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Western Press Review: A Rationale For The Iraq War And Fading Hopes For U.S.-Iranian Rapprochement

Prague, 10 February 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary and analysis in the media today takes another look at the U.S. administration's rationale for the Iraq war, a new East-West fault line in Europe, trans-Atlantic "bickering," and fading hopes for rapprochement between Washington and Tehran. Commentary also focuses on Ivan Rybkin, the Russian presidential candidate who disappeared last week.


"There is still time to remind ourselves WMDs [weapons of mass destruction] were not the principle reason for going to war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq; they were the pretext." Writing in "The Washington Times," editor at large Arnaud de Borchgrave says this is why irrefutable evidence of WMD was not required. Regime change was always the real goal, he says.

De Borchgrave describes Saddam Hussein as being "so detached from reality that he was writing heartthrob romance novels and sending them to Deputy Premier Tariq Aziz [for] editorial comment." Regarding the WMD, Hussein's scientists "lied to him about the lack of progress in their laboratories and then got more funding for nonexistent programs. In a part of the world where telling the truth is considered the height of stupidity, even Republican Guard commanders were successfully disinformed about mythical WMDs capability being in other units than their own."

De Borchgrave says, "We owe an apology to UN inspectors under Hans Blix -- they got it right."

The "principal intelligence failure" in Iraq was "not understanding the state of decay in the Baath Party regime that most probably would have fallen of its own accord with another year of anywhere-anytime intrusive inspections throughout the country."

He writes: "Iraq's nonexistent WMDs were never a threat to anyone. But they have already struck a devastating blow to the credibility of the Bush White House." Its policy of preemption is "inoperable without unimpeachable intelligence accepted by all as the coin of the realm."


David Ignatius of "The Washington Post" says that for all the "happy talk [about] how U.S.-European relations are on the mend, the reality is that the Atlantic partnership today is more a matter of habit and history than of action." And if this disunity continues, it could prove dangerous.

"[Aggressive] European help is now essential in creating a stable, independent Iraqi nation. The American occupation is scheduled to end in July; unless it is bolstered by the United Nations politically and by NATO militarily, Iraq will descend into chaos and civil war."

Both Americans and Europeans "understand how big the stakes are, but they're still stuck in the lose-lose land of schadenfreude." Mending the partnership and presenting a united front in Iraq "is everyone's number-two priority. The top priority -- for Paris, Berlin, London, Moscow and Washington -- is proving they were right in the positions they took a year ago" in the debate over invading Iraq.

Ignatius calls on capitals on both sides of the Atlantic to dispense with "we-told-you-so speeches [and] empty evocations of partnership. If the Europeans mean it when they say failure is not an option in Iraq, then they need to get to work now. And the Americans need to graciously accept their help."


A policy briefing by Vladimir Socor of the Institute for Advanced Strategic & Political Studies -- delivered last week in Riga -- says the effects of the "resurgency of autocracy" in Russia are beginning to be felt in Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova.

The Kremlin "relies on undemocratic leaders [to] pull these countries away from Europe and into Russia's economic, political and military sphere of influence," Socor says. At the same time, the borders of the EU and NATO will soon run up against their borders -- and yet, these countries have not been offered "a real prospect" of integration with the West.

Socor says the West must bring these nations "back into Europe where they belong." Without them, European democracy "would remain woefully incomplete."

Ukraine and Belarus are slated for parliamentary or presidential elections in the next 12 months, while Moldova is scheduled to hold both. And these "electoral outcomes will determine whether these three countries would rejoin Europe, or whether a new line of division would be sealed across the continent. The cards are stacked against the democratic parties."

Socor calls Moldova the "most ignored" and poorest country in Europe. Since 1991, it has been ruled by a resurgent Communist Party, which put a stop to economic reforms and ended International Monetary Fund and World Bank assistance. President Vladimir Voronin "remains prone to sacrificing his country's interests and joining with the Kremlin to double-cross the West."

"Peaceful change of regime and democratization in Moldova is eminently doable in next year's elections, provided that U.S. and European democracy-promoting organizations become involved," Socor writes. He says the situation in Moldova "presents a compelling case for this type of U.S. and European political engagement."


Writing in "Eurasia View," Washington-based reporter Jim Lobe says a recent U.S. effort to engage Tehran has become "an election-year casualty in both countries."

In the past several months, Washington has softened its rhetoric toward Tehran and sought discussions with officials, "driven in large part by a desire to hasten the stabilization process in Iraq." Lobe says many U.S. foreign-policy watchers view better Washington-Tehran cooperation "as critical to the stabilization of both Iraq and Afghanistan." U.S. success in rebuilding Iraq "increasingly depends on its good relations with the majority Shi'a population," which could be influenced by the Shi'a clergy in Iran.

But Iran "has hesitated to seize opportunities to promote the normalization of U.S.-Iranian relations." Some say regardless of whether Tehran's reformists or conservatives are in power, "Iranian leaders from across the political spectrum are cautious" when it comes to engaging America. And a conservative victory in the 20 February parliamentary elections could renew Washington-Tehran tensions and scuttle any hopes of rapprochement.

But other analysts believe it may be the hard-liners who are seeking better ties with Washington, fearful of becoming the next target for regime change.

It remains unclear whether the U.S. administration will continue pressing for a normalization of ties. But Lobe says even if relations worsen for the time being, there is a growing realization that engagement is in the interests of both countries. He cites former presidential adviser Gary Sick of the Middle East Institute as saying, with U.S. forces in Afghanistan in Iraq, "There's a sense that now we're neighbors."


"The Wall Street Journal Europe" today publishes a piece by Ivan Rybkin, the Russian presidential candidate who disappeared under mysterious circumstances last week (5 February).

In a contribution to the daily submitted before his disappearance, Rybkin states, "I am against [Russian President Vladimir] Putin because he does not keep his word." Where is the quick victory in Chechnya Putin promised, the pledge that propelled him into the Kremlin? Rybkin asks. "The quick victory is impossible because ethnic problems cannot be solved by force."

Rybkin lists a number of questions for Putin. "Where is our restored superpower dominance and national dignity?" Instead Russia gets "hysterical utterances" from the Kremlin and the "ravings" of nationalists. "Why is it that while oil dollars flow in, the number of poor people rises sharply?" he asks.

Freedom of speech in Russia "is being destroyed, as well as the freedom to elect people to positions of authority.... [Those] in opposition are branded criminals and are persecuted by those in power. Blackmail, murder and exile have become the principal methods used by the Kremlin to oppose independent people," Rybkin says.

Meanwhile, the State Duma is no longer a reflection of the popular will and the courts are "auxiliaries to the omnipotent executive."

Rybkin writes: "The FSB, the Prosecution Service and the Ministry of the Interior are free to do as they like, unchecked and unrestrained. If our fundamental rights as citizens of a great country are not respected by its ruling leaders, what hope can there be for human development if Mr. Putin remains in office?"


Writing in France's "Le Figaro," Renaud Girard says U.S. President George W. Bush is learning at his own cost that one cannot mislead with impunity those that one seeks to lead. In America today, Bush is being thwarted by the case of the missing weapons in Iraq.

To launch a preventative war is one of the most serious political decisions a head of state can make, Girard says. In presentations to his own country's elected representatives in Congress and in front of the world in the form of the United Nations, Bush solemnly justified war based on two reasons -- Baghdad's alleged links to Al-Qaeda and Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction. And neither of these reasons turned out to be true, says Girard.

The U.S. media have tried to give Bush a chance to justify his intervention in Iraq by other means, but American public opinion seems to be having more and more trouble swallowing the initial lies.

No one criticizes Bush for the invasion of Afghanistan because the reasons cited for doing so were not fabricated. The Taliban regime did indeed shelter terrorists, including some of those involved in the 11 September attacks. While nation-building in Afghanistan cannot be called a success, public opinion readily forgives Bush because of the difficult circumstances in the country. If, after 10 months of being administered by the Pentagon, Iraq had turned into a bastion of democracy, prosperity and peace, the Americans -- who, Girard says, respect success over everything else -- would have readily forgiven Bush for having misled them.

But such success in Iraq still seems a long way off.