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Western Press Review: Mixed Comment On Iraq Raid

Prague, 17 December 1998 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. and British press commentary today focuses largely on the two countries' air attacks on Iraq last night. (Eds: Because of time difference, no European post-raid comment available.) The comment is mixed because some analysts find that the timing of the raid was influenced by the impending vote in the House of Representatives on the impeachment of U.S. President Bill Clinton. In several newspapers, both support and opposition to the raid are expressed on the same editorial page.

WASHINGTON POST: The coincidence of events cannot be allowed to distract attention from the need to deal with Saddam Hussein

The Washington Post's editorial calls the raid "a necessary response" to the renewed blocking of United Nations weapons inspectors by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The paper writes: "That the Iraq crisis has peaked just as the U.S. faces its own political crisis cannot but raise questions here and abroad about America's motives, and those of President Clinton. But the coincidence of events cannot be allowed to distract attention from the need to deal with the long-term threat posed by Saddam Hussein and his defiance of international law."

The editorial goes on: "For more than seven years, (Saddam) has done everything he could to...subvert UN inspections and preserve his poisonous weapons. It was a report this week from the UN inspectors detailing (his) continuing defiance that determined the timing of America's response in firm partnership with its British allies. To delay now would be to give Saddam...time to disperse his illicit weapons and would, by bumping into the observance of Ramadan, give possible offense to Muslims."

The WP concludes: "A bombing campaign must be serious and sustained enough to gravely damage (Saddam's) weapons of mass destruction and the military forces upon which he depends for survival. It should aim to cause as few civilian casualties as possible, but it must be undertaken with the understanding that only (Saddam's) removal from power can ultimately erase the threat that Iraq currently poses to its region and the world."

WASHINGTON POST: The House should hold the vote quickly

The Washington Post's foreign-affairs columnist Jim Hoagland has a very different view of the air attacks, calling them "a foreign policy blunder of major proportions." He writes: "President Clinton has indelibly associated a justified military response to Saddam Hussein's defiance of international law with his own wrongdoing in the White House and the impeachment threat it created."

Hoagland continues: "The arrival of (impeachment) judgment time in the House of Representatives and the debate over the timing of the new bombing in Iraq (means that) the world is now involved in what had been a largely American drama. In foreign policy at least, the threat of impeachment seems to have focused Clinton on leadership tasks that he often treated with intermittent indifference. Foreign policy analysts will perhaps one day erect a statue to Monica Lewinsky in gratitude."

Hoagland also says: "Clinton's repeated assertions that he is not allowing the serious business of impeachment to affect national security matters gives the House leadership an obligation to return the favor: They should not let national security delay for long the serious business of impeachment. They should hold the vote quickly. The Pentagon would benefit from being able to run this showdown with Clinton's attention elsewhere."

USA TODAY: The President made the right choice

The daily USA Today disagrees in its editorial, entitled "Impeachment or Not, (the) Time Was Right to Strike." The paper says: "President Clinton's decision to attack Iraq Wednesday will never meet with universal acceptance, even with Saddam's unrepentant history of aggression. Nor will the timing of the strikes go unchallenged, given the looming impeachment vote and the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. But politics and religion aside, there should be no doubt that the President made the right choice."

The editorial continues: "The Clinton administration over the past year has been roundly and deservedly criticized for its credibility-killing pattern of threat and retreat. It emboldened Saddam, and it put Arab allies in the Gulf in the politically risky position of (seeking) public support for an unpopular act of U.S. aggression for no reason."

USA Today sums up: "The object, Clinton says, is to degrade Saddam's ability to use weapons of mass destruction, prevent him from threatening his neighbors, and, longer term, to replace his regime with a more rational one. Those are the right goals. But they are potentially costly and difficult ones that will require long-term commitment and decisiveness like that on display Wednesday night."

USA TODAY: We should not have bombed Iraq

Alongside its editorial, USA Today runs a dissenting commentary by John Dear, Director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, an inter-faith pacifist organization. He writes: "We should not have bombed Iraq. We should not kill Iraqi people in order to send a message to Saddam that he should not kill Iraqi people. There is no logic to such madness."

Dear goes on: "The children and people of Iraq are not our enemies. They have suffered too much already. They should not suffer anymore --whether from the Iraqi Government or the United States Government."

The commentary concludes: "Creative nonviolence, in the tradition of Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and all the great religions, especially during this season of holy days, is the only way to resolve conflict with the Iraqi government, or anyone."

NEW YORK TIMES: The attack on Iraq may delay but will not end the debate over Clinton's fate

The New York Times today is concerned with the link between what it calls "war and impeachment." Its editorial says: "By attacking Iraq as House members gathered in the capital to consider his impeachment, Clinton could not avoid the impression that he is blurring the boundaries that must separate America's foreign conduct from its domestic political turbulence. But that accusation would in large part be unfair. The confrontation with Iraq has played out on its own timetable and happened to reach a decisive point on the eve of the House impeachment debate."

The editorial continues: "The decision to (attack) Iraq was fully justified. Just weeks after Saddam Hussein had yet again promised to give international inspectors unhindered access, Iraq barred them from sites suspected of housing chemical and biological arms. Richard Butler, the chief UN inspector, reported Tuesday that effective inspections were impossible."

The NYT concludes: "The attack on Iraq may delay but will not end the debate over Clinton's fate or change any votes already committed to impeachment. Congress needs to resolve that constitutional crisis as soon as possible."

NEW YORK TIMES: We are in a period of half-measures

Two New York Times columnists today provide other assessments of the raid. William Safire writes: "Barring a lucky hit, a few days --or even weeks-- of bombs will not eliminate the Iraqi dictator's threat to every civilized country. Air power may temporarily "degrade" but not knock out his capacity to produce germ and poison-gas weapons....Only the credible threat of another invasion of Iraq is likely to stimulate a successful coup. No such unpopular Gulf buildup will be in the works during the Clinton administration. That can has been kicked to the next president."

Safire then says: "We are in a period of half-measures. The military half-measure Clinton is taking in Iraq is unlikely to depose Saddam, which is a bad thing. But the political half-measure Congress is taking in Washington --with the House impeaching and the Senate chastising but not removing Clinton-- is a good thing."

He concludes: "Credit Clinton with pure motives in doing too little, too late. Credit Congress with equally patriotic motives in doing just enough and on time."

NEW YORK TIMES: A disturbing, surreal haze covers nearly every development now

In his NYT column, Bob Herbert is far more critical of Clinton, writing: "A president who evaded the draft as a young man and has avoided the use of force through most of his presidency has now launched his second series of attacks in recent months."

Herbert continues: "(August) attacks in Afghanistan and the Sudan came just three days after Clinton had gone on national television to acknowledge that he had an inappropriate relationship with Monica Lewinsky....A disturbing, surreal haze covers nearly every development now. Every act and every utterance has multiple potential meanings. The right wing of the Republican Party clearly is out to destroy Clinton. At the same time, the President has lied so often and so easily it is difficult to know when he is telling the truth, or if he ever tells the whole truth."

He sums up: "The nation is engaged in a crisis at home and a conflict abroad. Bill Clinton had better be telling the whole truth about the attack on Iraq. If it turns out he's not, the rest of the country will turn away from him and join the Republicans in demanding his impeachment, and his ouster from office."

DAILY TELEGRAPH: The US and Britain must demonstrate that they are up to the challenge

In Britain, the Daily Telegraph in its editorial calls on Washington and London to "see (the bombing) through". The paper writes: "The U.S. and Britain have a cast-iron case for the bombardment of Iraq that began last night....The wonder is that the two countries held back from military action for so long."

The editorial continues: "If the U.S. and Britain do not have to make a case for military action, they do have to decide how far to pursue it....(To cease bombing because of Ramadan) will ensure that it is little more than a pin-prick....It will not seriously dent Saddam's hold over his country. For that, a prolonged air campaign is the bare minimum."

The DT concludes: "The timing of (the attacks), falling just before Ramadan and the impeachment undoubtedly awkward. But for this Washington and London have only themselves to blame....The longer air strikes were put off, the harder it became to deal with Saddam. Rather than being boxed in, as the UN claims, he has been allowed to turn the tables on his monitors. It is for them to demonstrate that they are up to the challenge that he has thrown down."

GUARDIAN: Bombing also carries large risks

The Guardian is less whole-heartedly supportive of the raid. It writes that "it is undoubtedly a hideous thing to contemplate the systematic bombardment of targets in Iraq...which will certainly take innocent lives....Saddam Hussein has a genius for presenting both his enemies and those who pass for his friends with unpleasant choices."

The Guardian's editorial goes on: "A bombing campaign could conceivably precipitate a coup against (Saddam) either from his own inner circle or from the officer corps....(It) would certainly limit his reach and control in the country. Yet bombing also carries large risks. Saddam will protect targets like the palaces by inducing civilians to converge on them."

The editorial sums up: "Saddam enjoys no true loyalty among Iraqis....As far as their feelings can be determined, Iraqis blame both Saddam and the West for their dismal situation, to which they desperately crave an end....Bombing will only be justified, for us and for them, if it clearly contributes to (the 'determination' mentioned by both Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair last night)."

FINANCIAL TIMES: The U.S. should keep three things in mind

The Financial Times says that, "as in...previous (Iraq) crises, the gains from this latest round of air strikes are at best uncertain. But," its editorial adds, "it is not obvious what alternative there was to military action."

The FT advises: "The U.S. should keep three things in mind: "First, attacks should be limited to the regime's military infrastructure. Second, what should follow is a thorough review of how to contain Iraq, probably concluding that conventional, Cold War-style the most feasible way forward."

"Last," the paper concludes, "but by no means least, it would be foolish in the extreme to continue bombing during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins this weekend. Israeli jets blitzed West Beirut throughout Ramadan during Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Before that, Hezbollah, the model for Islamic groups now active throughout the region, did not exist. The U.S. and (Britain) should remember this lesson."