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Western Press Review: Iraq, The Middle East, And Terror

  • Don Hill

Prague, 5 November 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Much Western press commentary today examines the preconditions, conduct, funding, policies, and aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.


London's "Independent" says in an editorial that the United States needs and lacks any credible exit strategy for Iraq. The editorial says: "By any standards, the American emergency funding package for Iraq and Afghanistan sounds an impressive sum: $87.5 billion. Indeed this sum, which has now been approved by the United States Senate, is the largest such program of foreign aid since the Marshall Plan that helped to launch Western Europe's economic recovery after the Second World War."

The editorial says, "This sort of huge subventions were not in President [George W.] Bush's script when he went to war in March." It continues: "Bush himself says he has no exit strategy, and that the United States is in Iraq for the long run. The White House and the Pentagon appear unable to comprehend how rapidly the American political and military position in Iraq is deteriorating." "The Independent" says: "The fault lies not so much in the [U.S.-appointed Iraqi] Governing Council itself, flawed as it is, but in the Americans' reluctance to develop the Council into a properly responsible form of self-government, preferably through free elections. That reluctance may be driven by a realization that any such effort would result in the appearance in a putative Iraqi government of some distinctly anti-American elements, such as hardliner Shia clerics."

The editorial concludes: "So Mr. Bush cannot win; either he tries to ignore the wave of anti-coalition militancy, or he must legitimize it. And Saddam Hussein, lest we forget, remains defiantly at large. The notion of leaving Iraq in such a condition may be humiliating for the Americans, but a graceful handover to an international authority is the least bad option that the White House could take."


"The New York Times" also takes up in an editorial the subject of the huge U.S. appropriation for Iraq and a need to map a way out. It says: "Congress gave final approval Monday to President George W. Bush's request for a further $70 billion in military and civil spending on Iraq, and the United States appears to be settling in for what Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld now acknowledges will be a 'long, hard slog.'"

The newspaper says: "How long the road ahead now stretches is impossible to say. Bush has not yet presented any plausible long-term exit strategy. Congress should insist on one before acquiescing to future installments of military spending."

The editorial continues: "Mounting American casualties and the approach of next year's presidential election could create pressure for a hasty military withdrawal, a course the administration rightly vows to resist. A rush for the exits now would leave Iraq chaotic and a danger to neighboring countries and the wider world. Yet the need to stand firm does not relieve Bush of the responsibility to tell the American people where their sacrifices are leading and how he expects to reach that goal. He must also give a better explanation of why his administration insists on keeping responsibility for administering Iraq so firmly in American hands."


Writing in the "Christian Science Monitor," Rachel Stohl, a senior analyst at the Center for Defense Information, says that the ubiquity of small arms in private hands in Iraq -- not elusive weapons of mass destruction -- is a large component of lawlessness there. She writes: "Each description of postwar Iraqi violence portrays lawlessness due in part to the wide availability and lack of control of millions of small arms and light weapons."

Stohl says: "Small arms are low on the list of U.S. priorities, which are focused largely on finding weapons of mass destruction and securing heavier conventional weapons. Indeed, small-arms collection and destruction is strangely absent from battle commanders' new focus on fighting terrorist threats of random bombing and shooting."

"To achieve law and order," the writer contends, "the supply of small arms must be addressed. There are three aspects to such an effort: systematically searching for small arms caches, securing them, and destroying them."

She writes: "Most weapons collected in Iraq should be destroyed. It needn't be costly. The United States has experience training local populations on weapons destruction, and it has recently given technical and financial aid to destruction programs in 10 countries at a cost of $5.25 million, destroying 300,000 weapons and 7.5 million rounds of ammunition."

The commentary concludes: "Disarmament must begin now or there'll be countless more U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civilians victimized by the scourge of small arms."


The "Chicago Tribune" charges in an editorial that the administration of President Bush is impeding an investigation legislated by Congress and signed by Bush himself into the 11 September terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. The president told the investigation commission to "uncover every detail and learn every lesson" of the U.S. susceptibility to the attacks. Now, the newspaper says, the trail has led to the White House and administration officials are balking at full cooperation.

The editorial says: "While the commission's findings will no doubt become the subject of political debate, the commission is not, as some contend, engaged in a partisan game. It is doing its job. Congress and the president gave the commission a broad mandate on par with ad hoc investigations of the attack on Pearl Harbor and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

"The bipartisan, 10-member commission was charged with providing the American people a definitive account of events leading up to and on Sept. 11. It is headed by a Bush appointee, Thomas H. Kean, the president of Drew University and former Republican governor of New Jersey.

"Former Republican Governor Jim Thompson of Illinois, appointed to the commission by House Speaker Dennis Hastert, supports the panel's demand for the documents.

"'The documents we're asking for have never been given by any president to anybody for any reason. So it's unprecedented,' Thompson told the Tribune. 'At the same time, we think the request is justified. Enough questions have been raised about what happened on 9-11, why it happened and how we can prevent it in the future, that we need this information.'

"The commission and its staff have been thoroughly vetted and have received clearances for top secret information. They know it's a crime to divulge classified information and have no power to order information declassified. Not all information available to the commission will, or should be, made public. The commission must be allowed to 'follow all the facts, wherever they lead.' Those were the president's words. He must make good on them."


Commentator Harold Meyerson writes in "The Washington Post" about a different aspect of the $87 billion Iraq-Afghanistan appropriation. That is, he says, the reluctance of the senators who approved it to have their stand recorded. They passed the measure by voice vote. Meyerson writes: "Only [Senator] Robert Byrd stood on the Senate floor and shouted 'no' when the vote was taken, but Byrd has been casting recorded votes since the waning days of the Roman Republic, and it's a hard habit to break.

"What was striking Monday was that Byrd's colleagues were scuttling away from all sides of this debate, and it's not hard to understand why. The administration's handling of both the war and occupation has been so deeply flawed that it has created a situation to which not only its own policy but all the existing alternatives are clearly inadequate. Bush and his neos have given us a kind of Gothic horror version of [the fairy-tale] Goldilocks, in which the policy alternatives are either too big or too small, while their own is just wrong.

"Plainly, the U.S. force in Iraq is spread too thin to protect our own troops, the employees of international aid agencies and those Iraqis who have cast their lot with the new order. But there's no political support, either in the United States or Iraq, for increasing the number of U.S. troops there, and rightly so. It's not just that more troops means more targets. It's also that any such act would be viewed as a step back from Iraqi sovereignty, which would only further inflame the situation there.

"Those who argued that the administration needed international approval for a war against Saddam Hussein -- the better, in part, to de-Americanize the occupation -- have been all too grimly vindicated. The problem is the occupation has proved so rocky that it's hard to envision the United Nations rushing into Iraq if we now admit we fear to tread there.

"Bush's decisions -- to wage a unilateral war and exercise unilateral political power during the post-Hussein reconstruction -- have not merely failed in themselves but have dimmed the prospects for more sustainable multinational alternatives."


Claudia Rosett, in a commentary in the "Wall Street Journal Europe," turns to another element of what the Unites States calls the "war on terror." Under the headline "Gadhafi's Charm Offensive," she writes: "In the war on terror, one of the strangest developments -- and that's saying a lot -- has been the step-by-step return to polite society of Libya's terrorist-sponsoring tyrant Moammar Gadhafi." The Western response has been accepting -- and wrong -- she says.

Rosett writes: "For a better sense of the real face of Gadhafi, take a closer look inside Libya itself, a country Gadhafi has run for 34 years as his own totalitarian wonderland -- and still does. Libya, by every reasonable ranking and report, from Amnesty International to Freedom House to the U.S. State Department, remains one of the most repressed societies on earth. There are no private newspapers; there is no independent rule of law. Multi-layered, pervasive surveillance is routine. So is arbitrary arrest, so is torture in the prisons and so is collective punishment of entire families for the actions of one individual. There are no private banks; there is no tolerance of private enterprise of any substantial size. Libya's oil industry, with reserves ranked among the top 10 on the planet, accounts for 95 percent of Libya's exports, and belongs entirely to the state, which in effect belongs entirely to Moammar Gadhafi.

"The only law being Gadhafi's word, one of the basic ways in which he keeps control is by constantly shifting his rules. So all Libyans must constantly be following his lead -- a trait that ought to engage the attention of the U.S. administration now reviewing U.S. sanctions on Libya. A Libyan-born scholar, Mansour El-Kikhia, now a naturalized American teaching at the University of Texas at San Antonio, explains that Gadhafi has even changed the Libyan calendar so it is out of synchronization with both the Islamic world and the West. In an illuminating book published in 1997, 'Libya's Qaddafi,' Mr. El-Kikhia noted that 'Every year a new set of rules telling Libyans what to wear, eat, say and read is enacted by the regime. The country has become one of the most restricted in the world.' "Has that changed? Ask Mohammed Eljahmi, a 44-year-old Libyan-born naturalized U.S. citizen, whose older brother back in Libya, 62-year-old Fathi Eljahmi, was arrested 13 months ago for speaking out against Gadhafi and calling for democracy in Libya. Fathi was sentenced to five years in prison, at a trial that he was not allowed to attend. He is now doing time in Tripoli's Abu-Salim prison, notorious both for wretched conditions and for a 1996 massacre in which the authorities shot hundreds of inmates."


In another "Wall Street Journal Europe" commentary, writer Daniel Schwammenthal comes to the defense of Israel, which an opinion poll of 7,500 Europeans called the greatest threat to world peace of 14 countries. The United States came in fourth. Anti-Semitism, he says, has demonized Israel. The commentator writes: "Less than 60 years after the Holocaust, it is the Jewish state that scares more Europeans than any other country, leaving behind even such champions of international human rights as Iran and North Korea. Those who have followed the coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in much of Europe's media are not surprised at all about the results.

"Particularly in the past three years, the Middle East's only true democracy has been systematically demonized, lowered to pariah state level and made exclusively responsible for the ongoing violence in one-sided reporting. What's more, according to this narrative, Israel's alleged mistreatment of the Palestinians not only causes Palestinian violence but is directly responsible for Muslim terrorism in general."

The writer says: "It is under this anti-Israeli atmosphere that Europe has seen the highest number of anti-Semitic attacks in years. Not since Kristallnacht, the Nazi-led pogrom against German Jews in 1938, have so many European synagogues and Jewish schools been desecrated. That many of these attacks were perpetrated by Muslim immigrants is of no consolation to the victims. These Muslims are now part of Europe. The continued vilification of Israel will not only encourage more terrorism against Israel, but also prepares the stage for Europe's anti-Semites, whether immigrants or home-grown, to attack Jewish targets.

"The Israeli government's reaction was astute. 'The outcome of this poll is not Israel's problem alone. Europe must be the first to address the issue.' Reassuringly, some Europeans do appear shocked about the results of the poll. "I am very concerned," [European Commission President] Romano Prodi said -- and so he should be. A poll that may have been conducted to shame Israel, in reality shames only Europe."


The "Sueddeutsche Zeitung's" Stefan Kornelius also writes in defense of Israel. He comments: "It is impossible to reduce the extremely complex Middle East conflict to a single sentence and even less so to a stupidly formed questionnaire and hence it is far from correct to speak of Israel as a threat to world peace. Israel is defending itself against permanent terrorist attacks. Even though the means of defense are wrong and the number of provocations -- the building of settlements, individual threats -- are enormous, all this is not tantamount to a threat to world peace."

The writer says: "Israel is the only functioning democracy in the crisis area of the Middle East and as such is important to Europe's interest." He continues: "Probably the result of the questionnaire will be seen as an expression of European anti-Semitism, but this interpretation is false. Far more it is the result of Europe's one-sided foreign policy."


In the "Guardian," Jonathan Freedland says that he sees glimmers of hope for Middle East peace. Freedland writes: "There are suddenly some stirrings in the undergrowth, signs that the years of paralysis could be coming to an end. On Saturday night 100,000 Israelis converged on Tel Aviv's Rabin Square [named for Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, assassinated eight years ago] to remember the slain warrior-turned-peacemaker -- the greatest show of strength by the left since Sharon's election in early 2001.

"Earlier there was a boost from an unexpected quarter. The army chief of staff broke ranks and admitted that Sharon's iron-fist treatment of the Palestinians was 'increasing hatred for Israel and strengthening the terror organizations'. There could only be a political, not a military, way out.

"Still, the biggest boost to the doves has come through an unorthodox attempt at conflict resolution. Rather than wait for the two leaderships, a team of freelance negotiators -- Israeli opposition politicians and Palestinian ex-ministers still close to Yasser Arafat -- has spent the last two years thrashing out a full and final peace agreement between their two peoples. Last month they made the breakthrough. With the backing of the Swiss government they now have a text, running to some 10,000 words: the Geneva accord. "Already this "virtual agreement" is building momentum. The Israeli op-ed pages are full of it; soon the document will be sent to every Israeli household, so that citizens can read it for themselves -- an idea inspired by the mass distribution of Northern Ireland's Good Friday agreement. Public meetings to explain the accord have been standing room only. Among the Palestinians, the indications are similarly positive: when 'al-Ayyam' printed the Geneva text in Arabic for the first time at the weekend, the paper sold out; a reprint is on the way. Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk have shown interest in attending the signing ceremony in Geneva later this year. Tony Blair has welcomed it; on Monday, Jack Straw huddled with aides to discuss how Britain might help."

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