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Western Press Review: U.S. Primaries And The War In Iraq, Blair And The Hutton Report

Prague, 29 January 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Today's press review looks at commentaries and analyses on how opposing views on the war in Iraq affect the U.S. presidential race, and Tony Blair and the possible effect of the Hutton report on the future of British journalism.

In a commentary in "The Washington Post," David Broder discusses the opposing views on Iraq held by George W. Bush and his potential rival in the November presidential election, Senator John Kerry.

Broder writes: "The president is reticent to the point of stonewalling, while the senator, who has put a strong claim on the Democratic nomination by winning Iowa and New Hampshire, almost drowns his judgments in a torrent of words."

Neither approach serves the United States well, writes Broder. But the question of whether Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction "is, and ought to be, an issue in this election."

"Kerry is prepared to make it an issue," he continues. But he "has explaining to do." The senator has alternately denounced "the rush to war" and supported the use of force in Iraq. It remains unclear exactly where he stands. But, Broder concludes, "his grappling with the problem is preferable to Bush's stonewalling."

A "Washington Post" editorial praises U.S. weapons inspector David Kay for his courage in admitting last week that "we were almost all wrong" about the existence of biological and chemical weapon stockpiles in Iraq.

Kay, who stepped down from his post at the time of his remarks, "has chosen to go public with this disturbing news not because he wishes to embarrass the Bush administration or cast doubt on the mission in Iraq," the paper says. Instead, he acted "because he believes it vital that the faults in intelligence gathering that led to the mistaken weapons estimates be identified and corrected."

U.S. President George W. Bush is now backing away from his assertions that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, now speaking of "weapons-of-mass-destruction-related program activities."

The problem, the paper says, is that Bush has not taken the next step -- to admit that the intelligence on which he based his decision to go to war was "substantially mistaken."

The editorial warns: "The longer Mr. Bush delays, the longer it will be before intelligence agencies can be held accountable and reforms undertaken."

An editorial in the British "Financial Times" predicts John Kerry will ultimately win the U.S. Democratic nomination to challenge George W. Bush in the November elections.

"No candidate in the modern history of the U.S. presidential primaries has won both the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary and failed to win his party's nomination for the general election."

Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean -- possibly Kerry's closest rival -- continues to have the money and political organization needed to take his campaign forward, the paper notes. But "unless he begins to score some wins soon, those mistakes [he made in the past] will still be remembered as the defining feature of his campaign."

While acknowledging Kerry as the frontrunner, the paper warns that he should adhere to his principles. "At times," the "FT writes, "he gives the disturbing impression that he is willing to say whatever it takes to get elected."

Kerry's stance on the Iraq war is a case in point. In 1991, he followed most Democrats in refusing to back military action against Baghdad; but in 2002 he voted for the resolution authorizing force in Iraq.

The editorial concludes: "Mr. Kerry needs to start proving he has earned the trust Democrats are placing in him as the strongest challenger to Mr. Bush."

Britain's "Guardian" newspaper today carries a commentary by Sidney Blumenthal, a one-time senior adviser to former U.S. President Bill Clinton and the author of "The Clinton Wars." He writes that the U.S. democratic hopefuls are all "singing from the same hymn sheet to defeat the president."

"For the first time, the United States is hearing sustained criticism of its president," Blumenthal writes. "And the effect has been immediate." A "Newsweek" magazine poll last weekend showed his approval rating dipping below 50 percent -- lower than that of John Kerry.

"In New Hampshire, the turnout for the Democratic primary was the greatest in history, reflecting their determination to oust Bush," the commentary continues.

With the poor showings of Wesley Clark and Joseph Lieberman, the messages of the remaining candidates "are the same in every respect," Blumenthal writes. "Dean can claim he opposed the Iraq war from the start, but they all lash Bush now on his falsehoods and abuse of intelligence to justify it," Blumenthal continues.

An editorial from the U.S. daily "Christian Science Monitor" discusses the "catapult" effect the New Hampshire victory has given to John Kerry and warns of coming financial difficulties Kerry may face.

Less than a month ago, the paper notes, "the war-voting junior senator from Massachusetts was down 25 points in the polls behind antiwar Howard Dean." But he "switched strategies, mortgaging his expensive Boston mansion to pay for TV ads, and [went] on to take both Iowa and New Hampshire, a rare political feat."

However, like the other major Democratic candidates, Kerry now faces primaries "piled close together, and with larger costs for travel, staff, and TV ads in expensive urban markets."

The candidates seen as losers "will find donor wallets closed," the paper warns, and suggests that voters in the coming primaries need to judge the candidates on their merits, despite Kerry's "catapulting victories."

A commentary titled "Despite Hutton, Blair Is Still in Trouble" by Vernon Bogdanor in the "Financial Times" refers to reports that the Hutton inquiry has settled the issue of whether the British government deceived the public in its use of intelligence material to justify the war in Iraq. However, he notes that the inquiry fails to settle the issue of whether the intelligence material that found that Saddam Hussein constituted a clear and present danger to Britain was unreliable.

Hutton was asked to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of David Kelly, a British government weapons expert. "He has interpreted these terms strictly and refused to speculate on whether the intelligence material was strong enough to justify the case for war," Bogdanor continues.

The Hutton report exonerates members of the government and "all the accusations made against their integrity," writes Bogdanor. The intelligence services are also exonerated.

However, the BBC is the target of devastating criticism by Hutton. The reports says: "By failing to seek corroborations of claims allegedly made by Kelly, and by failing to give ministers a chance to reply, it stands convicted of disgracefully shoddy journalism."

Bogdanor sees the BBC's credibility as "seriously damaged." The BBC is a public service broadcaster that has been found guilty of failing to serve the public," Bogdanor writes.

The Hutton report comes as much-needed relief for Blair, the commentary concludes. Yet it will not silence the doubts that the government misjudged the strength and reliability of intelligence at its disposal.

"The loser from the Hutton report is undoubtedly the BBC," notes a commentary in the "Daily Telegraph." The commentary points to a broadcast by the BBC's defense correspondent, Andrew Gilligan, that set off the chain of events that lead to Kelly's suicide. That broadcast represented a "breach of the BBC's public service duties" and "mutated" into "an attempt to delegitimize the war on Iraq by falsely accusing the government of lying," says the commentary.

"The [BBC board of] governors should act bravely today if they are to restore the corporation's reputation; otherwise the negotiations over the [BBC's] charter could take a drastic turn," it concludes.

"For democracy to thrive, broadcasters must not back away from holding the government to account," writes Martin Bell in "The Guardian." Although Andrew Gilligan's report was wrong in the haphazard way it aired an unscripted two-way interview, "the broad thrust of it was right," notes the commentary. Gilligan was not the only journalist who reported that the government had exaggerated Iraq's weaponry in order to make the case for war, "but his report was the one that stirred up the biggest row between the government and the BBC."

Bell hopes "that the BBC does not lose its nerve as a result of Hutton's attack on the BBC program and its lenient stance on the government. In many respects, the BBC sets the standards by which other news broadcasters are judged. Not only is its reputation for independence at stake, but the future of all journalism in Britain. The way that broadcast journalism, and some print journalism, holds the government to account and never allows it to become too important for our democracy."

Jon Wolfsthal is deputy director for nonproliferation at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. In a commentary he wrote for the "Christian Science Monitor," he discusses the effect the intelligence failure in Iraq is having on other countries and the doubts that may now arise over U.S. intelligence about North Korea's nuclear program.

These doubts may enable North Korea to divide the U.S. from its allies in the region and reduce the chances for a peaceful termination of North Korea's nuclear weapons ambitions, writes Wolfsthal.

North Korea has denied the existence of a highly enriched uranium program, but U.S. officials maintain that its evidence leaves no doubt about its existence. However, China, South Korea, and Japan are beginning to express doubts about the U.S. allegations.

To ease concerns over U.S. intelligence estimates, Washington must be more open with South Korea, Japan, and even China about its intelligence on North Korea, the author concludes. The U.S. should also work to openly review and assess how it could have been so wrong about WMD in Iraq, the commentary concludes.