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Western Press Review: Has Military Victory Justified Controversial 'Preemptive' Doctrine?

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 22 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Analysis and commentary in the Western media today takes a look at U.S. plans for a temporary postwar Iraqi administration; the ongoing and still fruitless search for Iraq's weapons of mass destruction; Turkey's postconflict diplomatic maneuvering, and the U.S. policy of preemption: has the war in Iraq justified this new and controversial doctrine?

THE NEW YORK TIMES:

An editorial in "The New York Times" notes that members of the U.S. administration have won praise for the way they prosecuted the war in Iraq. But, it says, history's final verdict on the U.S. campaign will depend largely on the job retired General Jay Garner does as the temporary civilian administrator of the country. Garner must now "get a battered country running again and promote a revival of political life." But returning exiles are already "maneuvering for top positions," while "[militant] and moderate mullahs are contending for power in Shia areas." The editorial says with so many factions vying for influence, General Garner "has his work cut out for him."

The paper says it is "abundantly clear" that the U.S. administration "did a better job of planning the war than preparing the peace. Iraq today is an ungoverned jumble," it says. "Security must be reestablished, vital services like water, electricity and sanitation restored in urban neighborhoods, and qualified Iraqis found, vetted and trained to form a functioning interim administration." The paper warns that "fumbling" the postwar administration "could quickly turn America's military victory in Iraq into a political defeat."

Overcoming the many challenges "will take time and skill," says "The New York Times." Garner now "wisely recognizes that his original idea of completing his assignment in three months was not realistic." Iraq needs a new, "healthy start, not just a fast one."

THE INDEPENDENT:

Writing in Britain's "Independent," Michael Brown says the Anglo-American war in Iraq may have been a military success, but the U.S. and Britain must remember why this war was waged -- and why Washington and London "were prepared to [wreck] the old world order that had endured for over 50 years" -- destroying the UN, the EU, and NATO "as international forces of unity" in the process. The war was about Iraq's "disarmament -- nothing more, nothing less," he says. According to British and American leaders, "Such was the threat this tyrant (Saddam Hussein) posed to international security [that] we could not even wait another few weeks for [chief UN weapons inspector] Hans Blix to complete his inspection." And yet, Brown notes, Anglo-American forces have yet to uncover significant stashes of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

The "nagging question of the existence of WMD will not go away," he writes. It is now more urgent than ever to consider the rationale provided for this conflict. Brown urges politicians and the public to pressure the U.S. and British administrations, and ask the questions that they "may never be able to answer."

Brown writes: "If Britain and the U.S. now try to maintain that the removal of Saddam was justification in itself, and that the original war aims were superseded by events, they will never be trusted again by international opinion." British and American credibility in the Middle East and elsewhere "can only be restored if WMD are found."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG:

Christian Schloetzer, writing in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," discusses Turkey's stance in the aftermath of the war with Iraq. He says when the war in Iraq began, Turkey "was in a state of shock because the government in Ankara had led the people to believe that America would not launch a war without its allies on the Bosphorus." Ankara is now experiencing the feeling "that it has waged a war and lost," although it did not fire a single shot.

Most painful for Turkey is its "loss of significance," since it suddenly realized that its strategic position is no longer the key to an everlasting alliance with the United States, an alliance which also meant a flow of millions of dollars to Turkey and U.S. support for its EU bid.

Schloetzer says Ankara is now painfully aware that the diplomatic cards have been reshuffled. America no longer needs the air bases in Turkey and, even more disturbing, America's deepening alliance with the Kurds in northern Iraq is unsettling Ankara. Schloetzer says Turkey "will have to come to terms with a loss of control of a particularly sensitive position on the borders with Iraq. The Kurds need not fear Turkish intervention, as long as the U.S. maintains a presence in the area.

Ankara will be put to another test over its willingness to send a peacekeeping force to Iraq. Turkey is all too anxious now to oblige and be on the side of the victors, but Schloetzer says it is merely "clutching at straws."

THE TIMES:

Writing in the British "Times," Mick Hume says Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and his alleged arsenal of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) "have long served as a metaphor for evil in the Western imagination." That is a useful tool at a time when many Western societies "find it hard to agree on definitions of good and evil that could give society some sense of self-certainty."

As the as-yet-unsuccessful hunt for Iraq's purported unconventional weapons goes on, Hume says "It seems certain that the [Anglo-American] coalition will eventually find something that can be presented to the world as Iraq's chemical or biological arsenal. But it remains uncertain whether whatever is found will be considered enough to justify U.S. President George W. Bush's dire warnings that Hussein was placing the United States and the Western world, "at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass destruction."

"These days," writes Hume, U.S. authorities "always seem to be searching for some symbol of evil that they cannot quite pin down -- Osama bin Laden, Saddam, Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. It looks increasingly like an exercise in U.S. soul-searching projected on to Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria, a restless quest not to build a foreign empire but to colonize moral high ground." Hume says, "It does not seem to occur to the searchers that it might be they who have lost their way."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE:

In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," defense analyst Robert Levine, a former U.S. official serving in both the executive (presidential) and legislative (parliamentary) branches, says the U.S.-led victory in Iraq "may seem to justify the two strategic doctrines on which the war was based, U.S. unilateralism and preemption -- but it doesn't."

U.S. "unilateral power is an existential fact, he says, and this unilateralism "is inherent in U.S. military strength." But a doctrine of preemption "is optional and difficult to justify." The administration of President George W. Bush has chosen to preemptively subvert any potential threat from nations suspected of possessing weapons of mass destruction. But "possession of deadly weapons is not the danger," Levine says -- using them is. "Much of the strategic thinking of the Cold War focused on preventing [the] use" of nuclear weapons, not just obstructing their proliferation. "A return to that focus would address the real problem," says Levine.

A renewed focus on deterrence must involve a viable threat of major consequences against any nation that used such weapons, which would "substitute for a failed preemption" strategy. "Iraq has shown that possession is difficult to prove, but use would be far less ambiguous and far more culpable."

Levine says the international community's "determination to deter and punish the use of prohibited weapons, instead of squabbling over the whethers and hows of possessing them, could restore post-September 11 comity."

"The attack on Iraq was not sanctioned by the UN Charter," notes Hans J. Giessmann in "Die Welt," in an analysis of the UN's contemporary role. But he points out that Article 2 of the UN Charter, forbidding the use of force, has two inherent exceptions -- notably the right to individual or collective self-defense against an attack and the right of the Security Council to take measures to establish peace and international security. But both these articles contain extreme limitations, Giessmann says.

The UN Charter is "a civilizing achievement," he says, which was born of the desire of the post-World War II allies to set out rules for the relationships between nations and to limit the use of force to extreme conditions that were under strict international regulation. Now, however, we must face the fact that wars have not been eliminated, although the use of force -- thanks to the UN -- has diminished considerably. It would be irresponsible to return to a world where only strength ruled, he says. But on the other hand, to maintain the UN in its present state without implementing reforms would be equally irresponsible.

The Bush administration has attempted to "re-legitimize" preemptive wars as part of a right to self-defense, relating it to preventing terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. European criticisms of this American policy are certainly legitimate, and based on the apprehension that this policy might achieve the very opposite of what it intends, instead making the world less stable, Giessmann says. But Washington will not take such arguments seriously as long as there is no plausible alternative concept for world relations, he adds. Considering that international law remains poorly equipped to deal with asymmetrical conflicts, Europe could now reestablish itself by initiating some of the overdue reforms and oversights of the UN's administration.

THE INDEPENDENT:

Britain's "The Independent" says many Iraqis "are channeling their new freedom into religious expression." In the past few days, "hundreds of thousands of Shia pilgrims have been making their way on foot towards the holy city of Karbala in a profession of faith that was banned under the rule of Saddam Hussein. The pilgrimage culminates with services in Karbala today." The paper says the pilgrimage may merely be "an outpouring of pent-up religious devotion, [a] celebration of freedom restored." But it could also be something "much more profound and longer lasting. In cities, towns, and villages across Iraq, the power vacuum left when the Baath Party rulers fled is being filled. And in many places, it is not [any] nascent democrats to whom the people are turning, but the clerics of Shia Islam." The Shi'a comprise 60 percent of the Iraqi population, although they are split "into many rival factions." During the reign of Saddam Hussein, this 60 percent was subject to being led by the minority Sunnis of the Ba'ath Party.

The paper says unless retired General Jay Garner, in his temporary post as the civil administrator of Iraq, "can bring water, power and a reasonable semblance of order to Iraq's cities very soon, authority may gravitate irreversibly towards those Iraqis who can command respect at a populist level. At present, this means the imams; above all, the Shia imams who declined to attend last week's U.S.-convened talks on an interim government, thereby seizing for themselves an opposition role."

LIBERATION:

Writing in France's "Liberation," Gerard Dupuy says the enormous crowds now converging toward the holy city of Karbala in central Iraq are a testament to the repression Iraqis suffered under the Ba'athist regime of Saddam Hussein. Thousands of Iraq's devotees are taking part in a pilgrimage to the holy site in a practice that was banned for years under the former regime. But the massive numbers taking part in this peaceful display are also a testament to the magnitude of the change that has now begun in Iraq, to which Anglo-American forces opened the floodgates, Dupuy says. During the material and institutional reinvention of Iraq the Shi'a question will remain central, he says. Because Shi'as are the majority in Iraq and have also been some of the most discriminated against, returning them to a basic level of prosperity is a priority.

But Iraq needs a form of secularism that will somehow organize all its diverse religious factions. This may be the real challenge that awaits the Americans, says Dupuy. He says one might legitimately question whether those the U.S. administration has chosen to lead a postwar Iraqi administration will really be able to create a democracy capable of representing and governing all the Iraqi masses who are now making their way to Karbala.

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

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