Prague, 22 February 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Much of Western commentary today focuses on the continuing fallout from last Friday's (16 February) U.S.-British missile strike on Iraqi anti-aircraft installations near Baghdad. There are also some comments on the arrest by the U.S. government of a FBI agent who allegedly spied for Moscow for 15 years and on Russia's apparent change in policy on ballistic missile defense.
In a commentary for the conservative daily Washington Times, Helle Bering hails the missile strike on Iraq as the beginning of a new era in U.S. policy toward the regime of Saddam Hussein. She writes: "We had almost forgotten how it feels to have a Middle East policy, but if Friday's bombing of military installations in Iraq is any indication, we are about to have one again."
She continues: "[It] was inevitable that Saddam Hussein would want to challenge the son of the American president who defeated him in the Gulf War. Recent months had seen increased Iraqi capabilities develop to counter American and British planes in [Iraq's designated] no-fly zones. [According] to the Pentagon, Air Force commanders knew it was just a matter of time before one of our planes would take a hit and requested urgent action against the radars."
The commentator adds: "President Bush called the air strikes against five radar installations 'a routine mission.' They were surely more than that, a no-nonsense signal from the new American leadership. The strikes came while the new National Security Council is yet in the process of formulating Iraq policy, but contours are emerging within an overall regional approach, requiring collaboration with moderate Arab states. The first step," Bering says, "will be Secretary of State Colin Powell's trip to the Middle East beginning Friday, which will include Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait and Syria."
A commentary in the Washington Post by columnist Jim Hoagland is entitled "No Anti-Saddam Coalition Unless America Leads." It sees U.S. policy toward Iraq and Powell's trip to the Middle East quite differently. Hoagland writes: "The international coalition that [Powell] has promised to shape up on his trip to the Middle East this month and in appearances at the United Nations is a mythical enterprise today. It existed briefly in the heat of the Gulf War when American leadership made clear the dangers of opposing the United States in a crisis. But the coalition long ago ceased to exist as a functioning instrument of power."
The commentary continues: "That is not the fault of the new administration. Eight years of fecklessness by the Clinton White House doomed to failure the already difficult task of holding together the European, Arab, Asian and American governments that contributed in some form to the unfinished defeat of Saddam Hussein 10 years ago this month." But he urges both President Bush and Secretary Powell not to "adopt the myth that negotiating fixes in the [old Gulf War] coalition is their most urgent and important task in charting a new Iraq policy." That, he says, would be a waste of time.
Instead, the columnist says, "only by making clear its determination to lead, to secure U.S. interests by means of its choosing, will Bush Two breathe life back into a multinational partnership that has degenerated into an excuse for doing nothing serious about Saddam."
In an editorial, the Boston Globe chastises France -- a member of the old Gulf coalition -- for its negative reaction to Friday's U.S.- British missile strike on Iraq. The paper says that "French President Jacques Chirac and his Socialist Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine [are] sabotaging the alliance and [need] to stop shilling for Saddam." The paper goes on: "Chirac and Vedrine betray the Iraqi victims of Saddam when they value desired oil exploitation contracts in Iraq more than human rights and France's alliance with Britain and America."
The editorial goes on: "When Vedrine said on TV that France was expressing 'disapproval, criticism, doubt, and disquiet' about the strike by British and U.S. pilots 'because we do not see the point of this action,' the most charitable conclusion to draw is that he was playing dumb. The pilots were protecting their lives." It adds: "If Vedrine and Chirac wish to understand what makes Saddam a threat to humanity, they might ask the (910) Iraqi Kurds who [this week sought] refuge in France."
Of the old Gulf alliance, only Britain has remained fully aligned with the United States on Iraq policy, and Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Bush are likely to discuss future strategy in talks in Washington that begin today. In a commentary for the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Stefan Ulrich writes: "Saddam Hussein [has] remained rebellious and ready to resort to violence, a danger to anyone who gets within range. Meanwhile, others are being forced to suffer the side effects of each new course of therapy, mainly the Iraqi people. Years of sanctions have set Iraqis back decades, a once-prosperous nation has been brought to its knees."
Ulrich says further: "Washington and London have now begun to lose faith in their treatment methods. George Bush and Tony Blair plan to talk about Baghdad this week and will no doubt broach the subject of one magic remedy in particular: 'smart' sanctions. These should mean that dictators will no longer be toppled through the application of broad sanctions which impoverish the whole country. [Instead,] more precise measures will be taken aimed at damaging the higher echelons of power. Money hoarded in foreign bank accounts will be frozen, foreign travel forbidden and supplies of weapons and luxury goods will be turned off. Eventually, so the theory goes, the [Iraqi] upper crust will become discontented and overthrow the regime."
WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:
Turning to the case of Robert Hanssen, the FBI agent who allegedly spied for Russia, the Wall Street Journal Europe carries a commentary by Stuart Herrington, a former U.S. army officer who specialized in counterintelligence. Herrington writes that "Americans can be forgiven for being confused. [After] all," he says, "the Cold War has been over for a decade and the 'Evil Empire' is a distant memory. Russian democracy, while far from Jeffersonian, has survived almost a decade, during which Moscow has received substantial economic aid and credits from the U.S. So Moscow has no valid reason to spy, right?"
"Wrong," Herrington says. "The Hanssen arrest is a timely reminder that the world we live in, once idealistically described as reflecting a 'New World Order,' remains an unfriendly place. As long as nations have security interests, and as long as trained intelligence officers ply their trade, trolling for vulnerable targets whose greed, ego or beliefs drive them to betrayal, espionage will continue to be a feature of the international landscape."
The commentator adds: "As for Russian motives, we would do well to recall that, from Moscow's perspective, America's position as the self-styled sole surviving superpower can only appear threatening. Need we mention," he asks rhetorically, "the current debate on a new anti-missile defense ("son of SDI" -- that is, President Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative -- to the Russians), our firm stance against the Serbs -- Russia's traditional allies -- or discussions of NATO enlargement to the borders of Mother Russia?"
WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:
The Wall Street Journal Europe also carries an editorial today on what it calls a "missile defense milestone" -- an apparent change in Russia's ballistic missile policy announced this week by President Vladimir Putin. The paper writes: "What a difference a new man in the White House makes. A scant month after President Bush's inauguration, Russia has decided that there is a threat of missile attack after all and has come up with a missile defense plan of its own. In Moscow this week," the paper says, "President Putin made his proposal to the visiting secretary-general of NATO, calling for joint development of a mobile, theater-based system to shoot down short- and medium-range missiles."
The editorial goes on: "The Kremlin's policy shift seems based on one clear assumption and one false hope. The assumption is that the Bush administration is committed to an effective missile defense program and that it is fully prepared to withdraw from the ABM [Anti-Ballistic Missile] Treaty, as indeed the treaty's own provisions allow. [From] a blanket 'no way,' Russia is now ready to bargain."
The paper continues: "The false hope -- at least, let's hope it is unwarranted -- is that in proposing an alternative, Russia can aggravate cracks within the Atlantic alliance over missile defense. While there is little love in Europe for the idea, most of America's partners -- France notwithstanding -- seem to have resigned themselves to missile defense." It concludes: "[The] real significance of President Putin's proposals [is that they] are a tacit recognition that the U.S. is engaged and committed -- and that its allies, however reluctant, will stand alongside Washington in this endeavor." The paper concludes: "It's a lesson worth remembering anytime someone argues that it can't be done."
In a commentary on the same subject for the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Tomas Avenarius writes from Moscow that "Russia is looking for a new world role." Missiles, he says, are "not the only measure of a big power."
Avenarius writes: "Bush's closest advisers have explained that they regard Russia as a second-rate power. For them, the threats of the future come from the Pacific region. China is the decisive factor in the political, economic and military equation. And," he adds, "Bush's advisers are correct. Moscow is a second-rate power at the moment, and it is doubtful whether in the foreseeable future it will be able to make its mark on the world stage once again. The Kremlin may well be intent on making a comeback," he continues, "but the reality is that Putin has seen that his possibilities are limited."
Avenarius goes on: [Putin] "has made it clear that his foreign policy will be strongly concentrated on regional foreign countries -- the territories of the former Soviet Union, that is. But being second rate does not mean being insignificant," he adds. "Putin does have an important trump card. Russia has a menacing arsenal of nuclear weapons. In the nuclear field, it is regarded as the equal of the U.S. without having to do much to assert this equality.
"However," the commentator says, "this may change with the [projected U.S.] National Missile Defense, [or NMD. The] superior technology of the Americans alone -- if it works -- could plunge Moscow from the first rank into the second rank of nuclear powers." That's why, Avernarius argues, Moscow may now be trying "to exploit the lack of unanimity in the West over NMD and drive a wedge -- no matter how small -- between the U.S. and its allies." He says that "a preliminary attempt at this was seen on Tuesday when NATO Secretary-General Robertson was handed Russian plans for a European missile protection shield. But," the commentator concludes, "when it is all said and done this Russian effort will bring nothing."