Prague, 13 January 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary today and in the past few days has focused on the continuing tensions between Iraq and the United States. Commentators' views are mixed on whether the confrontation is weakening Iraq's leadership, and on the issue of UN weapons inspections.
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Saddam's defiance seems aimed at raising tension
International Herald Tribune correspondent Joseph Fitchett writes today in a news analysis from Paris that Iraq's President Saddam Hussein has increased efforts to win Arab sympathies. Fitchett writes: "The battle to sway Arab public opinion about Iraq broadened yesterday as Baghdad accused Saudi Arabia's rulers of betraying the Arab cause and colluding with the United States to punish the Iraqi people." Fitchett continues: "Tactically, Saddam's defiance seems aimed at raising tension around the U.S. stance in hopes of polarizing attitudes in the UN Security Council and widening the U.S. and British divergence from Russia, France and other countries that recoil from an overt campaign to change the Iraqi regime."
NEW YORK TIMES: It is not clear what Iraq hopes to gain
In a New York Times analysis, Steven Lee Myers in Washington ponders Saddam's possible motives. Myers says: "One reason the Iraqi provocations have continued may be that the American retaliatory strikes have had mixed results." The writer says: "It is not clear what Iraq hopes to gain by challenging American and British control of the no-flight zones, which cover about 60 percent of the skies over Iraq. American commanders have speculated that Iraq hopes to down an American or British pilot to use as bargaining leverage or a propaganda tool."
Myers' analysis continues: "Iraq has found itself isolated from other Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia and Egypt, where officials openly call for his ouster. But the Clinton administration has also faced criticism, particularly after the repeated skirmishes this month."
GUARDIAN: Saddam is trying to exploit international division
Diplomatic editor Ian Black writes today in London in The Guardian along the same lines: "Saddam clearly is trying to find and exploit international division on how to enforce (UN) resolutions (on controlling Iraqi weapons development). So far, the challenges to U.S. and British aircraft have done little except bring strikes against Iraq's anti-aircraft missile sites."
TIMES: Iran has emerged as a potentially valuable regional mediator
In The Times of London, staffers Ian Brodie and Michael Theodoulou raise the possibility that Iran could give constructive aid in seeking international resolutions. They write: "Iran has emerged as a potentially valuable regional mediator. Hours before the Iranian envoy, Mohammed Reza Sadr, met senior Iraqi officials yesterday, Iran's Foreign Ministry chided Baghdad for apparently renewing its territorial claim to Kuwait. It added that Mr. Sadr would visit other regional countries with a view to resolving the crisis through diplomatic means."
DIE WELT: The Arab world is divided along two broad lines
In Germany, Dietrich Alexander comments in Die Welt that "the world is tired of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's ceaseless provocations."
Alexander writes: "It appears that there are two ways of toppling Saddam: either an allied troop advance on Baghdad, with the human losses this would entail, or Iraq's complete isolation, in the Arab world as well, with the concomitant strengthening of Iraqi opposition movements."
Alexander continues: "While the Americans would appear to be heading for the latter alternative, the Arab world is divided along two broad lines. In Yemen, for example, the Iraqi leadership is accorded an almost contradictory solidarity while other nations in the region are sympathetic towards the Iraqi people but would like to see Saddam Hussein in a courtroom dock. Saddam's regional opponents are to be found mostly in the Gulf states."
NEW YORK TIMES: The United States is finding itself increasingly isolated
The New York Times' Barbara Crossette says in a news analysis: "The United States is finding itself increasingly isolated in its Iraq policy as a growing number of Security Council members and Arab nations support lifting an embargo on Iraqi oil sales or significantly relaxing sanctions in other ways to relieve the suffering of the Iraqi people. But contrary to what the Iraqis may hope, there is also solid agreement that long-term international supervision is needed to prevent Iraq from acquiring or developing prohibited weapons."
LOS ANGELES TIMES: Now the U.S. emphasis is on employing violent means
Middle East affairs analyst and author Avigdor Haselkorn says in a commentary published in today's Los Angeles Times that even experts are overlooking a significant aspect of the U.S.-Iraq standoff --a root change in U.S. strategic deterrence policy. He writes: "The most important aspect of the U.S. (Desert Fox attacks) hardly (is being) mentioned. (It) provides another indication that the United States is abandoning strategic deterrence as the cornerstone of its national security doctrine, (gradually replacing it) with the doctrine of strategic pre-emption, designed to cope with a world where extremist regimes possess weapons of mass destruction. Under the new concept, the emphasis is on employing violent means to eliminate the threat these weapons pose. This transformation qualifies as a strategic revolution of the first order."
AKTUELT: The 1991 concept of how to deal with Saddam has backfired
Commentator Lars Andersen also writes --in the Danish daily Aktuelt-- that U.S. actions illustrate a policy commitment. He says: "Bombs over Iraq, Sudan and Afghanistan show that fighting tyranny and terrorism is the highest priority of U.S. foreign policy. The alternative (in Iraq) would have been to rewrite strategy towards Iraq either by easing the embargo against the regime, or by finding other ways to exercise control over (Saddam's) weapons."
Andersen says that sanctions against Iraq have been ineffective. He writes: "The 1991 concept of how to deal with Saddam has...backfired. The sanctions have not hurt him but the ordinary Iraqis. The liberation of Kuwait was a triumph without victory; the Iraqi troops were forced back home out of Kuwait but Saddam's regime remained unchallenged." This, he adds, "enabled (Saddam) to take his own people hostage."
LOS ANGELES TIMES: The United States used the UN arms inspection system as cover for intelligence gathering
Three separate commentaries in the U.S. press examine allegations that the United States used UN weapons inspections as a cover for spying against Iraq, an accusation advanced by Saddam as one reason for halting Iraq's cooperation. The conclusions could be characterized as "Did not; did too; and so what." The Los Angeles Times editorializes: "It now is clear that for some months the United States used the UN arms inspection system in Iraq as cover for intelligence gathering, sharing some of what it learned about Saddam Hussein's covert weapons programs with the inspectors while retaining other information for its own uses."
NEW YORK TIMES: U.S. officials say the effort was approved by top U.N. inspectors
The New York Times said Sunday in an editorial: "From the information so far disclosed about U.S. intelligence activities in Iraq, it does not appear that Washington acted improperly or misused the United Nations." The editorial continued: "To overcome elaborate Iraqi concealment schemes, UN inspectors needed U.S. assistance, including sophisticated eavesdropping devices that could intercept the radio and telephone communications of Baghdad's security services. U.S. officials say the effort was approved by top U.N. inspectors and that the intelligence data was shared with them. That is a critical issue, for an effort to deceive the U.N. or to conduct independent U.S. espionage operations under UN cover would have abused Washington's relationship with the organization."
CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Why should sharing information come as a surprise or shock to anyone is a mystery
The Chicago Tribune said in a recent editorial: "Much has been made in recent days of reports that American intelligence has been sharing information with the United Nations Special Commission, known as UNSCOM, charged with monitoring Iraq's arsenal. But given Iraq's outrageous behavior, why this should come as a surprise or shock to anyone is a mystery."