Prague, 18 December 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The continuing U.S.-British air strikes against Iraq are the subject of much commentary in the Western press today. President Bill Clinton's possible impeachment by the U.S. House of Representatives, which is due to begin its debate on the subject this afternoon (1500 Prague time), also attracts editorial attention. In some analyses, the two matters are seen as closely related.
BILD ZEITUNG: Saddam understands only violence
In Germany, the mass-circulation Bild Zeitung recalls that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein once, "without much ado, had a minister who contradicted him shot on the spot. He understands only violence," says the paper, adding: "Again, a people has been forced to suffer under its leader, (a condition that in Iraq) can go on for a long time. From a relatively safe hideout, Saddam is waiting for the collective rage of the Islamic world, Russia and China to descend on the Americans and British. To his own people,'" Bild concludes, Saddam "again wants to portray the West as their real torturers."
FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: Saddam will be strengthened by this episode
The Frankfurter Rundschau thinks Saddam, whom it calls "the abuser of people and murderer, will be strengthened by this (episode)." The paper argues: "He'll only disappear if his fawning courtiers begin to fear the loss of their swimming pools and the riches they've stolen from the Iraqi people. Maybe then someone will emerge from the circle of power to do away with Saddam --but all previous attempts have failed."
WIESBADENER KURIER: The air attacks damage the credibility of U.S. leadership
A third German newspaper, the Wiesbadener Kurier, writes that "the timing of the attack weakens the already precarious position in the Middle East of world-policeman U.S.A. On top of that," the editorial continues, "(the air attacks) damage the credibility of U.S. leadership." It sums up: "Without a plan to remove Saddam Hussein from power, Washington will be seen only as an arrogant superpower caring nothing about the lives of Arab civilians."
INFORMATION: Saddam deserves the condemnation of the international community
Two Scandinavian newspapers also assess the consequences of the air attacks on Iraq. The Danish daily Information writes in its editorial: "The international community has been plunged into its most serious crisis since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the disintegration of the Soviet Union. But," the editorial argues, "Western opinion-makers who are now celebrating the...victory of democracy, human rights and international law over the hated Iraqi dictator (don't seem to realize that)."
Information continues: "As for Saddam, whose conscience smells of the (poison) gas he used against Kurds and Iranians and who has taken over from the Soviet Union the role of the 'Evil Empire,' he does deserve the condemnation of the international community....For the world community, however, it is, as United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said, a sad day."
AFTENPOSTEN: This crisis will enter a new phase
In Norway, the daily Aftenposten writes in an editorial: "The policies of the Iraqi dictator are usually unpredictable. But in one area he has been dutifully consistent: Saddam has bet all, including his own citizens' lives, on his continued ability to produce weapons of mass destruction."
The editorial goes on: "Saddam may himself have wanted the (U.S.-British) attacks....He may be using the occasion to deal with some internal dissent within his army that the world doesn't know about. Or perhaps the limited U.S. strikes will be used (by Baghdad) to consolidate Saddam's political status in the region." Aftenposten concludes: "Though the popularity of the U.S. and the UN may suffer in the Arab world, it is unlikely that the sympathy of Iraq's neighbors for Saddam will grow. Saddam's provocation against the international community is just the latest step in a long crisis....This crisis will enter a new phase (whose nature) will be determined by the way Baghdad reacts to the air strikes."
LE MONDE: The U.S. decision could turn out to be catastrophic
Two French national dailies strongly criticize the attacks. Le Monde's editorial says that "the U.S. decision to use force against Iraq is a bad one, from all points of view." The paper then spells out: "First, it was bad because of its form: the (UN) Security Council was not consulted, even though Washington pretends to be acting in the name of the international community."
Substantively, Le Monde goes on, "the decision was also bad: It is based on a doubtful report of the head of the UN's Special Commission (UNSCOM) on Iraq, the Australian Richard Butler. What did Mr. Butler say? That Iraq had not 'fully' allowed weapons inspectors to carry out their work, that it jammed transmissions from UN helicopters, moved documents and closed certain suspicious sites. But it's always been this way, throughout the eight years that UNSCOM has been working in Iraq."
"For all these reasons," the paper editorial sums up, "--and without even citing the raids' civilian casualties-- the U.S. decision could turn out to be catastrophic. As has been true, for too long, of the entire U.S. policy toward Iraq."
LIBERATION: The attack can use up all of Bill Clinton's credit
Liberation's chief editor Serge July signs his paper's editorial today, which is entitled "The Whipping Boy." He, too, questions whether Butler's report really justified the raids, then adds: "With Saddam Hussein, the U.S. has found a whipping boy who can be used internationally, regionally, nationally, even for private matters...whenever it likes."
July continues: "The U.S. is no longer what it was eight years ago (during the 1991 Gulf War), the armed might of (international) law. It has just committed what is called an aggression against a country that threatens no-one, because it is incapable of doing so."
The editorial concludes: "The U.S. attack --because it is useless, because it was undertaken outside international law, because it is a war for private use-- has created an enormous disorder. Surely more than Monica Lewinsky, the attack can use up all of Bill Clinton's credit."
WASHINGTON POST: The U.S. and Britain are being more faithful to the purposes of the UN
The Washington Post today notes that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan "regrets that the Iraq crisis was not allowed to be resolved by diplomacy. Who does not?" the paper asks, and "why was it not?"
The editorial answers: "It was not, as various critics of the intervention suggest, that Washington was impatient, rash or pursuing an imperial design. It was that Saddam Hussein resisted the grave appeals of the UN's to permit his disarmament. The real alternative to the crisis provoked by Saddam Hussein's years of intransigence and duplicity was not another dose of diplomacy. It was an application of force."
The editorial asks more questions: "Who is the good internationalist here? Is it a government prepared to act at its own cost and risk to blunt Saddam Hussein's threat --a threat made credible by his past aggression and cruelty -- to develop and use weapons of mass destruction? Or is it governments or international organizations that compromise the requirement for implementation of solemn international decrees, in the UN's case its own resolutions?"
"The U.S. and Britain," the WP concludes, "are being more faithful to the purposes as well as to the specific words of the UN than is the world organization itself."
LOS ANGELES TIMES: Washington and London were left with only one credible course of action
The Los Angeles Times calls the strikes an "inevitable, necessary blow at Iraq." The paper's editorial says: "To no one's surprise, Iraq's promise last month to cooperate fully with UN weapons inspectors promptly proved to be as untruthful as all the similar assurances that preceded it.."
The LAT goes on to ask: "Why did Iraq choose to force a confrontation so quickly (after the return of UN weapons inspectors last month)? Hussein, a habitual miscalculator in international relations, may have believed that the impeachment drama in Washington had left Clinton so paralyzed politically that he would be unable to act. Or he may have assumed that Iraq would be immune from attack during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins this weekend. What he did not take into account was the three-or-four-day window of opportunity for military action preceding the onset of Ramadan."
The editorial also says: "The hard truth...is that Washington and London were left with only one credible course of action. Iraq had refused to provide UN inspectors with documents known to detail the extent of its clandestine weapons programs, and it had barred inspectors from sites where prohibited materials may be hidden. That...more than anything else controlled the timing of the attack that American and British officials have repeatedly warned could come."
NEW YORK TIMES: Air attacks against Iraq should be the opening move in a new approach
The New York Times today calls for "A New Strategy to Restrain Iraq." The paper writes: "The American and British air attacks against Iraq should be the opening move in a new approach for dealing with Saddam Hussein. Several opportunities may exist, notably through new diplomacy in the Middle East. Taking advantage of them will require creative thinking by Washington."
The NYT goes on: "Washington should look to the Middle East for leverage against Baghdad....Larger and more populous than Iraq, Iran can serve as a counterweight to Baghdad's ambitions. Since Mohammad Khatami was elected Iran's president, Washington and Tehran have moved cautiously to end two decades of estrangement. Better relations between America and Iran would serve both countries and intimidate Iraq."
It adds: "The U.S. also needs to reinforce its relations with Saudi Arabia, Syria and Egypt. That will require redoubled American efforts to save the Israeli-Palestinian peace, now hostage to probable Israeli elections next year....America is not the only nation interested in restraining Iraq," the paper concludes. "Saddam Hussein's neighbors have even greater reason to fear his weapons."
NEW YORK TIMES: At this crucial moment the capital lacks two ingredients
In a separate editorial today, entitled "War at Home and Abroad", the New York Times says: "At a time when its members would normally be in holiday recess, Congress is wrestling with its two most solemn responsibilities --whether to impeach the President and whether to support his decision to send American troops into combat."
The editorial continues: "Democrats made a strong case against starting the impeachment debate while American forces are attacking Iraq. But in discussing that issue, the Democrats were also playing to an emerging theme in popular opinion that the impeachment process is being guided by Republican muscle rather than sober judgment."
It adds: "Until now, the headlong rush toward an impeachment that is opposed by the public has made this a time in Washington unlike any other in living memory....But at this crucial moment, the capital lacks two ingredients that are essential.... One is the emergence of leaders capable of growth in the midst of crisis. The other is a shared commitment to compromise."
The NYT concludes: "The public has defined the correct punishment for Clinton. It wants a condemnation occupying the serious space between a vengeful Republican leadership and those...who see the president as a victim of bad dating etiquette."
WASHINGTON POST: Suddenly placating is out and the danger is present
Two Washington Post columnists today comment on the impeachment proceedings and their possible role in Clinton's launching of the attack. In a commentary entitled "The Ramadam Ploy," Charles Krauthammer writes: "In November 1997, Saddam Hussein kicked UN arms inspectors out of Iraq...Since then, Bill Clinton has watched and dithered, threatened and flinched....Then, after 400 days of inaction, hours before the House of Representatives was to impeach him, Clinton decided that this was the day to take America to war."
He goes on: "Immediately. Impeachment eve. Couldn't wait another minute, said Clinton. Why? Ramadan. 'For us to initiate military action during Ramadan would be profoundly offensive to the Muslims in the world.'"
Krautheimer comments: "This will come as a surprise to the Muslim world, which unanimously supported the surprise attack (on Israel) initiated by two of their own (Egypt and Syria) in October 1973 --during Ramadan. In fact, the Arabs call it ... Harb Ramadan --the Ramadan War. This will come as a surprise to Iraqis and Iranians too, who savaged each other on the battlefield during the eight Ramadans of the Iran-Iraq war.
With strong irony, he continues: "This is all a coincidence, of course. Saddam's weapons program is a 'clear and present danger,' explained the President in his address Wednesday night. But it has been a clear and present danger for 400 days.... Now all of a sudden, placating is out and the danger is present."
WASHINGTON POST: Impeachment is hygiene for the regime
In his Washington Post commentary, George Will writes of his hopes for the impeachment debate that was due to begin today. He says: "The vote...should proceed on the understanding that impeachment is not punishment, it is hygiene for the regime."
"The vote," Will goes on, "should turn on three questions: First, is it seemly to spare a president even a Senate trial to consider the (alleged) crimes of a sort for which some Americans are in prison? Second, is it necessary to avoid a Senate trial, lest the nation be jeopardized?....Third, what standard of presidential behavior will be endorsed by the House if it votes that not even a Senate trial is warranted by Clinton's sustained and calculated 'private' behavior...?"
Will concludes: "Clinton might survive a Senate trial in which the nation's welfare, not his soul, would be the proper subject. But...if Clinton clings to office after majorities of both houses declare him unfit to do so, that outcome can accurately be called: censure."
NEW YORK TIMES: Resignation should come ...
Finally, another columnist, A.M. Rosenthal of the New York Times, today calls on Clinton to resign swiftly, saying that would be a "great service...to his country." He writes: "The loss in credibility (Clinton) earned with his quick decision to attack Iraq, although his impeachment was likely the next day, will dilute the chances of lasting victory over Saddam Hussein. He created two obstacles to eliminating Saddam --a mountain of cynicism, and another of disbelief."
The commentary goes on to say: "Resignation should come as soon as the current few days of bombing end. History, not Congress, would pass judgment on the White House scandal. But Clinton would have made the honest judgment that his presence had become a weight on his country."