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Western Press Review: The UN Security Council Vote On Iraq And The Efficacy Of U.S. Tax Cuts

  • Don Hill

Prague, 23 May 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The dominant issue in Western newspapers surveyed today by RFE/RL is yesterday's UN Security Council resolution accepting the U.S.-led coalition's role in the aftermath of the war on Iraq. U.S. and British commentators also discuss congressional approval of a massive cut in U.S. taxes.


The "Los Angeles Times" says in its assessment of yesterday's UN vote that the United States won a diplomatic victory. The newspaper editorializes that the United States also gave some ground and now it has an opportunity and a responsibility to act.

The editorial says: "The United Nations Security Council merely acknowledged reality [yesterday] in voting to lift more than a decade of sanctions on Iraq, thus accepting the role of the United States and Britain as occupying powers.

"The United States did, however, listen to Council members -- even France -- and modify its original proposal so the UN could be more involved in monitoring the reconstruction of Iraq. That concession should help win outside money and labor to aid in the rebuilding, which will reduce the burden on U.S. taxpayers.

"French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, who was demonized in Washington for blocking UN support for the invasion, said he was not completely satisfied with the resolution but supported it in the interests of 'unity of the international community.' Translation -- We give up; you're bigger than we are.

"Washington has an opportunity now, with the United Nations coming on board, to get North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops into Iraq as a peacekeeping force. It should not waste a minute."


Britain's "Financial Times" says in an editorial that the UN decision defines the coalition's role with possibly "creative" ambiguity.

The editorial says: "With yesterday's almost harmonious vote by the Security Council on Iraq, the United Nations, according to Dominique de Villepin, the French foreign minister, is back in business. That is improbable, but just about conceivable -- depending on what happens now.

"The resolution confers on its sponsors, the United States and U.K., the transitional control of Iraq and its oil wealth. The UN, other multilateral institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and an interim Iraqi administration have been written into the transitional picture. But their role is defined with -- one hopes creative -- ambiguity: as more than mere subordinates to the occupying powers but less than real partners.

"Still, the mandate is less sweeping than the original draft, which gave the Anglo-American victors of the war against Saddam Hussein the sort of mandatory powers the victors of the First World War awarded themselves over tracts of the Ottoman Empire."


An "International Herald Tribune" editorial also expresses discomfort with the UN resolution's vagueness.

It says: "Most Council members remain understandably unhappy with the unilateral nature of the occupation but recognize that trying to block it is futile. They realize that at this point, it is better to wring the most out of the arrangement by maximizing UN involvement and helping Washington see the value of outside help. The U.S. resolution has been modified in recent days and is the better for it. Shortcomings remain, but it can serve as a framework for renewed international cooperation in Iraq."

In its editorial, "The Washington Post" labels the Security Council action "a significant diplomatic victory" for the United States, demanding little in the way of U.S. retreat. "The Post" goes on to say that the United States now should offer voluntarily greater compromises.

The newspaper contends: "Only token concessions were made to European governments that had sought a leading role for the United Nations; the administration largely succeeded in its drive to concentrate power over Iraq's transition in the Pentagon and to curtail the influence of governments other than Britain's.

"That it prevailed says less about international support for its strategy -- or the results on the ground so far -- than about the desire of other governments, including war opponents France, Russia and Germany, to repair relations with Washington. The responsibility now rests almost solely with the United States to bring order to Iraq, restart its economy and lay the foundations for a new democratic government. But success will require mobilizing more resources and more support than the administration has yet obtained from Congress, the American public or its allies."

The editorial says: "The United States needs European financial support and European troops for Iraq; it continues to depend on French and German military help in Afghanistan and will likely need more such help in future operations. U.S. foreign policy cannot consist of calibrating punishments and rewards for other nations. Mr. Bush will soon make an important visit to Europe; he should offer a broad vision of how the United States and its allies can collaborate in rebuilding Iraq, in continuing the fight against terrorism and in transforming the larger Middle East. Now that the administration has won the right to exclude the rest of the world from influence in Baghdad, it would be wise to invite the rest of the world back in."


Columnist Molly Ives asks a loaded, but largely unvoiced question, at least in the present-day United States.

Writing in the "Chicago Tribune," she says: "Much as I hate to interrupt what is apparently a deeply felt triumphalism on the American right, now that it's over, does anyone see any reason for our having invaded Iraq?

"I realize that's what we all kept trying to figure out before the invasion, but don't you think it should at least be visible in hindsight? Good thing we won the war, because the peace sure looks like a quagmire.

"These are early days, certainly, to attempt a full historical evaluation. Could be a case of the forest and the trees. Perhaps we're well along the road to having everything work out magnificently, and I'm just missing it. Still, I can't see anything that's going right.

"Iraq is in chaos, and apparently the only way we'll be able to stop it will be to kill a lot of Iraqis. Just what Saddam Hussein used to do. The other day, we announced we were going to shoot looters, and when that produced nightmare scenarios of children dead for stealing bread, we had to cancel that plan. Now we're going to try gun control -- that should have the enthusiastic support of the National Rifle Association. Meanwhile, the chaos in Iraq seems to be costing us whatever good will we earned for getting rid of Hussein, the one unmitigated good to have come from all of this."


From London, "The Times" publishes a commentary by Irwin Stelzer. Stelzer says that the United States is unready -- despite Secretary of State Colin Powell's spreading of diplomatic salve -- even to consider re-embracing France.

Stelzer writes: "So did George Bush really, really mean it when he promised Jacques Chirac that he would never forgive or forget French perfidy and France's machinations at the UN during the run-up to the war for regime change in Iraq? The short answer is yes. True, Colin Powell, his emollient secretary of state, is performing his role as good cop by touring Europe and making soothing noises to the French and Germans. After all, that is what diplomats do."

The writer says: "All very interesting, and all completely irrelevant to the future course of U.S. foreign policy. Call it unilateralist, call it Wilsonian in its desire to make the wonders of democracy available to other nations, call it Rooseveltian -- Theodore, not Franklin -- in its robust willingness to use military power to defend what has come to be called the homeland, it boils down to one thing: an unwillingness ever again to cede the defense of America's vital interests to any body in which the French -- or anyone else, but especially the French -- can interfere with that defense."


A debate in Congress and across much of the United States about a cut in taxes fervently pursued by President Bush and his Republican Party also attracts bemused attention from across the Atlantic.

Britain's "Financial Times" sums up its view with the editorial headline: "Tax Lunacy."

The editorial then says: "The long-run costs of financing huge U.S. fiscal deficits, which stretch far into the future, will weigh heavily on future generations. With little of the tax cut having an immediate effect, the necessary short-run economic stimulus will be negligible."

It says: "On the management of fiscal policy, the lunatics are in now charge of the asylum. Including 'sunsetting' provisions to cut the 10-year cost of the tax measures is an insult to the intelligence of U.S. people. Anyone who genuinely believes that in 2007 Congress will automatically reverse these tax cuts needs therapy. Much of Mr. Bush's 2001 tax-cutting package was also deemed temporary, only for the measures to be made permanent later."

"The Financial Times" says: "The latest wheeze in Republican circles is to dismiss forecasts of fiscal deficits because they rely on static forecasting techniques. Dynamic scoring, that takes account of the effect of tax cuts on economic growth, would transform the picture, they insist. But the evidence is not so kind to these assertions."

The editorial says: "Never mind these facts, more extreme Republicans often say, big deficits are in our interests. Proposing to slash federal spending, particularly on social programs, is a tricky electoral proposition, but a fiscal crisis offers the tantalizing prospect of forcing such cuts through the back door. For them, undermining the multilateral international order is not enough, long-held views on income distribution also require radical revision."

The editorial concludes: "In response to this onslaught, there is not much the rational majority can do: reason cuts no ice; economic theory is dismissed; and contrary evidence is ignored. But watching the world's economic superpower slowly destroy perhaps the world's most enviable fiscal position is something to behold."


The "International Herald Tribune" finds gentler words but, in essence, concurs.

It says in an editorial: "Against some of the best economic advice in America, President George W. Bush and his Republican congressional leaders have concocted a benighted final tax cut plan that will do far more to deepen America's deficits and debt than to stimulate the wallowing economy."


"The Washington Post" editorially joins the critical chorus, adding that President Bush's victory establishes his personal responsibility for what happens next to the economy -- for worse or for better.

The newspaper says: "Either the tax cut that Congress is on the verge of sending to the president is among the most dishonest, gimmick-laden tax packages in history -- in which case its true cost is far more than advertised. Or the bill's provisions really will take effect and then quickly fade away -- in which case its economic value is far less than promised. Either way, it manages, rather impressively, to be more skewed to the wealthy than President Bush's original proposal."

The editorial concludes: "Mr. Bush instructed Congress not to send him a 'little bitty' tax cut, and when the final costs are tallied it will become clear that he got his wish. This is the third tax cut in three years. For better or worse, it's Mr. Bush's tax code now -- and his economy."


The "Chicago Tribune" applies ridicule to its tax-cut critique. Under the headline "The Strange Math of Tax Cuts," it editorializes: "In the real world, two plus two equals four each time you do the math. Because we know that, we don't go around thinking two plus two equals five today, three tomorrow and zero down the road. But that's the real world. In the Washington world, what looks temporary can be permanent and what is permanent can be made temporary. Two plus two can add up to four -- or not.

"In recent months, Senate and House Republican leaders have been trying to give everybody an economy-stimulating tax cut without appearing to doom the nation to red-ink budgets for years to come. On Wednesday, they announced that they had found the way to do it. They are doing it by adding two plus two and getting three. Or less. Something like that."