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Western Press Review: Commentary Continues To Question Iraq Bombing

Prague, 20 February 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Western commentary continues today to dissect the U.S.-British decision last week to bomb Iraqi air defense sites.


George Melloan writes in the Wall Street Journal Europe that U.S. President George W. Bush's bombing order represents a careful decision by serious men, unlike the posturing of former President Bill Clinton in issuing similar orders. Melloan comments: "Bush's new foreign policy team had its first military outing last Friday with an air attack, conducted jointly with the British, on the command-and-control centers of Iraqi air defenses near Baghdad. The attack was aimed at neutralizing a threat to allied planes patrolling the no-fly zone over Iraq. Some commentators chose to call it something else, a macho display reminiscent of Bill Clinton. They need to get better acquainted with the new administration."


Columnist Paul Foot explodes a scathing attack on U.S. policy -- and Britain's concurrence -- in the British Guardian daily. Foot writes: "When is a war criminal to be bombed, and when is he to be subsidized? One answer comes this week as a result of the peculiar genius of President Bush and his lapdog in Downing Street. Just as a war criminal, still soaked in the blood of Palestinians whose murders he engineered and authorized in Sabra and Shatila refugee camps nearly 20 years ago, gets elected as prime minister of Israel, so Bush turns the international spotlight on [Iraqi leader] Saddam Hussein, and subjects still more Iraqi civilians to another round of routine aggression."

The writer says: "The guiding moral principle of U.S. policy in the Middle East is that war criminals from Israel should be subsidized by the U.S. taxpayer while Arab war criminals should be punished only if and when they threaten the supply of cheap oil to the United States."


Commentator Amos Perlmutter says today in the conservative Washington Times daily that the attack on Iraq was another action demonstrating President Bush's fidelity to his campaign pledges. Perlmutter says: "Bush continues to fulfill his campaign promises. He made it clear in a debate with former Vice President Al Gore that if Saddam Hussein violated the sanctions imposed upon him by the 1991 coalition, 'We'll take him out.' Colin Powell's first trip to the Middle East as [U.S.] secretary of state -- intended to be fact-finding, getting to know people and their problems, generally relating American concerns in the Middle East -- will have an added dimension as he deals with Middle Eastern terrorists."


Writing from Geneva in the Frankfurter Rundschau, Pierre Simonitsch says in a commentary: "The United Nations sanctions against Iraq have been in place for ten years, yet criticism of them is growing louder."

The writer recalls that 13 members of the UN Security Council, including Russia and China, voted for sanctions against Iraq in 1990 after its occupation of Kuwait. Objections have arisen since, he says, as observers have seen the effect on Iraqi civilians.

Simonitsch writes: "The Belgian Marc Bossuyt of the UN Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights described the sanctions in a recent working paper as unequivocally illegal and said that some would even suggest the charge of genocide. Hans von Sponeck, a German national, resigned as the UN coordinator in Baghdad because of his view that the population was suffering under the embargo."


The Washington Post today publishes a commentary by Leon Fuerth, professor of international relations at George Washington University, applauding a Bush White House review of U.S. nuclear weapons policy. But he says he suspects the review merely will affirm preconceptions, not constitute a fresh inquiry.

He says that the new U.S. administration already has determined its intent to, in the writer's words, "build a much more powerful defense of the United States against ballistic missiles than can be accommodated by the ABM Treaty without radical change; abandon the treaty if it stands in the way of that objective; bypass formal arms control and instead take deep unilateral cuts in U.S. nuclear weapons; and do away with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty."

Fuerth, formerly the national security advisor to former Vice President Al Gore, writes: "If the Russians do not buy in, we will end up with an open field for a new arms race: no arms control agreement to formally confine offensive nuclear weapons; no agreement to regulate defensive systems; and no agreement to prevent renewed testing and diversification of nuclear weapons. [That's] not win-win. It's not even win-lose. It's lose-lose."

The writer says: "Clearly, the opening of the Bush administration's review of nuclear policy must also mark the reopening of a major national debate on the same subject. It has been a long time since we had one. But we've had the wake-up call."


Two commentaries today discuss the collision of the U.S. Navy submarine Greeneville and the Japanese trawler Ehime Maru. The Wall Street Journal Europe publishes a commentary by political scientist Peter D. Feaver, who argues that there was good reason for civilians to be aboard the submarine. Feaver writes: "On the whole the military outreach program is valuable, and its importance will only grow as changing demographics put a further strain on U.S. civil-military relations."

The commentary says: "One of the significant challenges our country faces is a steady and growing decline in the numbers of Americans who have any personal connection to or even rudimentary understanding of the military. The World War II and Korean War generations are passing, and the generations that are coming were raised under the All-Volunteer Force, in which military service was shared by a narrowing and self-selected group of citizens. Importantly, military experience is all but disappearing from the ranks of the civilian elite, especially those who hold influential positions in the media, the academy, and -- to a lesser but still noticeable extent -- even government itself."


The Washington Times says in an editorial the Navy is hurting itself with quick denials of problems instead of considered answers to legitimate questions. The editorial says: "Though most experts on the issue have insisted that civilian involvement in such training exercises is routine, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld insisted that no evidence exists that the visitors' presence contributed to the accident, the question remains: Why didn't the Navy report the civilians' presence at the controls until four days after the accident? Initial statements by the Navy made clear that the crew had followed appropriate procedures to look for any object that would be in the submarine's path before it rose to the surface.

It adds: "The Greeneville's captain, Commander Scott Waddle, has been relieved of his duty and the Navy has suspended all civilian visits during emergency surface drills. If neither the officer nor the civilians were at fault, such actions do not make sense. Granted, the public should expect the Navy to conduct a thorough investigation before it begins listing the names of those who are responsible. But no-fault statements do more to fuel distrust than to allay it."