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Western Press Review: Escalation in Iraq; A Wind Down In Chechnya

Prague, 4 September 1996 (RFE/RL) -- "A Thorn Named Saddam," headlines an editorial today signed by Josef Joffe in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung." Western commentators continue to examine Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's attack on Kurds in northern Iraq and the United States' military reaction. The press also discusses the apparent cessation of combat in Chechnya.

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The Saddams of the world do not see sense when bridges are destroyed

In the editorial, Joffe continues: "The American air strike shows that the 1991 coalition between the West and the Arabs degenerated long ago. And (it shows) that war, even as a last resort, does not tolerate halfheartedness in confrontations with totalitarian dictators. The Saddams of the world do not suddenly see sense when someone destroys their bridges, command centers and airstrips -- as in 1991 -- but fails to go the whole hog and see the bloodshed through to its end."

WASHINGTON POST: The administration gave vague justifications for the attack

The paper today carries an analysis by John F. Harris and R. Jeffrey Smith. They write: "The Clinton administration issued surprisingly vague justifications (yesterday) for its cruise missile attack on Iraq -- It wanted to curb Baghdad's armed forces, protect Iraq's neighbors, even safeguard Western access to Persian Gulf oil." The administration, the writers said, articulated only a "general ambition to rein in, even humiliate Saddam, a long-time favorite U.S. adversary."

SYDNEY MORNING HERALD: What better for Clinton's campaign than having Hussein to kick around?

Today's edition of the newspaper says in an editorial that without intending it that way, Saddam "has just donated the biggest campaign gift of all to the United States President, Mr. Bill Clinton." The newspaper asks rhetorically: "What better for Mr. Clinton's election campaign than having Saddam Hussein suddenly back on the scene to kick around again."

POLITIKEN: Hussein's regime in itself constitutes an international crime

An editorial today in the Copenhagen daily newspaper calls the U.S. missile attacks on Iraqi targets "Necessary." Politiken says: "Saddam Hussein does not deserve any better than the Cruise missiles that fell over his repressed land, but the price (for Saddam's transgressions) has been paid, for years, by (ordinary) Kurds and Iraqis." The editorial says: "The problem in the region is not Iraq or the Iraqis. The problem is Saddam Hussein and his unscrupulous regime which in itself constitutes an (international) crime."

NEW YORK TIMES: Clinton has handled Hussein with a blend of power and restraint

The paper editorializes today: "Incumbent presidents usually receive a surge of support when they send military forces into action, a law of politics that probably influenced the speed of Clinton's response and accounts for Bob Dole's agitated efforts to criticize Clinton's handling of Iraq. But unexpected reversals and the loss of American lives can just as quickly erase any gains. So far, Clinton has handled the quicksilver of Saddam Hussein with an acceptable blend of American power and restraint."

NEW YORK TIMES: The U.S. did not conquer Hussein because it did not have the will power

Columnist A. M. Rosenthal comments in the same newspaper today: "Saddam Hussein is attacking the Kurds of Iraq with tanks, heavy artillery, infantry and a particularly powerful weapon that he acquired only when the Gulf war ended. The weapon is the knowledge that although the United States could defeat him in a battle, even in a war, it did not conquer him because it did not have the will power, nor the sophistication to grasp the overriding goals of dictatorships, and specifically his own."

POLITIKEN: The Russians will do better with an independent Chechnya

In an editorial today on events in Chechnya and Russia, the paper comments: "The war has demonstrated the (strength of the) Chechens' drive for independence. And Moscow, through its inhuman handling of the conflict, has lost all moral claims." The newspaper says that these facts "must be starting points for Western commitment to assist in ending the conflict. The question of the republic's independence must no longer be a taboo in the international debate. The West must help the Russians understand that, for their own sake, they will do better with an independent Chechnya."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: The Chechens have won the war and the rest is details

An unsigned analysis in today's paper contends: "Officially, the main question, (which is) whether Chechnya will get its independence from Russia, will be postponed for five years to give both sides a chance to cool off. But the reality is that the rapid withdrawal of Russian troops from Grozny has created an enormous power vacuum that is rapidly being filled by the Chechen separatists. As far as the Chechens are concerned, they won the war and the rest is details."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Today in Russia, the military craft includes the peacemakers' art

The paper today carries an editorial signed by Miriam Neubert, writing from Moscow. She says: "After two years, an unaccustomed quiet (in Chechnya) provides an opportunity to take stock." Neubert concludes: "The war in Chechnya was bereft of sense and purpose. No territory can be bombed back into a federation. Thus it is no coincidence that an ex-soldier and politician like Lebed stands for a modern, civilized form of Russian unity, achieved by other means than bombs and grenades." She writes: "Today in Russia the military craft includes the peacemakers' art."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Lebed would be a convenient target to blame if the peace agreement collapses

Alex Alexiev writes today in an analysis: "The media will rush to hail the charismatic general's achievement and all but anoint him the heir apparent to ailing President Boris N. Yeltsin. Indeed, after the agreement was announced in Khasavyurt, Russia, a crowd could be heard exclaiming, 'Lebed for president.' But, as is often the case in Russia, appearances can be deceiving." Alexiev concludes: "There are also signs that Yeltsin consciously may be trying to cut the general down to size, despite the obvious importance of Lebed's mission in Chechnya. Should the agreement collapse, and Lebed's bold claim that 'the war is over' prove hollow, Lebed would be a convenient (target for blame)."

NEW YORK TIMES: Kremlin officials express misgivings about the accord

Writer Michael R. Gordon contended yesterday in an analysis: "Just two days after Russian and Chechen officials signed an agreement to end the bloody Chechen war, top Kremlin officials bluntly expressed misgivings about the accord. The cool Kremlin response has cast a cloud over the much-ballyhooed agreement and reflects the power struggle between Viktor Chernomyrdin, the stolid prime minister, and his new rival, Alexander Lebed, the security adviser who led the negotiations for the Russian side. It also appears to be an effort by top Yeltsin officials to hedge their bets and insulate Moscow from the criticism that it has given away too much in the talks."