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Western Press Review: U.S. Errors In Post-Hussein Iraq And Can Democracy Be Imposed From Outside?

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 1 August 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Items discussed in the Western media today include U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz's criticism of two Arabic television stations for their Iraq coverage, U.S. mistakes in planning for post-Hussein Iraq, and whether democracy can ever be imposed on a nation from the outside.

We also take a look at the Balkans' bumpy road to European Union membership, and how post-conflict national reconciliation must also mean remembering the past.


An item in France's "Le Monde" discusses the controversy over remarks last week (27 July) by U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, in which he accused the Al-Arabiya and Al-Jazeera television stations of broadcasting biased and/or false reports. Wolfowitz suggested such broadcasts could incite more violence against U.S. soldiers in Iraq. More than 50 have been killed by hostile fire since 1 May.

But officials from Al-Arabiya and Al-Jazeera defended their editorial positions, and insisted on their neutrality. Spokesman Salah Al-Qallab emphasized that Al-Arabiya television always seeks the truth, and that it doesn't take sides in its coverage of the war. Errors occur periodically, he said, but in general the station is accurate and neutral. Launched in March, Dubai-based Al-Arabiya is privately funded by Saudi, Kuwaiti, and Lebanese investors.

The new station seeks to compete with Qatar-based Al-Jazeera, which became famous for its coverage of the war in Afghanistan in 2001 and for broadcasting videotapes of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden. Al-Jazeera was the target of Wolfowitz's most virulent attacks, the paper says. Wolfowitz specifically cited a dubious report that U.S. forces had arrested one of the main imams in the holy city of Al-Najaf.

But according to Al-Jazeera director Adnane al-Charif, the Americans simply did not expect to find such major Arabic competitors in the region. Al-Charif also staunchly defended Al-Jazeera's credibility, saying his station broadcasts nothing without trying beforehand to interview the American side as well.


A week after the confirmed deaths of Uday and Qusay Hussein, a "Chicago Tribune" editorial says their deaths hold a "symbolic and strategic value" but do not have a realistic chance of ending Iraqi resistance to the Anglo-American occupation.

"There's no evidence the sons were actively controlling the guerillas; nor, likely, is their father, who is too busy scrambling to save his own hide."

The paper goes on to discuss the admission last week by U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz that American planners had made three significant misjudgments about post-Hussein Iraq.

First, he said, "no Iraqi army units surrendered en masse so they could be used by American commanders." Second, the Iraqi police force needed a "massive" overhaul. Finally, Wolfowitz said, U.S. strategists had not expected such a persistent military resistance by remnants of the former regime and other parties.

The "Tribune" says international involvement is increasingly needed to stabilize and rebuild Iraq, for "everyone has a critical stake in making sure the rebuilding of Iraq succeeds." Other nations "are being asked to build a nation with a representative government in a region where democracy has long been a scarce commodity. A peaceful and democratic Iraq where terrorists are not welcomed remains not just in America's best interests, but the world's."


Britain's "The Independent" runs an item today from Robert Cooper, a former foreign policy adviser to British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Cooper asks whether it is realistic to imagine that a democratic form of government can be imposed from the outside, as Britain and America are now seeking to do in Iraq.

He notes the United States did not export democracy to Germany and Japan following World War II. Both nations had already undertaken massive democratization reforms on their own. Germany's Weimar constitution "was highly liberal, one of the first in Europe to give women the vote." Japan "had progressively liberalized under the Taisho period, when there was a certain flowering of democracy." South Korea "moved from a military dictatorship to democracy on its own," Cooper continues. Thailand, while not perfect, is firmly on the path of democracy, as is Indonesia.

"In Spain, Portugal and Greece, no external forces were responsible: those countries did it themselves." In Central and Eastern Europe, "it was the nonintervention of Russia that brought democracy."

Given this history, says Cooper, "I would be tempted to conclude that democracy is not on the whole brought by armies."


Torsten Krauel in "Die Welt" looks at the prospects for Iraqi elections. Yesterday, Iraq's U.S. civil administrator, L. Paul Bremer, said general elections could be held within a year to replace the 25-member U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council.

Krauel says the new expectations for elections illustrate both the strengths and weaknesses of the rebuilding process. The weakness lies in the fact that elections have been declared before the adoption of an Iraqi constitution, he says. Washington is pressed to act quickly, since without a legitimate government, international aid will not be forthcoming. "The U.S. needs a political offensive, it needs more money, and it needs trust in its mission."

On the positive side, Krauel says Bremer has taken a clever step in engaging the Iraqi population to be co-responsible for developments. "The Iraqi people should decide between the future and the past before the whole world," he says. A successful move toward a real democracy would legitimize the U.S. war and garner a more positive response than merely tracking down Hussein.


In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," Alex Boraine and Paul van Zyl of the International Center for Transitional Justice say the idea of reconciliation has at times been cynically invoked by abusive leaders in postconflict societies to mean "forgive and forget." But the authors say "an enforced national amnesia that masquerades as reconciliation should [be] rejected by anyone who seeks to build a sustainable peace."

They say real reconciliation "requires an honest examination of history to uncover and recognize past crimes. Rather than silencing and marginalizing victims, it demands that their voices be heard and their suffering acknowledged."

Reconciliation also requires a real change of leadership and authority, the authors say. "[A] secure peace will not emerge until the police, the military, courts, and other organs of government undergo fundamental change."

Moreover, it must be acknowledged that "massive discrepancies in wealth and power lie at the heart of many intractable conflicts. Those who retain disproportionate privileges in the aftermath of [societal] violence often fail to recognize that reconciliation cannot be secured in a context of ongoing inequality."

Authors Boraine and van Zyl say, "Lasting reconciliation requires far-reaching legal, political, and economic change. But it also depends on the actions of leaders who played a prominent role during the conflict."

There must be "a commitment to address and remedy a legacy of abuse by those responsible for it."


The "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" today carries a contribution by Erhard Busek, a former Austrian vice chancellor who is now serving as special coordinator of the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe.

Busek discusses the prospects of European Union membership for the Balkans and says that, although Balkan countries were disappointed when the EU's Thessaloniki summit decided to funnel them less money than had been anticipated, the meeting clearly signaled to the five Balkan countries that they would be part of the next round of expansion.

"This assurance is worth more than some millions in aid," says Busek.

He says EU membership is not merely a cosmetic process but a fundamental restructuring that entails a combination of intense negotiations and legal reforms. The EU would be doing these nations a disservice if it were to make concessions with reforms simply due to the Balkans' obliging attitudes. EU membership requires having an economy capable of competing within the EU common market and a judicial system compatible with European standards. Membership also necessitates having a government and administration on par with European principles.

The Balkan states have made varying progress in these respects but are all still far from the ultimate goal. These practical applications, and not summit meetings, will affect the EU's final decision.


Writing in the "Financial Times," William Wallace says enlargement has been "one unquestioned success for the European Union. The promise of membership guided the transitions from authoritarian government to democracy in Greece, Spain and Portugal 20 years ago."

The difficult post-1989 political and economic transition in Eastern Europe "has been shaped by the EU's detailed conditions on market regulation, civil rights, and administrative practices." Ten more nations will join in May 2004. But Wallace asks, how many more will follow in the next 10 to 20 years?

The EU is already committed to admitting the weaker states of southeastern Europe and the former Yugoslavia, and even Russia and Israel have been named as potential members. Turkey's government "is engaged in an impressive program of reforms," resting on its hope for eventual membership.

But Wallace asks, "If Turkey, why not Ukraine, and eventually Belarus, under different governments, as an incentive for reform?" Why not Morocco? He says the lack of a clear delineation of Europe's ultimate border may lead the EU to "drift into further half-commitments to eventual membership."

Wallace says enlargement "has spread security, prosperity and democracy to formerly authoritarian states. What the EU needs now is a strategy to spread those benefits further, without expanding the Union beyond what citizens will accept or institutional capacities allow."

A clear approach toward the countries on Europe's edge is "indispensible." An "unstable and poverty-ridden European periphery constitutes a threat to European order, with criminal networks and civil conflicts spilling over borders." And yet no European leaders appear ready to invest the financial and political resources to formulate a distinct policy.

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