Prague, 28 January 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary today focuses largely on Kosovo and Iraq, two almost perennial international flash-points. There are also comments on the Pope's trip to North America and President Boris Yeltsin's appearance on Russian television yesterday.
WASHINGTON POST: The Clinton Administration now grapples with urgent foreign-policy challenges in Iraq and Kosovo
On the Washington Post's editorial page today, the paper's foreign-affairs columnist Jim Hoagland asks whether the U.S. should support what he calls the "indigenous opposition forces [fighting] against separate repressive dictatorships in Belgrade and Baghdad." He says that "the Clinton Administration now grapples with [this question] as it faces separate but urgent foreign-policy challenges in Iraq and Kosovo, war zones that are central to America's ability to lead in a world it dominates."
The commentary goes on: "In Iraq, a guerrilla army capable of ousting [President] Saddam Hussein does not exist today, largely because of past American betrayals and miscalculations. It will have to be created, a task the Clinton Administration promised congressional leaders in a private briefing in mid-January....In Kosovo, an effective, well-financed guerrilla force already exists --but it is one that senior Clintonites increasingly distrust and disparage. The Kosovo Liberation Army is fighting for independence from the Belgrade regime of Slobodan Milosevic [but] Washington opposes the [UCK's] goal of independence..."
Hoagland says further: "[This has partly to do] with the reality that in Kosovo there is neither appetite nor convincing logic for bombing raids, even against an odious Serbian regime. Whatever Washington's intentions, bombing will have the effect of bringing Kosovar independence closer, and will make widespread ethnic bloodshed more likely. That is a heavy responsibility to saddle NATO pilots with....Britain, France and now Germany have informally told the U.S. they will commit ground troops to a NATO force in Kosovo if a small number of U.S. troops join that force. They are opposed to air raids alone."
WASHINGTON POST: The oil-for-food program remains a logical part of U.S. strategy
On the same page as Hoagland's column, the Washington Post carries a commentary on Iraq by U.S. National Security Adviser Samuel Berger. He writes in defense of the Administration's recent decision to allow Iraq to pump as much oil out of its ground as is necessary for humanitarian purposes.
Burger says: "All the revenue would go directly to a United Nations account....Checks would be written --directly to the contractor-- to buy food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies...These supplies then would be distributed under UN supervision. Saddam would never see a dime."
His commentary goes on: "Critics of this effort imply that we should starve Iraq into submission. They forget that starvation is Saddam's policy...The oil-for-food program helps us to thwart it. The program does not reward Saddam; it further restrains him, while relieving the suffering of ordinary Iraqis. It has helped to deepen Saddam's isolation, and it will remain a logical part of our strategy against him and the threat he poses."
LOS ANGELES TIMES: The more aggressive air operations have become the lead policy by default
The Los Angeles Times devotes an editorial to "The [U.S.'] Iraq Policy Quest." The paper writes: "U.S. Air Force and Navy pilots patrolling the no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq now have what their commanders have been asking for: presidential authority to conduct more assertive operations in response to intensified antiaircraft fire and increasing intrusions into prohibited air space by Iraqi fighters. Saddam Hussein ordered more aggressive defensive measures after last month's four-day bombing campaign by American and British forces."
The editorial continues: "Those [air] operations are part of what the Clinton Administration describes as its policy to contain Iraq. Just what containment involves has yet to be satisfactorily explained, but in the wake of Baghdad's expulsion of the UN arms inspectors and the Security Council's inability to agree on what should now be done to monitor Iraq's secret weapons programs, the more aggressive air operations have become the lead policy by default."
The LAT concludes: "The problem is that [Iraqi] opposition groups either can't be depended upon to work together toward a common goal, as the bitterly divided Kurds in the north have shown, or they have no interest in taking up the U.S. offer, as the main Shiite opposition group in the south made clear last week. All this leaves little for the U.S. to work with. Yes, Iraq, still aggressive and threatening, has to be contained. What's awaited is a policy free of illusions about how to accomplish that."
BERLINGSKE TIDENDE: Saddam Hussein clearly needs external enemies
Denmark's Berlingske Tidende newspaper writes in an editorial today: "Iraq's dictator Saddam Hussein has embarked on an extremely aggressive course that not only will provoke new retaliatory measures by the U.S. but will also end any sympathy he has managed, against all odds, to gather among [some of the] Arab leaders. The Arab League has already refused to give Baghdad the backing it requested in promulgating a public condemnation of [Washington]."
The paper goes on: "Saddam is now trying to drum up support among younger, radicalized Arabs by representing himself the 'courageous' strongman who alone defends the Arabs' interests against 'American imperialism.' He clearly needs external enemies in his efforts to keep control over his own disgruntled people."
"This is a very dangerous course," the editorial concludes. "[It] will lead not only to further attacks by the U.S. and Britain but will, in the longer term, undermine Saddam's own foundations. It may also pave the way for new political and military instability that could easily get out of hand."
INFORMATION: All options should be left open
Another Danish paper, Information, writes of Kosovo today. In its editorial, the paper says that, "in all likelihood, only emotional considerations will provoke the West to strong action in Kosovo." It adds: "Western military power, at best with a mandate from the UN but if necessary without one, can stop the current violence but cannot provide for a long-term solution in Kosovo."
"In order to change Kosovo's political fundamentals," the editorial goes on, "the West should drop its preconceived idea that Kosovo must at all costs remain a part of Yugoslavia. If Serbia ever had what it calls 'historical claims' on Kosovo -- in itself a highly debatable question -- these claims have disappeared with the decade-long atrocities of the Belgrade regime."
Information sums up: "In order to attain a lasting solution for Kosovo, negotiations must start afresh. All options should be left open, including full independence for Kosovo."
INDEPENDENT: Kosovo is where the Balkan War of the 1990s must end
Britain's Independent daily today calls "Kosovo a tragic calamity...that disfigures us all: the Albanians and Serbs who fight there, and the Western allies and the Russians who have failed to halt them." The paper adds that "NATO intervention on the ground [is] inevitable. Today the question is not whether to intervene, but when, and above all, how: will NATO go in as a peace-keeper, as in Bosnia, or a peace-maker?"
"And what if the fighting should continue?" the Independent asks. "In this case, too," it argues, "NATO cannot stand and watch, or attempt to control matters at long range by bombing. The Alliance would have no moral choice but to send in grounds forces and impose a peace."
The editorial sums up: "President Milosevic opened the Balkan War of the 1990s. After so much bloodshed...Kosovo is where these wars must end. Now."
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: The U.S. and its European allies are in disagreement over Kosovo
Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes in its editorial today: "The U.S. and its European allies are in disagreement over their policy toward a state on the territory of the former Yugoslavia. This has occurred before in Croatia and in Bosnia-Herzegovina. And now in Kosovo, the U.S. wants NATO to use military threats to force Milosevic to withdraw his fighting units from Kosovo quickly and to negotiate with the ethnic Albanians on autonomy [for the province]."
The paper goes on: "This may appear to be a lot, but actually it's very little. Once before [in October], Milosevic promised military withdrawal [from Kosovo], but nothing happened and the Western powers accepted it. So why should the Serbs take more seriously the [new] appeals and threats, since the Western governments have agreed on intervention."
The FAZ says further: "The will of the European NATO powers to do something [in Kosovo] lags far behind the U.S.'s desires. The Europeans would like to bring the Serbs and the Kosovo-Albanians to the negotiating table.... [But] only one thing can help in Kosovo: the Western powers, supported by a NATO strike force, must maintain rule there for some years.... Some fearfully evoke the cry of a 'protectorate' but so what? In Bosnia, the Western powers could not avoid this [protectorate], either. To shy away from a word is one thing, to be irresponsible is another matter."
LOS ANGLES TIMES: A changed policy could have a positive effect on the political development of the crisis
Los Angeles Times Syndicate columnist William Pfaff urges eventual full independence for Kosovo. He writes: "A decade ago, Slobodan Milosevic set alight ethnic Albanian nationalism in Kosovo. Nothing now is likely to extinguish that fire until the province is free of Serbian control."
The commentary continues: "[NATO's threat] to bomb Serbian targets is intended to change the policies of the Milosevic government. Such bombing would change nothing important on the ground, and� would be unlikely to change Mr. Milosevic's conduct. The international community must decide whether it favors continued Serbian control of Kosovo, for reasons of regional stability, or Kosovo's independence."
Pfaff argues: "A nationalist dynamic has been created in Kosovo that probably cannot now be stopped until the province rules itself. The international community deplores Serbia's method in dealing with insurrection, but it cannot stop them unless it changes its own policy. A changed policy might pre-empt those atrocities, and could have a positive effect on the political development of the crisis..."
BOSTON GLOBE: John Paul is not afraid of difficult questions
In an editorial on the Pope's visit to North America, the Boston Globe writes: "Pope John Paul is the only spiritual figure who can fill a stadium or dominate media coverage in any part of the [Western] hemisphere. He has used his visit to Mexico and the U.S. to foster a sense of connection among all Catholics of the Americas and to extend their concern to those victimized by a world 'filled with darkness.'"
The editorial says further: "John Paul is afraid of neither difficult questions nor unconventional means to get his message across. In exchange for allowing the Vatican coat of arms to be printed on bags of potato chips, the church got a subsidy to defray the cost of the visit and invaluable publicity." The BG sums up: "While the medium was new, the message was not....[But] not all will agree with the Pope in every particular, especially his definition of when human life begins. Yesterday he involved himself in another controversy, the death penalty. "The dignity of human life must never be taken away," he said, "even in the case of someone who has done great evil."
SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Yeltsin's closing of ranks with Primakov for the benefit of the media was intended to show the two are not in competition
Finally, a commentary in today's Sueddeutsche Zeitung by Tomas Avenarius remarks on Boris Yeltsin's TV appearance yesterday. Avenarius writes: "Completely unexpectedly, Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin has turned up again. True, it was only on television, but still...."
Avenarius continues: "His emergence from the presidential sickbed was intended to send a clear message to the nation -- the head of state has a stomach ailment but he is otherwise in good form and ready at all times to lead Mother Russia through her crisis. And who was sitting peacefully beside the president? His Prime Minister, Yevgeny Primakov."
The commentary continues: "Yet it was Primakov who had earlier caused confusion with a letter to parliament, because what he proposed in it sounded to some people almost as if he were coolly wanting to relieve Yeltsin of power....[Yeltsin's] closing of ranks with Primakov for the benefit of the media showed -- or was intended to show -- that the two are not in competition. And as before, Primakov's says he has no interest in becoming president. Whether or not this is true remains to be seen."