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Western Press Review: Bush's Ultimatum To Saddam To Expire And Turkey's Possible Role In An Iraq Conflict

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 19 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The major Western dailies today are predominately concerned with thoughts of war, as U.S. President George W. Bush's 48-hour ultimatum for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to step down or suffer military action expires. Notably, we take a look at the U.S. and British failure to win UN approval for the use of force, as well as what role might be played by Iraqi neighbor and NATO member Turkey in a possible conflict.

THE BOSTON GLOBE:

An editorial in "The Boston Globe" discusses U.S. President George W. Bush's public address this week (17 March) in which he said Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and his sons must leave Iraq or face military action.

The paper says only an "incorrigible optimist" would expect Saddam to accept Bush's ultimatum and go into exile, and indeed, Saddam has refused. Nevertheless, the paper says, Saddam's departure from Iraq "would be the best possible outcome for Iraqis, Americans, and nearly everyone else in the world."

The paper goes on to comment on the failure to win UN support for the use of force to disarm the Iraqi regime. Bush "should have done more to win over traditional [U.S.] allies France and Germany," as well as Russia, the editorial says. Disarming Baghdad "is a defensible aim. But the way Bush has gone about it has been too often incoherent."

The paper says the "most encouraging aspect" of Bush's 17 March address was "his pledge to help Iraqis rehabilitate their country after a war and after Saddam is deposed. Nothing could mean more to the reputation of America in the world than for Bush to keep his promise to support a democratic future for Iraqis after the long nightmare of Saddam's regime."

The editorial says Americans "will want free speech and the rule of law for Iraqis. But neither Americans nor Iraqis will tolerate a prolonged colonialist occupation of Iraq."

THE WASHINGTON TIMES:

In "The Washington Times," a former naval officer who is now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies says a U.S.-led war against Iraq lacks the "direct provocation" of previous wars.

Harlan Ullman says the U.S. administration has seemingly concluded that a war at this time is justified to prevent future attack. Washington, he says, must thus have no doubt that Iraq is armed with weapons of mass destruction and believe that this poses "a clear and present danger." Ullman surmises there must be "near-certain knowledge in the White House" that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein "has these weapons and that they will be uncovered after Iraq is liberated from his rule."

On this belief, U.S. President George W. Bush "is betting not only his presidency, but the reputation of the United States."

According to media reports, the method favored by the U.S. administration for toppling the regime in Baghdad is a strategy of "shock and awe" -- a rapid, overwhelming attack designed to put intense pressure on Iraq's political and military leadership. Ullman, who co-chaired the group that developed this strategy, says while a rapid victory "with relatively little loss of life is likely," in this new kind of war it is the subsequent peace "that will dictate who ultimately won."

He says the Bush administration "would be well advised to concentrate its future intellectual and practical efforts" on what follows military action.

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG:

Stefan Kornelius in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" discusses U.S. President George W. Bush's push for a war against Iraq, following his 17 March speech in which he offered an ultimatum to Saddam Hussein, saying the Iraqi president and his sons had 48 hours to leave the country or face a U.S.-led invasion.

Kornelius says, "Bush is abusing his power," as the U.S. president stands virtually alone and is now responsible for momentous decisions determining war or peace. Kornelius says Bush is also debasing some of the great American democratic traditions, which he should be upholding more than anyone else. Bush's strength derives from his ability to persuade, thus enlisting allies and fostering relations. Kornelius says Bush has abused these international principles and wagered U.S. credibility and its leadership role -- and has lost the gamble.

Rarely in U.S. history has Washington taken upon itself to fabricate "such an artificial cause" as this war in Iraq, says Kornelius. Seeking increased security and stability in the world does not call for an invasion in the Gulf -- in fact, it precludes it, Kornelius says.

He concludes that as much as the world would like to see an end to Saddam Hussein's reign, this war really belongs to George W. Bush.

THE NEW YORK TIMES:

Writing in "The New York Times," columnist Thomas Friedman says replacing Saddam Hussein's regime in Baghdad with "a decent, accountable government that can serve as a role model in the Middle East" is a worthwhile endeavor. But Friedman says he supports this action not because he believes that Iraq's weapons are a threat -- as the U.S. administration maintains -- but rather because there is a real threat posed by "a collection of failing Arab-Muslim states, which churn out way too many young people who feel humiliated, voiceless and left behind."

He says the United States has "a real interest in partnering with them for change."

Friedman says rebuilding Iraq will prove a "mammoth" task. These aims should be done "with maximum UN legitimacy and with as many allies as possible." But the U.S. administration failed to build the necessary international support, he says.

Friedman suggests the U.S. administration now needs to repair its relations with the world. Having allied support "in rebuilding Iraq will increase the odds that we do it right," he says. But if the divide that has emerged between the United States and its "traditional friends hardens into hostility," America "will find it much tougher to manage both Iraq and all the other threats down the road."

Friedman says the Bush administration "needs an 'attitude lobotomy'" -- it needs to lose its arrogance "and start engaging people on the World Street, listening to what's bothering them, and also telling them what's bothering us."

THE WASHINGTON POST:

In a piece published both in "The Washington Post" and the European edition of "The Wall Street Journal" today, columnist George Will says that in seeking UN approval for the use of force in Iraq, U.S. President George W. Bush "allowed for pointless diplomacy to proceed too long, thereby dissipating some of his principal asset, his aura of serene decisiveness."

Bush's "peculiar" speech on 6 March, followed by a few "strange hours in the Azores" on 16 March, both undermined his decisive image, Will says.

But on 17 March, Bush "delivered perhaps the first presidential speech directed almost entirely at a foreign audience." Will goes on to summarize the messages contained in Bush's speech. To Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his two sons, Bush said simply: Get out within 48 hours. To the United Nations, Bush made clear he already had the legal authority to use force against Baghdad in order to ensure U.S. national security. As for the Iraqi people, Bush tried to assure them that military action would be directed against the "lawless" rulers in Baghdad, not the citizens of Iraq.

Bush also directed a message to Iraqi military officers, urging them not to fight for a regime whose demise is imminent. He added that the U.S. would seek to try officials for war crimes, and that "the Nuremberg defense" -- the claim that officials were merely following orders -- would not serve to extirpate guilt.

THE WASHINGTON TIMES:

Writing in "The Washington Times," Helle Dale of the Heritage Foundation's Institute for International Studies says the message delivered by U.S. President Bush to Iraq on 17 March "could not have been clearer."

Bush gave Saddam Hussein 48 hours to leave Iraq or face military action. "That two-day window of opportunity closes this evening, and barring a last-minute miraculous change of mind" from the Iraqi leader, Dale says the world is now "poised for war. No one desires war," she says. "But if it has to be, let us get on with it."

Dale goes on to discuss why Bush's image often seems disliked around the world. She says his style "has never been popular with those who favor diplomatic niceties and reality in shades of gray. His black-vs-white view of the world causes endless discomfort in Europe, where people pride themselves on appreciating the complexity of it all."

Dale says Europeans and others were "appalled" at being told they were either "with" the United States or "against" it in the campaign against terrorism. Likewise, they "cringe" at Bush's facile characterizations of some regimes as "evil."

Dale says diplomacy on Iraq is finished, which is "a good thing." She says that "absolutely nothing has been gained" by the holdup. Military action has merely been postponed, and "U.S. alliances have frayed badly."

LE MONDE DIPLOMATIQUE:

In an analysis in "Le Monde Diplomatique" monthly, Ignacio Ramonet says, "global issues are clearly at stake in Iraq." International relations are disintegrating, the UN is "sidelined, the European Union divided and NATO fractured. In February, 10 million people took to the street around the world" to protest against a possible war.

Ramonet says many observers believe that "the real reasons for this war are secret." Others remain skeptical of Washington's arguments. The three main justifications offered are that Iraq has disobeyed 17 UN resolutions, is seeking to develop banned weapons of mass destruction, and is guilty of gross human rights abuses. But while nations opposing war acknowledge the seriousness of these charges, they contend the same accusations could be made against other abusive dictatorships or those that flout UN resolutions.

Thus Ramonet says, "We must question the real motives of the U.S.," which he says are threefold. First, after 11 September, the U.S. administration is actively seeking to prevent or break the links between "rogue" states and international terrorists. For Washington, Iraq comes first in this endeavor. A second, "unspoken" motive, is "to control the Gulf and its oil resources." And third, Ramonet says another unspoken motive is to reassert U.S. hegemony. The U.S. administration's hawks have long sought to "incrementally" disengage the United States from international multilateral institutions while simultaneously seeking to "reshape" the globe and "redraw" frontiers.

THE WASHINGTON TIMES:

"The Washington Times" in an editorial says Turkey is "desperately worried" that Kurdish resistance forces in northeastern Iraq will use the opportunity offered by a conflict to declare independence "and incite Turkey's Kurds to do the same." Turkey is also concerned Kurdish forces may try to seize control of Iraqi oil fields.

As for Washington, "For the past few weeks, the Bush administration has been engaged in a delicate diplomatic dance" with Ankara. The U.S. seeks the use of Turkish bases to mount an attack on Iraq from the north. In this endeavor, Washington "has emphasized to the Iraqi Kurds that their national aspirations can best be met as an autonomous region of Iraq, and emphasized to the Turks that they have nothing to fear from the relatively benign form of democratic Kurdish nationalism" among Iraqi Kurds.

The paper says it hopes that "when the Turkish parliament votes again, perhaps as early as today, on the deployment of U.S. forces, the politicians will act in their country's best long-term interests by voting yes."

However, the paper notes that due to the uncertainty coming from Ankara, U.S. forces have already established "alternate means of entry for ground forces into northern Iraq for at least the first two weeks of war."

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG:

Germany's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" carries a commentary today by Berthold Kohler, who looks at U.S.-European relations regarding a U.S.-led war against Iraq.

Kohler notes that the Germans, French, Russians, and others did not succeed in deterring the U.S., along with its faithful ally Great Britain, from the path they considered to be the right one. The attempt failed because of America's "lust for war," Kohler says. The quarrel between the U.S. and the allies, now known as "Old Europe," stemmed from "a world order which now knows only one world power."

U.S. might is such that America will probably prove that it does not need allies in conducting and winning a military campaign in Iraq, but Kohler says it will require help in the aftermath, to rebuild Iraq economically and politically.

Kohler sees this as a solution to the rift between the trans-Atlantic allies. Postwar Iraq may offer a chance for America and Europe to find a new settlement, and the UN may once again become the focal point of global decision making.

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

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