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Western Press Review: Assessing Desert Fox And Election Prospects In Israel

Prague, 22 December 1998 (RFE/RL) - Western press commentators are still assessing the political as well as military impact of last week's U.S.-British air strikes on Iraq. There is also some comment today on the prospect of early elections in Israel.

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Saddam is still there...

The paper says that "650 sorties and more than 40 Tomahawk cruise missiles bought the world one year's respite from the Baghdad menace, who by next Christmas could again be threatening his neighbors and Europe with lethal weapons. Finally, we have a military definition of 'degrade.'"

But, the paper's editorial goes on, "the world, 72 hours after operation Desert Fox, looks much the same as it did before the bombing. Saddam [Hussein] is still there....It is clear that the strike, even though a hard punch, was not a knock-out blow....Saddam may be surrounded by rubble, but he has cards to play. He will refuse further [United Nations] weapons inspections while at the same time trying to mobilize support [for lifting] UN sanctions..."

The WSJ sums up: "Buying time and demonstrating to other would-be tyrants that America can still act is worth something. But we would feel a lot better about this use of military might if we could see some evidence that the American president has a workable strategy for pacifying the Middle East. Desert Fox...looks too much like an act of expediency with very limited accomplishments to be fully satisfying."

WASHINGTON POST: Only Saddam's removal can solve the problems Iraqposes

An editorial says that, "on one level, the latest military campaign against Iraq appears to have been a success....The U.S. demonstrated that it takes seriously Saddam Hussein's violations of UN resolutions and will seek to impede his acquisition of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons."

"But," the editorial adds, "the raids will not put an end to Saddam Hussein's efforts to assemble such an arsenal. The Clinton Administration set itself a limited goal [and] one reasonably can ask whether for political reasons the military campaign was halted before even its limited objective were met....The question feeds into larger doubts about where the Administration goes from here with its Iraq policy."

The WP adds: "Only Saddam Hussein's removal can solve the problem that Iraq now poses for its region and the world. But [achieving that and other] goals will require a seriousness of purpose, a focus of sustained attention that until now the Administration has not displayed."

NEW YORK TIMES: The destruction of Iraq would have consequences for the region

Author Robert Kaplan, in a commentary, writes: "Even if the Clinton Administration has a plan for [a new] regime to take power in Iraq after Saddam Hussein's fall, the chances of it succeeding would be modest. While the Administration's reasons for destroying his ability to maintain weapons of mass destruction are impeccable, without a plan for the future the Administration may force a dangerous turning point."

The commentary goes on: "The destruction of Iraq...would have far-reaching and unpredictable consequences throughout the region. Neighboring Turkey, Syria and Iran all have diseased political systems that are behind the curve of socio-economic development in their countries."

Kaplan concludes: "By trying to topple Saddam Hussein, the White House is betting, whether it knows it or not, that it has the historical wisdom and the appetite for power required to steer the Middle East toward a new political order."

NEW YORK TIMES: The bombing means the end of the UN weapons inspection program

Another Times commentary, this one by analyst Ronald Steel, is more critical of Washington. Steel writes: "It would seem that the attack was intended to do little more than demonstrate that the U.S. Government had been worn out and that its frustration demanded a response. A military operation...seeking such modest objectives can be justified only if the cost is very low. But that," says Steel, "is far from the case here."

He continues: "The bombing means the end of the UN weapons inspection program....The U.S. will be locked into a huge military presence in the Gulf for years....The attack also endangers U.S. relations with...the Russians [who] declared that they were shelving plans to ratify START-Two."

Steel sumps up: "Hypocrisy, which the French moralist La Rochefoucauld called the tribute that vice pays to virtue, has an honored place in diplomacy, as it does in politics. This latest operation lacks the virtue of its vices."

GUARDIAN: Is a cratered Iraq better than a messy stand-off?

Two British dailies are critical of their government's involvement in the attacks on Iraq. The Guardian writes of the "profound doubts attending British participation in the American-led bombings..." It says that the "anxieties registered across the political spectrum...are likely to go on growing until there is evidence that a cratered Iraq is in anyway better for Iraqis, for the region, for the world than the messy stand-off that held until last week."

The editorial continues: "The misgivings are as evident among so-called realists and military experts as those whose first and admirable instinct is to deplore the use of force except where all avenues of talk and diplomacy are self-evidently exhausted..."

The Guardian adds: "For the time being, the British position has been made to look all the more hazardous by 'standing alone' with the U.S. at a moment when that country's domestic preoccupations are so strong....The [cost] has also to be calculated diplomatically in terms of relations inside the European Union, and in the capacity of the UN to express anything resembling the conscience of the free world."

INDEPENDENT: For the first time, Blair has stumbled in handling public opinion

The paper says that "the Prime Minister has misjudged the mood of the nation." In an editorial, the paper writes: "For the first time, [Tony] Blair has stumbled badly in his handling of public opinion....{He has] a lot to reconsider. Britain's relations with it European neighbors have been harmed....Arab nations already struggling to contain internal dissent have been further destabilized. Even the fragile peace process in Israel has been thrown further into doubt."

The editorial goes on: "What a new 'consensus' in fact demands is that further actions are not only legal and proportionate, but are seen to be so....In the long term, Western powers should promote democracy in Iraq and throughout the region, instead of hoping for a more pliant strongman to emerge from within the Iraqi military. The real way to contain Saddam is to...persuade those Arabs who may despair of our motives and see Saddam as our victim that we are acting fairly."

LE MONDE: Anti-Americanism has increased by a perceptible degree

The French national daily says in its editorial: "Few would deny that Saddam Hussein is dangerous, that he has violated the regime of limited sovereignty imposed on him [by the UN] and, finally, that he is a calamity for his own people. The question is, what have the Americans and British obtained from their bombardments of Iraq? And...the answer is: not much."

The paper goes on: "To put it bluntly, the likely result of the operation is a loss of credibility for the U.S. --if not for the West in general. One only has to read the press, count the number of protesters --tens of thousands-- in the streets of [the Moroccan capital] Rabat, and listen to the talk in the streets, from Gaza to Beirut, to understand that anti-Americanism has increased by a perceptible degree."

Le Monde then asks: "Has Saddam at least been personally weakened in his own country?" No, says the paper: "Attacks from outside always comfort dictators inside. That has proven true in Cuba...and seems likely to be proven in Baghdad. To Saddam Hussein's benefit and at the expense of his people."

NEW YORK TIMES: Israel would be well served if supporters of a fair peace prevail

The Israeli parliament's decision yesterday to call early elections sparks some commentary today. In an editorial, the Times says: "The campaign to choose Israel's next government [has begun], more than a year ahead of schedule. That will mean regrettable new delays in peace talks with the Palestinians. But the elections, to be held sometime early next year, will give Israeli voters a chance to reinforce the wobbly Middle East peace effort."

The paper goes on: "The fractious Right-wing coalition led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the past two-and-a-half years has shown itself incapable of consistent movement toward peace. A new, more broadly based government could prove more productive. Netanyahu's two main opponents, Ehud Barak, the Labor party leader, or General Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, an independent centrist, are obvious candidates to lead such a government. But Netanyahu, if he can find a way to free himself from the uncompromising right, could also do the job."

The NYT adds: "Labor and [the conservative] Likud have both been losing voters, and these elections are likely to go to the candidate who can sway the large group of independents who want a negotiated peace but also want Palestinian leaders to control terrorism. Israel would be well served if these supporters of a fair peace prevail at the polls and shape the next government."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Netanyahu's problem and that of future prime ministers is the predominance of small parties

In Germany's, Editorial-Page Director Josef Joffe says that "the problem [in Israel] is a governing system that is a hybrid between the cabinet government common in Europe and the division of powers system of government in the United States. Since 1996, the Israeli prime minister is no longer elected by the parliament, like a [European one], but directly by the people."

Joffe continues: "Netanyahu's problem, and the problem of any future prime minister, is the predominance of small parties, created, ironically, by the direct election for prime minister in 1996. Before then, voters had only one vote: for a list....In the 1996 elections...Israelis who wanted Netanyahu for premier could support him and yet also vote for a party other than his, according to their specific ideological or religious preferences. This benefited the religious parties above all, and led to the increasing deep divisiveness and radicalization of Israeli politics."

He concludes: "New elections will not substantially change the tyranny of the small parties....The new prime minister will still have to put together a coalition with 61 votes --and it is bound to be as fragile as Netanyahu's has been. With none of the major parties set for a majority, there will have to be an alliance with religious and/or ethnic parties, and almost daily submission to their extortionate demands."