paris would use its veto in the Security Council.

But the paper says that in his speech, Chirac not only reiterated his antiwar stance but also attempted to reconcile with the United States. Chirac adopted a conciliatory tone toward Washington, praising the U.S. troop deployment around Iraq as responsible for forcing Baghdad's compliance in the latest round of inspections. He granted the United States flyover rights to French territory if needed, and attempted to trivialize the veto threat by pointing out that France had only used it 18 times since the UN was founded in 1945, compared to the 76 vetoes of the United States.

The paper says Chirac seeks to re-engage the Americans because he knows a French veto is not enough to prevent war, and he believes the United States will need the international community to reconstruct Iraq. But by refusing to accept war as a basic means to resolve conflicts, France and the rest of "Old Europe" are establishing the concept of a world order in which force is the last resort, multilateralism is the guiding principle and democratic exchange within the United Nations should always prevail.

"Le Monde" says this objective is not only noble, it is now especially pertinent.


An editorial in Britain's "Independent" notes that, "under the UN charter, military action is only lawful if it is undertaken in self-defense or if it is approved by the Security Council 'to maintain international peace.' " The paper says in the case of Iraq, "Clearly the Security Council has no intention of giving such sanction."

Those supporting war might counter that Resolution 1441 already grants sufficient authority with its threat of "serious consequences" if Iraq fails to comply. But the paper says it is now clear that 1441 was an ambiguous approach, a way of avoiding the issue -- "which is why everyone was able to sign up to it despite their widely diverging views on what it meant. The U.S. and Britain claimed it sanctioned military action; the French and Russians said [it did] not."

The "Independent" says one can dismiss the United Nations as an organization "without political consistency or moral authority." But it does "represent an important aspiration -- that the world should be ruled by law, not war."

A unilateral U.S. attack on Iraq would set a precedent that could be cited by any number of countries that feel threatened by their neighbors. But the paper says the result of this would be "that we slip back 100 years to the days when might was right and that was all there was to be said."

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