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Western Press Review: 'Containing' U.S. Power, The Mosul Voting Experiment, And Disarming The Subcontinent

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 6 May 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Among the topics discussed today in the major Western dailies are "containing" U.S. unilateral power; experimental elections in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul; Washington's internal wrangling over U.S. foreign policy; Pakistan's disarmament proposal for the subcontinent; and the Mideast "road map" to peace.


In an excerpt in today's "International Herald Tribune," Simon Tisdall of the British "Guardian" asks what is to be "done" about unilateral American power? There appear to be three possibilities, Tisdall says. The first position is that advocated by British Prime Minister and staunch U.S. ally Tony Blair. Blair advocates fostering a "strategic partnership" between the United States and Europe, in which Europe could mitigate -- and benefit from -- U.S. power.

But this approach "ignores both history and reality," Tisdall says. Sovereign states will rarely accept domination by another, even within a "partnership." It is more likely they will seek to "defeat or circumvent" the influence of the dominant partner. As for the United States, he says, partnership "only means one thing: leadership."

A second approach would be all-out resistance from Europe on the political, economic, and diplomatic fronts -- but Tisdall calls this "not a promising idea." He concludes that returning the geostrategic balance to a multipolar system is the "only way of balancing, channeling, and when need be, containing U.S. power."

But this proposition demands that the world's regional and global powers must rise to the occasion. The EU must increase its integration "through pooled sovereignty, common defense, economic, monetary, and foreign policy." The UN must reform the Security Council "in order more faithfully to represent the peoples and regions of a variegated planet that belongs to all, [not] in future to America alone."


"The New York Times" runs an editorial today saying one might "well wonder why the United States devoted so much more attention to Iraq than North Korea." In terms of American national security, the paper says, "North Korea's nuclear weapons loom as a much greater danger than Saddam Hussein's as-yet-undiscovered stocks of chemical and biological arms." But the presidential administration of George W. Bush "has yet to come up with a workable plan to deal with North Korea."

As "The New York Times" writes, "The only reliable way to halt North Korea's nuclear exports is to shut down and dismantle its nuclear weapons programs. To that end, the United States must return to the negotiating table, despite the North's belligerent style and violation of past agreements." Washington's message should be "that North Korea's leaders cannot ensure their survival by building nuclear weapons, but can by giving them up."

The military options for dealing with this scenario "are not appealing," says the paper. And "wishful diplomacy is not acceptable either." President Bush needs to focus on the North Korean nuclear issue "with the same intensity he applied to Iraq," the editorial says. "The challenge of North Korea's growing nuclear weapons threat can no longer be evaded or postponed."


A "Stratfor" commentary today discusses the first election of an Iraqi interim administration in the northern city of Mosul. On 5 May, 230 electors were sent to cast votes in mayoral and city council elections. The new city council "represents a cross-section of Mosul's ethnic and political factions." Mosul's new mayor served as an army general under the former regime of Saddam Hussein.

U.S. administrators cautioned against electing former Ba'ath Party officials, but they did not bar any candidates from the ballot. "Stratfor" says, "Although it might appear that Washington has made a tactical error in permitting a former Iraqi general [to] take over leadership positions in a key city, the [U.S.] administration actually had few alternatives."

Given the skills and experience of Iraq's former military, police, government, and civil service workers, "these officials likely will continue to play a key role in the interim government." Moreover, the U.S. administration "may not be able to depend on any other group." The emigre opposition Iraqi National Congress lacks both legitimacy with the Iraqi public and the numbers to lead. Kurdish groups lack political influence anywhere but in the northern autonomous region, while the country's 60 percent Shi'ite population has proved a bit more "volatile" than anticipated, after the recent power grabs by some clerics.

"Stratfor" says "if the 'experiment' of the Mosul elections is successful, former loyalists to the Hussein regime [can] be expected to take part in government elsewhere as well."


A commentary in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" discusses the diplomatic wrangling in Washington as U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld assumes a decision-making roll regarding Iraq's future, thus encroaching on the authority of Secretary of State Colin Powell.

The commentary says during the prewar crisis in the United Nations Security Council, it seemed Powell -- as the last multilateralist within the U.S. administration -- was losing the struggle with the neoconservatives in Washington. Some claimed Powell would never regain his lost influence.

This assertion, says the commentary, "is more of a cliche than an actual reflection of power politics in Washington. Powell's influence has never been entirely diminished." Notably, the road map for a settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict carries Powell's name. Now he is also reasserting himself regarding who should run postwar Iraq with the appointment of L. Paul Brenner, who has served as a senior aide to secretaries of state for 23 years and will rank above Jay Garner, the retired U.S. Army general who has been in charge of civil administration since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime. Finally, Powell is calling for the release of Afghan prisoners of war from the U.S. Navy base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The German daily says all these developments offer proof that even if the secretary of state's influence is not overriding in Washington, it is certainly not as weak as some have claimed.


Writing in "The Washington Post," Gareth Evans and Robert Malley of the International Crisis Group state paradoxically that the road map to Mideast peace "has no hope of being implemented -- and yet it is crucial that its implementation be pursued."

The authors describe the document as "not an especially helpful set of instructions for getting to a final settlement." The road map calls for several phases to be implemented by both sides, "[without] these steps being precisely ordered or defined and without an agreed method of verification" or any description of the consequences for noncompliance. The result "is likely to be endless debate between the parties about who has met [obligations] and who has not, who needs to take what step and when."

But these weaknesses do not make the road map irrelevant, say the authors. First, "it is a crucial reminder of basic principles that have been forgotten after more than two years of violent practices." Second, it can "serve as a catalyst" for internal reform among all parties involved.

"The utility of the road map lies in its existence, not its content," say Evans and Malley. The focus should be on "immediate steps" to "keep the parties focused on the ultimate objective of a final status agreement by 2005, avoid protracted negotiations" over the details of a Palestinian state "or the definition of an Israeli settlement freeze, and leave domestic Palestinian decisions to the Palestinians themselves. It is this approach that will set the stage for the next diplomatic phase."


A commentary in the German daily "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" discusses India-Pakistan relations and the prospects for both states relinquishing their nuclear weapons programs, in accordance with a Pakistani proposal made yesterday. The paper dismisses Islamabad's statement as mere propaganda. Both of the subcontinent nations view atomic weapons as a sign of national status, and would be reluctant to give them up.

In addition, India views itself as an atomic power not only vis-a-vis Pakistan, but regarding its eastern neighbor and rival China, with whom it has a "competitive relationship." Both countries are trying to lure international investors, both perceive themselves as leading powers in Asia. The commentary therefore concludes that India is unlikely to accept Pakistan's proposal. Nevertheless, it says it does seem that recent attempts at easing tensions may be more enduring than previous endeavors.

Both sides are newly and pragmatically motivated: the Pakistani government aims to strengthen its global position by implementing policies supported by the leading political forces that are united against terrorism and the extremist forces within its borders, while in India elections are due next year.


A "Le Monde" editorial says the administration of postwar Iraq will be the first test of the U.S. administration's new approach to international relations. Washington is now acting without the United Nations, has "short-circuited" NATO, and has made clear it will ignore the multilateral framework that has guided relations throughout the second half of the 20th century. The French daily says this type of U.S. policy is a "regression for international law and a major political defeat for all those [who] seek to promote it."

Washington is now ready to deploy a stabilization force to Iraq without soliciting a mandate from the UN Security Council, in a move "Le Monde" says is "unprecedented since the end of the Cold War." In every similar case involving a peacekeeping or interventionist force -- from Bosnia and Kosovo to the Ivory Coast and Afghanistan -- the force received the approval of the UN Security Council. The belief, until recently shared by the United States, was that this type of decision could not be made by a country or a group of countries acting alone, as it could cause negative comparisons to imperialism or occupation. The use of force had to stem from a decision made or ratified by the international community forum represented by the United Nations. However imperfect it may be, says "Le Monde," the UN remains "the only source of international legality."

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