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Western Press Review: Questioning U.S. Policy On Iraq, U.S.-Russian Entente, And The Middle East

Prague, 25 July 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Several commentators in Western dailies today express concern that the U.S. administration is heading toward a war with Iraq without having made a strong case for doing so. They say that until the details of any such operation are made public, the U.S. argument for invading Iraq will be unclear and hard to justify. Other commentary focus on the Middle East and U.S.-Russian entente: A new era of global dominance?


"The New York Times" today carries a joint contribution by Michael O'Hanlon and Philip Gordon of the Brookings Institution, in which they discuss the case for U.S. intervention in Iraq. A military operation to remove Iraq's President Saddam Hussein would be the most significant use of American force since the Vietnam War, they say. Such a campaign would "radically reshape the politics of the Persian Gulf and Middle East, and have major repercussions for the global economy." And thus far, there has been little debate as to the pros and cons of such an undertaking.

The situation to date "suggests that the United States can continue to contain Saddam Hussein without a war, just as we deterred the Soviets during the Cold War and just as we have contained North Korea for half a century," the authors write. But they add that an argument can be made for overthrowing Hussein, if he continues to deny access to UN weapons inspectors.

War with Iraq would require the deployment of a large U.S. force, and casualties may run into the thousands on both sides. Afterwards, "stability and democracy in Iraq would be far from guaranteed," and the U.S. might need to maintain a force in the region "for a decade or more." These costs may be worth sustaining, the authors say, but the U.S. administration has yet to clearly make this case.


In "The Washington Post," Richard Cohen says, "War plans are being drawn up at the Pentagon," but "explanations are lacking at the White House." In the public record, he notes, "there is only the murkiest link between the Iraqi leader and any recent terrorism." Cohen says that while he personally believes toppling Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is a worthy goal, the Bush administration "has yet to make a clear case" for leading such a military campaign. "Hard questions have not yet been answered," he says.

Cohen points out that a similar "lack of candor and the willingness to exaggerate the stakes" during the Vietnam War cost the United States dearly. "Not only was the triggering event for that war, the Tonkin Gulf incident, either wholly or partially concocted, it was used to justify a policy that had already been decided. Is the same thing happening with Iraq?" he asks. "Are the events of 11 September being used to justify a goal that was already something of a fixation for some Bush administration figures?" Cohen says the United States would be willing to take casualties in a conflict with Iraq, "but only if it understands why."


"The Boston Globe" calls the U.S. administration's decision to withhold its $34 million contribution to the UN Population Fund an "international embarrassment." The administration has claimed that the fund's resources could be misdirected to support China's "coercive one-child policy," including forced abortion and sterilization. But the paper notes that this objection was given no credence by the U.S. administration's own investigators when they looked into the matter. The "Globe" adds, "Decades of experience shows that the availability of safe, effective birth control" -- which the UN fund helps to provide -- "is the best way to reduce the need for abortion, in China or anywhere else."

It says the "inconvenient truth" for President George W. Bush's administration is that rescinding the $34 million will have "no direct effect on China because U.S. contributions to the UN Population Fund have been withheld from China for the past eight years. But it will penalize women in 141 other countries."

The U.S. decision actually denies access to contraception, says the "Globe." And this denies poor women the right to plan their families, to self-determination and to "a safe, clean place to give birth."


In "The Washington Post," columnist Jim Hoagland says, "America's war on terrorism and Russia's pursuit of economic engagement with the West reinforce each other and now dominate world politics." The "chilling" idea, he says, has begun to take hold in Europe and elsewhere that only a decade into the post-Cold War world, U.S. and Russian leaders are moving toward "an era of global entente that will reduce the strategic influence of Europe, China, and Japan on Washington and Moscow." He says a world long fearful of nuclear war between the superpowers now worries over the deepening cooperation between the White House and the Kremlin.

Hoagland says Russian President Vladimir Putin views cooperation with the United States "as the key to Russian economic and political revival." Since 11 September, Russia has been a more reliable -- and more eager -- American ally than Europe, and has voiced less opposition to U.S. policies. Open Russian acquiescence on an anticipated U.S. campaign in Iraq would alter the international political environment, particularly within the UN Security Council, says Hoagland. China would be isolated as the only permanent Council member to unequivocally oppose military action. And European members that oppose U.S. policy would "see their room for maneuver diminishing."


An editorial in "The Times" of Britain says Israel deserves to face criticism "for the clumsily irresponsible and heavy-handed" methods it used in targeting a Gaza City apartment building on 22 July. The attack was targeted at Hamas military leader Salah Shehade, but in the process led to the deaths of 14 civilians, several of them young children.

"The Times" says, however, that the resulting tragedy should not obscure the reasons why Shehade was targeted in the first place. "Hamas is a fundamentalist group [and] is not interested in negotiation or accommodation" with Israel, the paper says. Shehade's organization has been responsible for the deaths of numerous Israeli civilians in its turn. The editorial says, "Given his bloodstained record, and continuing role in directing indiscriminate terror, the Israeli targeting of Salah Shehade is as justified as the West's pursuit of any Al-Qaeda leader." But while Israel does have the right to act in self-defense, this endeavor "will be strengthened if it shows the fortitude to eschew excessive force and acknowledge its mistakes."


Today's "International Herald Tribune" carries a commentary by syndicated columnist William Pfaff, who says "Criticism and apprehension about the consequences of U.S. policies now prevail" among Europe's leaders. These reproaches are often complacently dismissed by the United States in the belief that Europe has no alternative but to ultimately acquiesce to its policies. But Pfaff says this is not the case, as Europe "could overturn the post-Cold War alignment tomorrow." Pfaff suggests that Europe could refuse America the use of NATO's European assets in an attack on Iraq. "Sooner or later the European powers will have to deal with the consequences of U.S. unilateralism, and if the European public feels strongly about Iraq, [now] could be the best occasion to act."

This would not undermine NATO, he says, because the United States needs the alliance more than Europe does. NATO no longer protects Europe from any threat. But the U.S. needs NATO to provide "the indispensable material and strategic infrastructure for American military and strategic deployments throughout Europe, Eurasia, the Middle East, and Africa." NATO provides the United States a military presence that extends far beyond what it could alone maintain. Without the alliance, Pfaff says, the United States "has no legitimate claim to a say in European internal matters."


An editorial in France's "Le Monde" asks whether the United States is adopting a more balanced stance on events in the Middle East. U.S. President George W. Bush's description of a 22 July attack as "heavy-handed" was an unusually strong criticism of Israeli policy, the paper suggests. The attack on a Gaza City apartment building exceeded those of the past in its deliberate and willing acceptance of significant civilian casualties, says the paper. Sending an F-16 into a popular district of Gaza in the middle of the night could not possibly avoid creating numerous innocent victims.

This operation will have other significant consequences as well, says "Le Monde." First, it ruins the beginnings of dialogue on security between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which appeared on the verge of getting Hamas to call a stop to attacks against civilians. "Did [Israeli Prime Minister] Ariel Sharon want to deliberately sabotage this dialogue?" the paper asks. This latest assassination in Gaza makes the numerous diplomatic efforts of Europe, Russia, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia all the more unlikely to succeed, it says.