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Western Press Review: Truth On Iraq, Delay Over Liberia

  • Don Hill

Prague, 29 July 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Varied questions involving the worldwide war on terror and the U.S.-led war in Iraq occupy Western commentary reviewed in our press review today.


"The New York Times" says in an editorial, "Trying to get a clear fix on Saudi Arabia's connections to the [11 September 2001] attacks [on the United States] has been a lot like navigating through a sandstorm."

The editorial says: "Americans still do not know whether the heavy representation of Saudis on the four hijacking squads was an odd coincidence or a telltale sign of a deliberate effort by some circles in Saudi Arabia to support the plot. The answer may be knowable now, if both Washington and Riyadh are willing to take on the politically sensitive job of vigorously investigating the Saudi role. Despite the best efforts of the Bush administration to push the Saudi connections out of sight, and a lot of sanctimonious bluster from the Saudi royal family about the kingdom's innocence, the congressional report on the terror attacks contains important information that should be pursued."


"The New York Times" is one of several news organizations to call for declassification and publication of 28 suppressed pages from a congressional report on Saudi Arabia's role in the terrorist attack. Robert Scheer of the "Los Angeles Times" writes today in a commentary that U.S. citizens have a right to know the whole truth.

Scheer writes: "Love the truth; it ultimately bows to no master. Even for the president of the United States, the commander in chief of the world's most powerful propaganda machine, deceptions inevitably unravel. In the last week we've moved from the 16 deceitful words in [U.S. President] George W. Bush's State of the Union speech to the 28 White House-censored pages in the congressional report that dealt with Saudi Arabia's role in the [11 September 2001] terrorist attack on the United States."

He continues, "Yet even in its sanitized version, the bipartisan report, long delayed by an embarrassed White House, makes clear that the U.S. should have focused on Saudi Arabia, and not Iraq, in the aftermath of September 11."

Scheer says: "As we know, but our government tends to ignore, 15 of the 19 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia; none came from Iraq. Leaks from the censored portions of the report indicate that at least some of those Saudi terrorists were in close contact with -- and financed by -- members of the Saudi elite, extending into the ranks of the royal family."

The writer concludes: "Bush has used September 11 as an excuse to turn this country upside down, making a hash of civil liberties and bankrupting our federal government with unprecedented deficit spending on war and its materiel. Before we do any more irrevocable damage in the name of an open-ended 'war against evil,' we have a right and a responsibility to confront the uncensored truth of what happened that black day -- no matter what powerful people are brought to account."


"The Christian Science Monitor" editorializes that the congressional report discloses many failures by the U.S. government, especially in what the editorial calls the "nonsense" of competitive conflict between government agencies. The newspaper says: "Last week's report by Congress's joint commission on September 11 revealed plenty of blame in the federal government's failure to detect and perhaps prevent the terrorist attacks."

The editorial continues: "But of greater concern now is whether the steps Congress and the president have taken since then are sufficient to prevent a recurrence. There is reason to doubt. At the heart of the pre-[11 September] problems was the pervasive inability of federal agencies to coordinate."

The newspaper says: "The recent flap over what the government knew and believed about Iraqi attempts to purchase uranium from Niger likewise doesn't give confidence that the intelligence agencies and the White House are working well together. The Defense Department's disregard for the work the State Department undertook to prepare for governing Iraq is symptomatic of how each often acts as though the other were a greater enemy than the external threat to national security."

The editorial concludes: "The American people are poorly served by such nonsense. Only the president, with help from the national security adviser, can demand that agencies cooperate -- and take action when they don't. President Bush and his successors must keep a watchful eye on this perennial problem. The country can't afford otherwise."


A number of Western newspapers take up the question of whether and how much President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair and their governments misrepresented intelligence information to bolster public support for the war in Iraq. In London, "The New York Times'" Paul Krugman wonders in a commentary whether President Bush eventually will pay as high a price in loss of public trust as Blair appears to have done.

Krugman comments: "Two leaders politicized intelligence to sell a war. But while one has suffered a catastrophic loss of public trust, the other hasn't, at least not yet. Are Tony Blair's troubles the shape of things to come for George Bush? Or does the aftermath of the Iraq war show, once again, that we are two nations divided by a common language?"

The commentator says: "Now the Bush administration was at least as guilty of hyping the case for war. It was a campaign not so much of outright falsehoods -- though there were some of those -- as of exaggeration and insinuation. Here's what the public thought it heard: Last month, 71 percent of those polled thought the administration had implied that Saddam Hussein had been involved in the September 11 attacks."

Krugman writes: "But while Mr. Bush's poll numbers have fallen back to pre-war levels, he hasn't suffered a Blair-like collapse. Why? One answer, surely, is the kid-gloves treatment Mr. Bush has always received from the news media, a treatment that became downright fawning after September 11. There was a reason Mr. Blair's people made such a furious attack on the ever-skeptical BBC."

The writer says: "Another answer may be that in modern America, style trumps substance. Here's what Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, said in a speech last week, referring to Bush's speech on the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln announcing the end of major hostilities in Iraq: 'To gauge just how out of touch the Democrat leadership is on the war on terror, just close your eyes and try to imagine Ted Kennedy landing that Navy jet on the deck of that aircraft carrier.'

"To say the obvious, that remark reveals a powerful contempt for the public: Mr. DeLay apparently believes that the nation will trust a man, independent of the facts, because he looks good dressed up as a pilot. But it's possible that he's right."


In the British daily "The Independent," Robert Fisk comments on increasingly fierce opposition by Iraqis to what he calls "America's military crusade" in their country. Fisk writes: "Last night, American casualties in Iraq reached the critical figure of 50 since President George [W.] Bush declared his war in Iraq over. Fifty young American lives have thus been sacrificed since May 1 in a growing guerrilla war that Washington and London still will not acknowledge. In the latest incident, an American soldier was killed in an attack in the very center of Baghdad when a grenade was dropped on his convoy from a bridge."

The writer says, "Under [ever-increasing] assault by hundreds of Iraqi guerrillas, America's military crusade in the Middle East -- to eliminate non-existent weapons of mass destruction and 'liberate' Iraq -- is already crumbling."

Fisk writes: "Across the country now, U.S. convoys travel with every soldier pointing a gun from the window of his truck or Humvee, fingers -- quite literally -- on the trigger. Their opponents, many of them, spent years on the run from [Saddam Hussein's] torturers and killers and, if they remain unorganized now, occupation is likely to unite them. Which means, unfortunately for the Americans and their British allies, that the insurrection has already begun."


Commentator George Monblot writes in "The Guardian" that U.S. officials' view of the war in Iraq has become befogged in what amounts to religious ideology. "U.S. leaders now see themselves," the commentator says, "as priests on a divine mission to rid the world of its demons."

He quotes the commander of the ground forces in Iraq as assuring reporters last week that the deaths of two of Saddam Hussein's sons would become a turning point for Iraqi "resistance." Monblot then writes: "Well, it was a turning point, but unfortunately not of the kind he envisaged. On the day he made his announcement, Iraqi insurgents killed one U.S. soldier and wounded six others. On the following day, they killed another three; over the weekend they assassinated five and injured seven. Yesterday they slaughtered one more and wounded three. This has been the worst week for U.S. soldiers in Iraq since George Bush declared that the war there was over."

The writer says: "Few people believe that the resistance in that country is being coordinated by Saddam Hussein and his noxious family, or that it will come to an end when those people are killed. But the few appear to include the military and civilian command of the United States armed forces."

The commentary continues: "For the hundredth time since the United States invaded Iraq, the predictions made by those with access to intelligence have proved less reliable than the predictions made by those without. And, for the hundredth time, the inaccuracy of the official forecasts has been blamed on 'intelligence failures.'

"The explanation is wearing a little thin. Are we really expected to believe that the members of the U.S. security services are the only people who cannot see that many Iraqis wish to rid themselves of the U.S. army as fervently as they wished to rid themselves of Saddam Hussein? What is lacking in the Pentagon and the White House is not intelligence -- or not, at any rate, of the kind we are considering here -- but receptivity. Theirs is not a failure of information, but a failure of ideology."


Writing in "The Wall Street Journal Europe," General Barry R. McCaffrey, a professor of national security studies at the U.S. Military Academy, presents a dramatically different view. He says that U.S. military performance has been triumphant to date but that the country now must call up nine National Guard brigades.

McCaffrey's conclusion: "The U.S. is dealing with the consequences of success. Our resolve has made us immeasurably more secure since [11 September 2001]. Yet history will judge us on how well we sustain our accomplishments in Afghanistan and Iraq. Our war on terror has achieved great initial results. Now we must finish the difficult phase of ensuring the fruits of our victory."

The commentator writes: "We need to get out of denial and face reality if we expect to make rational and determined policy decisions on Iraq. It will take no less than two years of inspired leadership, courageous soldiering and $100 billion to put that nation back on its feet. Make no mistake, the air-ground-sea tactical victory by General Tommy Franks's coalition forces was nothing less than brilliant. But to finish the job we need more U.S. combat forces on active duty to sustain the required force levels. We currently have 190,000 U.S. troops directly engaged in Iraq and Kuwait. Without the overall troop strength to support our Iraq, Afghanistan and Korea deployments, we risk breaking the back of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps in the coming 24 months."


A number of commentators take up the issue of the U.S.'s cautious response to pleas from Liberia for U.S. intervention in the gory civil war there. In "The New York Times," Nicholas D. Kristof writes in a commentary, "The bankruptcy of America's policy toward Africa is evident now in Liberia, a lovely and passionately pro-American country with dazzling white beaches, swaying palms, the greenback for currency -- plus 200,000 deaths from unending war, and mass rape that spreads AIDS."

Kristof writes: "President Bush initially seemed to engage Africa in a way that President Bill Clinton and other predecessors had failed to do. To his great credit, Mr. Bush pushed hard to end Sudan's civil war. He announced a $15 billion initiative to fight AIDS. He visited Africa and has been responsive to the famine raging in Ethiopia.

"Yet while it's too early to be sure, it looks as if Mr. Bush's Africa policy may be no more than a symbolic one, full of ringing sound bites and hollow pledges."

The commentary says that the arguments for going to Liberia are more persuasive than those for invading Iraq. "The difference is not that Saddam [Hussein] slaughtered at most 1 percent of his population over the last 14 years, while Liberian warfare has killed more than 6 percent of its population so far. Nor is it that rescuing Liberia would bolster our international stature rather than devastate it. No, the crucial differences lie elsewhere. First, Liberia has an urgency to it that Iraq did not: people are being hacked apart daily in Liberia, and if we do nothing, the conflict may spread across West Africa. Second, success can be more easily accomplished in Liberia, using just 1 or 2 percent of the number of troops we have in Iraq, mostly because Liberians desperately want us to intervene."

Kristof says, "Liberia's warfare has already infected Sierra Leone, Guinea and Ivory Coast, costing perhaps a half-million lives in all since Charles Taylor grabbed Liberia in 1989."

He asks, "Is U.S. national security at stake in Liberia?" and answers: "Indirectly, yes, for failed states anywhere can threaten us. A collapsed West Africa could become, like the Taliban's Afghanistan, a haven for terrorists and narcotics, as well as a sanctuary for infectious diseases."

Kristof concludes: "Other nations have stepped up to the plate after the collapse of countries where they have a special responsibility: Britain in Sierra Leone, France in Ivory Coast, Australia in East Timor and the Solomon Islands. Now it's our turn."


Commentator George Melloan writes in "The Wall Street Journal Europe," that the United States should respond to the cries from Liberia for help, but not single-handedly.

Under the headline, "Bush Should Offer Annan An African Peace Plan," Melloan says: "George W. Bush's firsthand look at the problems of Africa early this month was a cue for the international community to ask for more U.S. intervention to solve the many problems of that troubled continent. United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who was cool toward the U.S.-British purge of Saddam Hussein, apparently doesn't think a U.S. invasion of Liberia would be a similar violation of 'national sovereignty.'

"Not at all. He is practically demanding it, suggesting that the United States has a moral responsibility to stop the slaughter there. No doubt the effectiveness of the coalition forces in dispatching Saddam's army and Republican Guard had something to do with this change of heart. Not only did the U.S.-British victory impress the folks at the UN, it planted the notion that the United States is indeed the world's most reliable cop. There are cries from all over for Mr. Bush to apply his muscle to quell the rowdies who are spreading misery in so many nasty places around the globe.

"It is appropriate for Mr. Bush to respond to these cries for help. Defending or restoring human rights where possible is an appropriate project for the U.S. at this stage of world history. Would-be tyrants should be on notice that the ineffective UN chiding and coaxing is now replaced with effective power. The only nation that can be trusted to supply that power is the United States, a strong democracy with no imperial ambitions.

"But the United States can't be expected to act alone, expending its blood and treasure on behalf of a more humane world order. Other mature democracies must be asked to help. And it should be organized in a systematic, logical way."


"The Irish Times" in an editorial condemns international failure to act in Liberia. The newspaper says: "On the eve of President Bush's recent tour of Africa, the [secretary-general] of the United Nations, Mr. Kofi Annan, appealed to him to commit troops to the peace-enforcing mission which is due to be dispatched to beleaguered Liberia. And the U.S. president agreed, albeit with some reluctance, no doubt mindful of what headlines might say during his trip had he been churlish enough to say no."

The newspaper says: "Weeks on, and the 1 million people of Monrovia, besieged and under fire, running out of food and water, are still waiting. Aid agencies say 400 have died in the fighting in the last week alone."

The editorial says, "Once again, it appears, the tragic impotence of global security mechanisms, particularly the United Nations, are shamefully exposed -- victims of the lack of political will when the vital interests of the United States are not at stake."