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Western Press Review: Iraq Confrontation Raises Questions, Offers Few Answers

By Don Hill/Dora Slaba/Esther Pan

Prague, 30 January 1998 (RFE/RL) -- As U.S. attacks on Saddam Hussein's Iraq grow ever more imminent, Western Press commentary increasingly focuses on what such a campaign would intend to accomplish and how likely it would be that it would accomplish its goals.

FINANCIAL TIMES: It is vital to keep firmly in sight what the objective in Iraq is

The British daily Financial Times puts it this way today in an editorial: "It is vital for the United States and its international allies to keep firmly in sight what the objective in Iraq is. It is to locate and dismantle the Saddam regime's chemical, biological and ballistic arsenal, as mandated by the UN Security Council after Iraq's forces were evicted from Kuwait in 1991. To ensure, in other words, that the Iraqi despot can no longer threaten his neighbors."

The newspaper concludes: "Every avenue for resuming the UN inspections -- behind which there is regional and international consensus -- must be explored. The chances of air power achieving UN aims on Iraq are slim, and only when there is demonstrably no alternative should military action go ahead -- as the least bad option."

LA REPUBBLICA: The American position insists on a basic error

La Repubblica of Rome says that attacking Iraq is a bad idea because, among other reasons, neither the United States or its allies is prepared to go far enough. La Repubblica editorializes: "The American position insists on a basic error which renders it questionable: Clinton wants to win the long years of tug-of-war with Saddam without having to engage in the danger of a genuine war. (Commentator) Richard Murphy once wrote that the Iraqi dictator cannot be forced to abide by the UN resolutions by bomb attacks alone, (that) soldiers would have to accomplish what cannot be achieved by firing rockets. And this leads to three questions: Would any country today be prepared to follow the United States in a total military campaign? Would America go it alone? Is anyone in the position to take on the responsibility of toppling the Iraqi regime. The answer is a three-times no."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: The question is whether America can dish out punishment longer than Saddam can absorb it

The director of foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington, Richard N. Haass, writes in a commentary published today in the International Herald Tribune that the U.S. administration must strive for an artful mixture of coercion and fairness. Haass lists what he says are five "pitfalls" that Clinton must avoid. 1. "Don't be deterred." 2. "Don't accept half a loaf." 3. "Don't confuse UNism with multilateralism, (that is) Moscow, Paris and Beijing merit a voice, not a veto, when it comes to how best to meet the threat posed by Iraq." 4. "Don't move the goalposts." And 5. "Don't underestimate what lies ahead."

The writer says: "The difficulty is that coercive attacks leave the initiative to the target. Only he can determine when he has had enough. The question thus becomes whether America can dish out punishment longer than Saddam can absorb it. It can -- but only if U.S. diplomacy blends fairness with firmness, and if force is used with great intensity against Saddam's military and security forces, the only constituency in Iraq whose support matters to him."

LE SOIR: The Iraq leader is completely unpredictable

Special correspondent Victor Cygielman speculates from Jerusalem in the Belgian French-language newspaper Le Soir whether Saddam would retaliate against Israel for a U.S. attack.

Cygielman writes: "If he is bombed by American planes, would Saddam Hussein punish the United States by sending missiles to Tel Aviv, as in 1991? Experts are divided on the subject. Some think Saddam would avoid doing so for two reasons: first, he would be afraid to draw the retaliation of Israel. Without an American-Arab coalition against Iraq, Israel would be free to counterattack in force. Second, Saddam Hussein would expose himself to nuclear retaliation if he decided to send biological or chemical weapons against Israel. Most of all, if the Iraq dictator did use weapons of mass destruction, it would prove to the world that he lied to the UN about destroying his arsenal of chemical and biological weapons. Other Israeli experts say it's impossible to count on Saddam Hussein to act reasonably. They emphasize that the Iraq leader is completely unpredictable. Israel should prepare itself for the worst."

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Washington has largely forfeited its credibility as an honest broker in the region

Two German commentators emphasize that the United States isn't making empty threats against Iraq. Kurt Kister writes in a commentary today in the Suddeutsche Zeitung: "There is constant talk in Washington of the United States being on the point of bombing Iraq, on its own if need be. These threats must be taken seriously. If Iraq's Saddam Hussein fails to knuckle under to the UN inspection regime in the weeks ahead the Americans will go ahead."

The commentator writes: "The Gulf War coalition no longer exists in any case (and) the Americans are largely to blame for this erosion of the Gulf War alliance because their Near and Middle East policy has lately consisted almost entirely of a largely unsuccessful attempt to persuade Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli government to continue with the peace process. As a result, Washington has largely forfeited its credibility as an honest broker in the region."

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Bill Clinton is not paralyzed

Josef Joffe wrote a day earlier in the same newspaper: "Bill Clinton may be entangled in his present imbroglio, but he is not paralyzed by it. That is evident from his behavior in the duel with Saddam Hussein. For the past week Washington has methodically been stepping up US diplomatic and military pressure on the Iraqi dictator. It must now be clear to Saddam -- who since the end of October has been playing with the United Nations inspectors like a deep-sea angler playing with his catch, pulling it in, then giving it more line -- that he cannot rely on Monica Lewinsky."

WASHINGTON POST: The question is not whether to take action, but what action to take

The Washington Post said yesterday in an editorial that virtually the only question remaining is what form the U.S. military action will take. The newspaper said: "The United States is moving toward a military strike against Iraq." It says: "Now, though, Iraq's defiance is of a different kind, according to Ambassador Richard Butler, the Australian who serves as chief UN arms inspector. Saddam Hussein seems to have decided to thwart all further cooperation, Mr. Butler told the UN Security Council. The implications of that are frightening."

The editorial says: "The question, then, is not whether to take action, but what action to take." It concludes: "Only a campaign combining air power with ground troops could accomplish those goals with anything approaching certainty. It is crucial, therefore, that the administration make clear -- both to Saddam Hussein and to the American people -- that the imminent bombing campaign, if it becomes necessary, is not the end of U.S. policy in Iraq but rather a beginning step. Mr. Clinton stated America's goal properly and resolutely. Now the country must do whatever it takes to realize that goal."