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Western Press Review: As First Strikes Target Iraq, Calls Heard For 'Moral' Combat And Viable Postwar Plan

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 20 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- As the first U.S.-led military operations have begun in Iraq, the debate has shifted from whether a war is just or imminent to what Iraqis -- and the world -- can expect after the war is over. Several commentators urge U.S. and British leaders to conduct the war as humanely as possible, as well as ensure there is a viable, workable plan for postconflict Iraq.


As the first military operations are launched in and around Baghdad, an editorial in Britain's "The Independent" says bluntly, "The debate about the rights and wrongs of this war is over." The paper says its editors "fervently" hope for "a swift conclusion with as few casualties on both sides as is possible." But it is now also appropriate to discuss how the fighting is to be conducted.

The paper says just-war theory makes a "useful distinction" in determining two scenarios in which a war "may be deemed moral." First, there must be "ethically acceptable reasons" for the conflict: it must be "centered around lawful authority, just cause and right intention."

The second point determines whether the method of fighting is just: force must discriminate, aiming at only legitimate military targets, and it must be proportional to the task at hand.

"The Independent" says this type of reasoning may sound merely theological or academic, but it should be heeded also for "sound reasons of realpolitik." If the U.S. and British coalition is to "minimize the resentment that the war will cause in the Middle East, and among Muslims elsewhere, the level of bloodshed needs to be minimized."

Nations worldwide that opposed the war will also be appeased by such restraint. But most importantly, says the paper, when democracies do battle with despots it is essential they retain the high moral ground to distinguish themselves from tyrannical regimes.


"The Washington Post" in an editorial says a military operation in Iraq "will almost certainly" bring with it "civilian casualties [and] tragic mistakes, as there are in all wars." And even after the battle is over, "U.S. commanders will face a daunting task to maintain security in a country riven with ethnic divisions and long-repressed fury at Saddam Hussein's brutal apparat."

The war in Iraq aims to end Saddam's reign in Baghdad, which the paper calls the "greatest threat to peace in the Middle East." It will also make clear that "rogue states will not be allowed to stockpile chemical, biological or nuclear weapons in defiance of the international community." And it will "free the long-suffering Iraqi people, who have endured one of the cruelest and most murderous dictatorships of the past half-century."

The paper says the weeks ahead "may be difficult, and the costs high, both for Americans and for Iraqis. But the reward, if America and its allies can sustain their commitment, will also be great: the end of a despot who has haunted a people, and the world, far too long."


An editorial in "The New York Times" says now that the first strikes have been launched in Iraq, "even those who vehemently opposed this war will find themselves in the strange position of hoping for just what the president [George W. Bush] they have opposed is himself hoping for: a quick, conclusive resolution fought as bloodlessly as possible."

Much has changed since the first Gulf War in 1991, says the paper. At that time, the military still relied on "shuttling paper back and forth." Today, the armed forces are "electronically linked and coordinated in ways that would have seemed unimaginable then.

"And this time there is no clear strategic [exit] as there was when the coalition forces stopped well short of Baghdad in 1991. Now it is [the ouster of] Saddam or nothing."

The editorial also rues the lack of an international coalition, such as the one that supported the first war in the Persian Gulf. "This mission has unbound the world," it says.

The paper goes on to say that the current military operations have two clear missions: "disarming Iraq and then transforming it into a free and hopeful society." It urges politicians and the public to begin debating the form of a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq in earnest.


In a contribution to "The New York Times," Timothy Garton Ash of the European Studies Center at St. Anthony's College, Oxford, says that in the past weeks, "the geopolitical West of the Cold War has collapsed." And already, three broad visions are competing to fill the void. Ash calls these views the Rumsfeldian, the Chiraco-Putinesque, and the Blairite.

The Rumsfeldian idea, named for U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, is that "American might is right." As the "hyperpower of the free," it must battle international terrorism, unilaterally if necessary.

The Chiraco-Putinesque view, offered by Presidents Jacques Chirac of France and Vladimir Putin of Russia, "is that American might is dangerous." Chirac especially believes that it is unhealthy for one nation to have such power, "but it's particularly dangerous if that state happens to be America." France's mission "is to construct an alternative pole," to counter the influence of the U.S. and its allies. But for France to unite with "semi-democratic Russia [and] nondemocratic China [is] not the brightest way to move toward a multipolar world."

The Blairite vision for the best way to deal with U.S. unilateralism is through partnership. "Partners are not servants," says Ash. Europe must learn to speak with one voice, and Europe and the U.S. should "always work together through the international institutions of the post-1945 world," such as the United Nations.

Ash says he believes the Blairite vision is the best one available. But to implement it, both Chirac and Rumsfeld must agree. With the views of the French president and the U.S. defense secretary so far apart, Ash says "the chances don't look good."


Martin Halusa in the German daily "Die Welt" looks at the last attempts of the French, Germans, and Russians, in particular, to avert war with Iraq.

Halusa says the convening of the last UN Security Council meeting yesterday "did not make any difference." But Germany's UN Ambassador Gunter Pleuger described the joint attempts to prevent war as "useful and necessary." He added, "Even though we did not succeed, we at least made a last attempt."

Halusa writes, "Although it was far too late, the ministers bravely claimed that the peaceful disarmament of Iraq" was still possible. It was their vision to prolong the mission of the UN's chief weapons inspector Hans Blix for another three months.

On the other hand, says Halusa, the absence at the meeting of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and British Foreign Minister Jack Straw was indicative of the degree to which these statesmen "place the UN on the sidelines" in the debate over Iraq.

It is still questionable whether the U.S. is violating international laws by attacking Iraq without a UN mandate, says Halusa. The U.S. claims it is not, but UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has his doubts.


In a contribution to the "Financial Times," former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker discusses a joint effort by the U.S.-based Council of Foreign Relations think tank and the Institute for Public Policy of Rice University -- the recently published "Guiding Principles for U.S. Post-Conflict Policy in Iraq."

Baker says the "most important point" is "not to attempt to impose a solution." He says long-term occupation or an "imposed postwar government" should not be options. Instead, the Iraqi people "should take charge of their own country as quickly as possible." But allies should also "promote a vision of a democratic Iraq committed to true federalism, human rights and a free market economy."

In the first few months, however, a U.S. or British commander will have to take charge over a temporary "emergency government" to reestablish order and dismantle Saddam Hussein's Ba'athist regime.

Iraq "will also need food, water and medical assistance. Humanitarian relief operations should begin at once," says Baker. And Iraq's territorial integrity "must be protected." There is a potential threat posed by Iraqi neighbors "with cross-border interests," specifically Iran and Turkey.

Baker says, "At the earliest opportunity, the military governor should surrender control to an interim government -- internationally supervised but run by Iraqis." Within two to four years, "a fully sovereign Iraqi government can assume control." While the "rehabilitation" of Iraq is "an enormous undertaking," if it is done well, the Mideast region and the world "will be safer and more prosperous."


In France's daily "Le Monde," Marie-Claude Decamps and Claire Trean discuss the question of whether U.S. action in Iraq is legal without a UN mandate.

A Geneva-based commission of international jurists, a grouping of close to 60 experts and an advisory body to the UN, stated on 18 March that without UN approval, using force to disarm Iraq would run counter to international law. The United States invoked the principle of self-defense in accordance with Article 50 of the UN charter when it launched its war in Afghanistan following the 11 September attacks. But this principle does not apply in the case of Iraq, says the authors.

U.S. leaders assert that Iraq poses a real threat and, thus, preventive action can be considered a form of self-defense. But Decamps and Trean says this concept of preemptive action violates all international rules.

The use of force must be explicitly authorized by a UN Security Council resolution, they write. U.S. and British leaders abandoned an attempt to win Security Council approval when it became clear they were unlikely to get the necessary nine-member majority for a resolution to pass. France and Russia's threats to veto a resolution authorizing military action underscored the impossibility of winning an endorsement.

Thus, Decamps and Trean say it remains that the U.S. and British decision to use force goes against the expressed will of a majority of the members of the UN Security Council.


Anneliese Rohrer, writing in the Austrian daily "Die Presse," discusses "the will of the majority" with respect to war in Iraq and the deeper implications for democracy.

We will never clarify whether the decision of the U.S. and Britain to take action against Iraq without the approval of the UN Security Council was an action that most people around the world opposed, says Rohrer. She says after a U.S. victory in Iraq, people will say they were in favor; in the event of disaster, everyone will claim they were against it from the start.

Rohrer questions whether the will of the global majority really carries any weight, or whether it should. U.S. President George W. Bush responded to worldwide demonstrations by saying he respects the people's opinions but does not share them.

Rohrer makes the point that statesmen should not be swayed by public sentiment. She cites the violent opposition to NATO's decision to station cruise missiles in Europe back in 1979 as an example.

Today, she says, we know that this military measure contributed to the fall of communism.

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