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Western Press Review: Iraq Can Almost Hear the Whistle of Incoming Fire

By Don Hill and Esther Pan

Prague, 2 February 1998 (RFE/RL) -- "The skies are darkening over Baghdad," The Times of London says in the opening line of its lead editorial today. Commentators and analysts in the Western press virtually are unanimous that a crisis point has been reached in the U.S.-Iraq impasse. They differ widely over the correctness of the U.S. position, and over the likelihood of a desirable outcome.

TIMES: Saddam's cage will have been rattled without his teeth being drawn

The Times' editorial continues: "Washington and London are resolute in their willingness to take action, but the two governments are also realistic about what limited action might achieve." It says: "If, as is likely, Saddam survives assault from the air then his cage will have been rattled without his teeth being drawn." It says: "Saddam is bracing himself for attack. He must be convinced that it will be beyond his capacity to absorb."

The editorial concludes: "Unless Saddam is convinced that the West will enforce its will with lethal force then he will, in time, flout any new agreement as contemptuously as he has flouted the last apparent accord. Baghdad should be in no doubt that continued defiance will invite a catastrophe."

NEW YORK TIMES: The United States has little choice but to make good its military threats

Political commentator William Safire, writing in The New York Times today from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, constructs what he says is the likely scenario for a U.S.-led attack on Iraq. He said it leads to a point of exhaustion and failure of U.S. will. Safire writes: "If Saddam Hussein does not cave in to the sound of sabers rattling, the United States has little choice but to make good its military threats. What would Gulf War II be like? Phase I would be an air attack heavier than the missile pinpricks that encouraged Saddam to challenge UN inspections." Safire says, "Phase II would be a bombing pause."

In Safire's scenario, "Clinton would maintain his resolve to win unconditional inspection. His bottom line: unrestricted inspections, often headed by American experts. If that test of Saddam's submission was finessed by attempts to protract negotiations, Phase III would begin: sustained bombing of all suspected weaponry sites, including palaces occupied by civilians used as hostages. Industrial and oil facilities would be taken out as in Gulf War I."

Then, the commentator writes, comes the new impasse: "(For the United States), to fail to win would be to lose. If the United States went to war and stopped short of victory, it would be beaten." He concludes: "That means (the United States) should be prepared to go to Phase IV: invasion. If it comes to that, (is the country) ready? No."

DER BUND: A high-tech war does not endanger Saddam's life

In Bern, Switzerland, today the German language newspaper Der Bund concurs with Safire that an attack on Saddam's Iraq is likely to be fruitless. Der Bund says: "It seems the Clinton administration is concentrating on a massive air attack (to coerce Saddam) into cooperating with the UN inspection team." It says: "This is a misconception since the infamous game of hide-and seek by Saddam prompted the latest crisis." Der Bund says: "In offering the United States his cheek, Saddam augments his prestige in his region. A high-tech war does not endanger his life. Saddam is acutely aware of this."

LIBERATION: The risk is seeing American bombs reinforce the power of Saddam Hussein

The French daily Liberation also has a commentator at Davos. Pierre Haski watched the behavior there of the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and concluded that war is imminent. Haski writes today in Liberation: "Bill Richardson, the U.S. ambassador-bulldozer to the UN, didn't waste his time this weekend at Davos. He met two presidents, three prime ministers and many foreign ministers to explain American policies on Iraq." The commentary says: "This considerable effort of political preparation has only one explanation, and that is that Richardson no longer believes that a political agreement with Saddam Hussein will let UN weapons inspectors into all the sites suspected of having production capability for chemical and biological weapons."

Haski writes: "The American bulldozer succeeded in the last days in hardening the public position of France, and in getting the prudent UN Secretary General Kofi Annan -- also present at Davos -- to say that he would not rule out resorting to force to compel Saddam Hussein to respect the resolutions of the Security Council, (but) Annan did not hide his profound skepticism over the consequences of bombing Iraq." Liberation's commentator writes: "The risk is seeing American bombs reinforce the power of Saddam Hussein, transforming the Iraqi leader once more into a popular hero in the Arab world and depriving the UN of all hope of resuming its mission any time soon. If this is the result of the military action, the Americans will have accomplished nothing."

IRISH TIMES: The quieter Israel gets the more real the prospects for conflict

The Irish Times publishes today a commentary by David Horovitz, managing editor of the Jerusalem Report in Jerusalem. Horovitz says a significant factor in any new war on Saddam would be the rage of Israel. He writes: "Today, as seven years ago, Israel has no means of intercepting incoming Iraqi missiles. (So) in the absence of such a protective system, and of a sensitive international coalition, Israel has every incentive to hit back against Iraq, and hard, if it does come under attack." The commentator says: "There have been some sensationalist press reports about Israel being prepared to use nuclear arms against Iraq. But these are being dismissed by normally loquacious ministers who are being relatively quiet about the whole issue of another confrontation with the dictator of Baghdad. The quieter they get, one senses, the more real the prospects for conflict."

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: Saddam has no compunction about putting the lives of ordinary Iraqis in jeopardy

In the Frankfurter Rundschau over the weekend, Martin Winter commented that "The hitch in (the U.S.) strategy of escalation is that no one knows exactly where it would lead. Winter wrote: "The dilemma that those who must order any military action must contend with is that recent history shows Saddam has no compunction about putting the lives of ordinary Iraqis in jeopardy."

GUARDIAN: To threaten military force has limitations

In London today, the daily The Guardian addresses an editorial to Prime Minister Tony Blair. The Guardian says: "Yes, Saddam is an Evil Dictator, Mr. Blair, but we knew that already." The newspaper says: "To threaten military force has limitations anyhow in dealing with an Evil Dictator who has thrived upon war at the expense of his people."