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Western Press Review: Opinion On Attacking Iraq Covers The Spectrum

By Don Hill and Esther Pan

Prague, 12 February 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary and analysis continues, as it has for weeks, to spew forth advice on managing Iraq and its ruler, Saddam Hussein. If the U.S. Administration were to follow all the press guidance, it would seek a deal with Saddam, bomb Iraq now, give up sanctions and other coercion, and follow air raids with invasion. Press analysis discloses that support for U.S. action is stronger than first believed, and is so shallow as to leave the United States standing practically alone.

DIE PRESSE: Let the United States discuss no more

Some press commentary seems inconsistent within its own boundaries. For example, Die Presse in Vienna appears to say editorially today that the United States must attack and that the attack probably will be useless. Die Presse says: "The audacity with which Saddam Hussein is thumbing his nose at the United Nations with his newest capers is astounding. This time, let the United States discuss no more. Anything other than the unconditional fulfillment of the UN resolution would be unacceptable. The often-cited 'preference for a diplomatic solution' does not apply. Washington has placed an ultimatum and considers a military strike the extension of its hard politics to even harder measures. The question remains, whether Saddam can be bombed to reason. Because the bombs will not hit him, but his people. And he doesn't care about them."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Air raids on Iraq will be worse than useless

Two columnists, George F. Will in The Washington Post and Edward Mortimer in The Financial Times, London, contend that air strikes of themselves will be, in Mortimer's words, "worse than useless."

Will writes: "Saddam Hussein's promises are made of pie crust, so why use force to produce more of them? This question arises because America lacks a convincing connection between its political objective and the military assets -- including national will -- it has to achieve it." Will writes: "In spite of five weeks of heavy attacks in 1991 and subsequent inspections, Iraq's capacity remains extremely menacing. Which underscores the 'tyranny of five guesses' governing disarmament by air power: Success requires that the targets identified are pertinent; that almost all pertinent targets are identified; that all are hit; that all those hit are destroyed; that the destruction also cripples the enemy's capacity to, in (U.S. Defense Secretary William) Cohen's formulation, reconstitute his capability 'in the near future.'"

Mortimer writes: "Air raids on Iraq will be worse than useless, unless they are co-ordinated with an Iraqi opposition on the ground." Mortimer writes: "When the bombing is over, Mr Saddam will still be there, will still have at least some of his nasty weapons, and will not have accepted UN demands for unfettered access. So what would be the goal? Since no one in Washington or London seems to know, it is not surprising if other capitals are at best lukewarm in their support. The nearest I have seen to a convincing answer came from unnamed officials quoted in the New York Times on February 1. The Pentagon's planning, these officials said, has focused 'on a broader strike that would, if necessary, go far beyond weapons sites to include the military and security apparatus shoring up Hussein's power.' So even if the goal is not to remove Saddam Hussein, it is to knock away the apparatus on which his power rests. What a pity that was not done in March 1991, when his army was reeling from its defeat in the Gulf war and the Iraqi people rose up against him..."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Opposition on the ground remains the only strategy

The Financial Times commentator says: "Reconstituting an effective opposition on the ground now will not be easy. But it remains the only strategy with any real chance of dislodging Mr. Saddam. Until it is in place, more bombs will achieve nothing except more suffering, and hatred throughout the region for the states that drop them."

LE SOIR: The United States cannot not react

From Brussels, Pierre LeFevre writes in the French-language daily Le Soir that, "The United States cannot not react." LeFevre says: "The crisis is escalating, feeding on itself and could lead to scenarios as unpredictable as they are undesirable." He writes: "The international community is almost unanimous in agreeing that Saddam Hussein's chemical and biological weapons potential is a threat." The commentator writes: "It's on the method of dealing with it that they disagree." LeFevre contends: "Clinton should remember that it is not a question 'of removing Saddam from power', but that the objective is military and limited to reducing Iraq's capacity to produce weapons of mass destruction. At least, he is sure that he doesn't want a land war in Iraq to become a new Vietnam."

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Bitter pills are often coated in sugar

"Let us hope that Saddam's birthday, like Hitler's, will soon be a thing of the political past," Tomas Avenarius writes in the Suddeutsche Zeitung. He writes: "To mark his 61st birthday the Iraqi dictator is to distribute sugar among his starving compatriots: free of charge and, for once, in sufficient quantity. Bitter pills are often coated in sugar, as Saddam Hussein knows on the eve of a possible U.S. attack." Avenarius says: "The unscrupulous Iraqi dictator is not 61 until April, a month in which -- as older Germans will remember -- Hitler's birthday used to be celebrated during the Third Reich."

INDEPENDENT: The world might after all demand that all Middle Eastern states apply all UN Security Council resolutions

Some commentary decries what it identifies as a double standard being applied by the United States and its allies. The Independent carries a commentary by Robert Fisk entitled "The Drums of War." Fisk writes: "The world might after all demand that all Middle Eastern states apply all UN Security Council resolutions -- which include an Israeli withdrawal from occupied Arab land." He says: "It could insist that within five years all weapons of mass destruction in the region -- not just Iraqi weapons but Syrian missiles and Israeli nuclear weapons and possible Iranian rockets -- be destroyed. It could offer a real peace in the Middle East, based on human rights, justice and a Palestinian homeland."

GUARDIAN: The impression remains that double standards are being applied

An editorial in The Guardian, London, makes a concurring, if qualified, argument. The Guardian says: "It may be argued that these situations are not comparable. Saddam Hussein is resisting inspection under UN resolutions imposed on Iraq as the result of his own action of aggression. (But) even if the question of principle is discounted, the impression remains to double standards being applied. And it is particularly strong where it does the most damage -- in the Middle East."

WASHINGTON POST: None of Washington's Arab allies is enthusiastic about the prospect of military action

John Lancaster writes from Kuwait in a Washington Post news analysis: "American efforts to line up Arab support for military action against Iraq gained ground Wednesday as Persian Gulf allies unanimously blamed Baghdad for its standoff with the United Nations and Egypt's president warned that President Saddam Hussein's defiance of U.N. arms inspections could provoke a violent American response. (Although), with the possible exception of Kuwait, none of Washington's Arab allies is enthusiastic about the prospect of military action, fearing that anything short of a death blow to the Iraqi government -- a goal the Clinton administration has disavowed -- will merely prolong the agony of a fellow Arab state."

ATLANTA CONSTITUTION: Baghdad is capitalizing on the threat of U.S. air strikes

And writers in Cairo for Atlanta Constitution produce another take on the question of Arab support. Their analysis: "As the United States tries to isolate Iraq for refusing to comply with United Nations weapons inspectors, Baghdad is capitalizing on the threat of U.S. air strikes and the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks to rebuild its threadbare diplomatic ties to the Arab world. Few Arab governments are likely to back Saddam Hussein in any clash with the United States, but several have opened their doors to Iraqi diplomats for the first time since Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990."