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Western Press Review: The Rattle Of Sabers Becomes A Clanging

By Don Hill and Esther Pan

Prague, 6 February 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The beat of war drums in the middle distance fixes the attention of a spectrum of commentators in the Western press. Those opposed to a punitive U.S. attack on the Iraq of Saddam Hussein, and those who support it, stand generally on one common ground: They are dubious.

NEW YORK TIMES: This confrontation is dangerous

The New York Times decries in editorial an increase in the tempo of recent days' rhetoric. The Times says: "With the United States gearing up for warfare against Iraq, it is not surprising that rhetoric about the crisis is escalating. But loose talk among Republican leaders about removing Saddam Hussein and Boris Yeltsin's references to a new world war are not helpful. This confrontation is dangerous enough without political grandstanding."

BOSTON GLOBE: Saddam is still on a roll

Commentators in The Boston Globe and in the German newspaper Die Welt take notice of Saddam's success in marching unscathed through previous barrages of flak.

Jeff Jacoby writes in The Globe: "The Butcher of Baghdad is on a winning streak. He got his biggest break in February 1991, when the allied coalition called off the Gulf War without removing him from power. He got a second huge break a few weeks later, when the Bush administration refused to interfere as he used armed helicopters and napalm to ruthlessly put down a nationwide rebellion, slaughtering thousands of Iraqis in the process. Now seven years have elapsed, and Saddam is still on a roll."

DIE WELT: Iraq still has one of the most powerful armies

Evangelos Antonaros writes in Die Welt: "Even now, seven years after the Gulf War, Iraq still has one of the most powerful armies in the Middle East. Despite serious setbacks and enormous difficulties in buying new arms and equipment and spare parts, Baghdad is thought by Western experts to pose a threat to its immediate neighbors once more after radically thinning out its command structure."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Saddam's missiles bound Israel's disparate peoples together

The likely Israeli reaction to a new Persian Gulf war would surprise Saddam, an Israeli writer contends in The Los Angeles Times. From Cairo, a writer in the French newspaper Liberation claims that the Egyptian leadership is torn.

Sarah Shapiro writes from Jerusalem: "So, the time has come to play tug-of-war with Saddam Hussein again. How curiously familiar, this deadly game. And what sweet memories it evokes of the gulf war gone by. There was our sealed room in which we huddled during his attacks, packed in like sardines." She says: "Could it be, indeed, that Saddam is planning to treat us to another episode? If he only knew how his missiles bound Israel's disparate peoples together and healed for a time our society's wound, he wouldn't dream of doing it again."

LIBERATION: The Clinton administration has eroded confidence in the United States

In Liberation, Christophe Ayad says: "President (Hosni Mubarak) will never forgive Saddam Hussein for betraying his confidence in not pulling out of Kuwait as promised. But the suffering of Iraqis, and the feeling that the Clinton administration is increasingly applying a double standard in the region in not exerting any pressure on Israel, has eroded confidence in the United States."

DIE WELT: The original performance was by no means as glorious as officially proclaimed

In another commentary in Die Welt, writer Fritz Wirth takes aim at the notion of surgical bombing. He says: "When Saddam Hussein had been forced to his knees, (smart-bombs) deployment was celebrated as a triumph for new high-tech weapons -- in other words, weapons with a minimum of risk and a maximum of accuracy and strike-success. Now the Pentagon is preparing for a remake of this high-tech exhibition of lethal bomb power. But what most of the erstwhile eye-witnesses to this miracle weapons attack do not know is that the original performance seven years ago was by no means as glorious and problem-free as the Pentagon, in victorious mood, later officially proclaimed."

WASHINGTON POST: Military action is a perilous course; another option is to do nothing ...

Whatever kind of assault the United States unleashes, an attack on Iraq is a poor alternative -- except for any other, columnists declare in The Washington Post and in the British Financial Times. The Post's Richard Cohen writes: "In one sense, Saddam Hussein represents a no-brainer. The man is so vile, so evil, so patently irrational that letting him get his way is simply not an option. Still, military action is a perilous course. It will produce what is called collateral damage -- a fancy term for the accidental killing of civilians and possibly the unintentional destruction of a school or mosque." Cohen says: "Yet another -- if unspoken -- option is to do nothing. That, though, would mean allowing Saddam Hussein to continue his weapons program and, in short order, intimidate much of the Middle East. Moreover, it would spell the end of the United Nations as an effective international organization."

FINANCIAL TIMES: It is dangerous to attack but more dangerous to do nothing

The Financial Times Phillip Stephens writes: "There is a case against war. It starts with the uncertainty about U.S. aims." The writer continues: "The Scylla of military action confronts the Charybdis of submission. However dangerous it is to bomb Iraq, it is more perilous still to allow Saddam to continue unchecked." And he concludes: "It is dangerous to attack but more dangerous to do nothing."

LE SOIR: Yeltsin's statement was a deliberate choice

The Belgian French-language daily Le Soir editorializes unfavorably about the United States' cool reaction to Iraqi suggestions of flexibility and with apparent approval on Russian President Boris Yeltsin's denunciation of the U.S. stance. The newspaper says: "Iraq yesterday appeared open to negotiations to resolve the crisis with the UN over disarmament, but the United States, accused by Russia of risking a new world war, continued to show a healthy skepticism." Le Soir says: "(Yeltsin's) statement was not a new linguistic faux pas by the Russian president, who is partial to improvised declarations. (It was) a deliberate choice by Moscow to harden the tone towards Washington, analysts say."

TIMES: The sound of the trumpet is uncertain

Obviously searching for a phrase, Philip Terzian in the U.S. Providence Journal Bulletin and Matthew Parris in The Times of London find similar wording. Terzian: "There's something distinctly unsettling about the (U.S.) secretary of state (Madeleine Albright), bouncing around the capitals of the Middle East, seeking to convince our allies in the region -- and not too successfully -- that military action against Iraq is imperative." And Parris: "There is something not quite right about this; something baleful. The sound of the trumpet is uncertain. Is that worth saying? And what more can one say?"