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Western Press Review: U.S-Iraq, Russia's Woes

Prague, 12 November 1998 (RFE/RL) -- "A new Iraqi crisis has crept up on a world preoccupied by other matters, international and domestic," writes the Irish Times today. With U.S. President Bill Clinton declaring yesterday that he was "prepared to act" if Iraq continues to defy the United Nations, much Western press commentary is devoted to the confrontation between Washington and Baghdad. There is also some continuing discussion of Russia's economic and political problems.

IRISH TIMES: The U.S. does not have a right to retaliate unilaterally

In its editorial titled "Back to the Brink," the Irish Times says that the world's "unpreparedness may indeed explain Saddam Hussein's decision last week to stop cooperating with the UN's Special Commission monitoring the removal of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. (It) was presumably activated by his perception that President Clinton had been weakened by the Lewinsky affair, and that there was little prospect of UN sanctions against Iraq being lifted."

The editorial continues: "President Clinton has emerged stronger from the congressional elections and, therefore, from the Lewinsky affair than the Iraqi leadership bargained for." But the paper believes that "the U.S. does not have a right to retaliate unilaterally against Iraq without a further Security Council resolution."

The IT adds: "The policy of overthrowing Saddam Hussein was expressly ruled out after the (1991) Gulf War. Since then it has always been difficult to square the policy of aggressive disarmament and containment pursued by the U.S. and Britain with the prospect of restoring some rough-and-ready normality to international relations with Iraq."

WASHINGTON POST: The operation is at best a necessity

In the U.S., two columnists discuss the latest Iraqi crisis. In the Washington Post, Jim Hoagland says that Clinton is "determined not to repeat the chaos and mistakes of last winter's failed confrontation with Saddam Hussein over UN weapons."

Hoagland writes further: "With airstrikes almost certain within the next two weeks, the change since (the crisis of last) February is clear: (This time) there will be no agonizing national debate crowned by disorderly town-hall meetings, no extended diplomatic effort by the French and Russians to give Saddam (and Clinton) a way out, no last-minute mission to Baghdad (by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan). There may or may not be a final public ultimatum to Iraq, but Clinton will not cling to it in desperate hope that it will move Saddam."

The commentary adds: "The Clintonites will have to fight the battle of world opinion during and after the bombing....They should not yield to the obvious temptations to play up their 'success'....No operation that results in widespread Iraqi civilian deaths, as this one almost certainly will, can be hailed as a success. It is instead at best a necessity."

NEW YORK TIMES: Saddam has the strategic advantage

In the New York Times, William Safire writes in his commentary: "The Clinton strategy up to now has been to go along with UN appeasement of Saddam to such an extent that even the French got sick of sustained humiliation. Our doormat approach -- though it has enabled Iraq secretly to steal a march on building terror weapons -- is now being presented as having brilliantly 'unified our allies.'"

Safire continues: "Although Saddam miscalculated wildly a decade ago, his current strategy takes full advantage of Clinton's expected decision to wage limited air war with its modest compliance aim. So long as our purpose is only to 'degrade' facilities rather than to replace an aggressive regime, the strategic advantage is his."

Safire adds: "(Saddam's) ultimate purpose is to be able to credibly bluff the West into letting him dominate his part of the world....Does a prudent president," he asks, "let him grab those (regional) oil fields, or will Clinton's successor be forced to gamble a U.S. city on the hope that a homicidal maniac is only bluffing?"

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The tension is once more coming to a climax

Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung today carries a commentary by Peter Muench that says: "In Hollywood, bad films never get a remake. In Washington, however, the U.S. president has spent (most of) a decade battling with ever new versions of a bad screenplay."

Muench writes: "A strong U.S. armed force is preparing to carry out the threatened military strike. It's the same old routine --and the U.S. president and his allies look more than ever like Pavlov's dogs ....The alternative would be to capitulate to a criminal regime."

The commentary ends: "The tension is once more coming to a climax. It could end in two different ways, in war or a dubious peace. The only thing that is clear is that it will not be a happy end for anyone."

LE MONDE: The strikes will be a prelude to a long offensive

The French daily Le Monde yesterday carried an editorial titled "Finishing It." The paper writes that: "in the coming days or weeks Baghdad's star-studded sky is likely to be lit up even more. Hundreds of kilometers away, in the shelter of the Gulf's calm waters, an armada of Tomahawk-missile launchers is ready to commence firing."

Le Monde continues: "Never have circumstances been so propitious (for the U.S.). The Russia of Yevgeny Primakov, Baghdad's friend for 30 years, has been neutralized: It doesn't even possess the means of feeding its own population. And if France is still insisting, quite justifiably, that all diplomatic means be exhausted (before a strike), everyone agrees with the region's Arab states: We can no longer have confidence in Saddam Hussein."

The paper adds: "If we want truly to help Iraq and end an interminable crisis, we must finish with Saddam....The (coming) strikes, therefore, will only be the prelude to a long offensive."

FINANCIAL TIMES: The international community has yet to find an effective way of dealing with Saddam

In a commentary in Britain's Financial Times, Roula Khalaf explains "why the current crisis over Iraq is worse than earlier episodes" He writes: "This crisis is not merely another exercise in mutual brinkmanship. It is confronting the U.S. and its allies with the need to rethink the whole strategy of containing the Iraqi leader."

Khalaf goes one: "The uncompromising nature of Mr. Saddam's actions had made this crisis easier for the U.S. to handle in the very short term --but much harder in the long run. It has revived serious questions about the policy of containment of the last eight years...."

He adds: "The unattractive options before the U.S in the event of a military adventure are making officials hope Iraq will back down. The problem, however, is that the Iraqi strongman believes his advantage lies precisely in the absence of a clear policy....The international community has yet to find and agree on an effective way of dealing with him."

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: Russia's economic problems are compounded by a severe winter

Turning to Russia, which it calls the "Land of Crisis," the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes today: "The coldest winter in 30 years is expected in Russia, following a relatively hot summer that resulted in drought and drastic harvest failure. At the same time, dogged by a financial crisis, the heart of the declining Eastern empire, as in Soviet days, is being forced to beg for corn --and for credits-- from abroad."

The FAZ editorial continues: "As if this were not sufficiently humiliating for a country that continues to consider itself a great power, there is the added political burden that the no-longer quite new Primakov government has been incapable of drafting a definitive (economic)program."

It adds: "Moscow wants to introduce stronger controls, but it has to take into account the (strictures) of the International Monetary Fund. If the IMF does not release further thousands of millions of dollars, the Russian economy is unlikely to be saved from bankruptcy. Then all that would remain, according to (the phrase of one State Duma communist deputy), would be to issue more and more paper money --at the price, of course, of hyper-inflation."

WALL STREET JOURNAL: Russia's democrats should focus on educating the public

The Wall Street Journal Europe devotes a long editorial to what it calls "Scape-goating " in Russia. The paper recalls last week's debate in the Duma over whether or not to condemn communist deputy Albert Makashov for what the paper describes as his "anti-Semitic ravings." The Duma refused to sanction Makashov, "a retired general," the WSJ says, "with a record of racist statements...(It was) one of the blackest days in post-Soviet Russia..."

The editorial goes on: "Anti-Semitism has a long, sad pedigree in Russia. The czars indulged it, Stalin employed it in his murderous endeavors....Other minority groups were targeted, but none as virulently as the Jews....:

The WSJ also says: "One of the disturbing things about the Duma vote is the memory that in old Russia, pogroms tended to accompany times of troubles. The new Russia is clearly entering such a time, with a debauched currency and bankrupt government."

The paper concludes: "There is little choice (today) but to tolerate Russia's communists and let them discredit themselves. Russia's democrats should meanwhile focus on educating the public about the real causes of the economic collapse...and create a real political party...that stands for liberal reform."