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Western Press Review: U.S. Senate Hearings On Iraq And The Middle East

Prague, 2 August 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western dailies continues to be dominated by speculation over U.S. policy in Iraq, as the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee begins a second day of hearings today on the issue. Other issues include Georgia's inadvertent involvement in the Chechen conflict and the ongoing crisis in the Middle East.


In "The Wall Street Journal Europe," commentator Al Hunt cites the Washington ambassador of "a top American ally" as saying he does not have the slightest idea what U.S. policy is on Iraq. "Neither do prominent political leaders in the region nor most Americans, perhaps including President [George W.] Bush," writes Hunt.

He says the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings that began yesterday will perhaps bring some clarity "to an administration wracked by confusion and conflict."

The hearings will focus on three main issues, what Hunt calls "the three Rs": the rationale for a "regime change" in Iraq, the effects of any policy on the region as a whole, and the question of who would replace President Saddam Hussein.

Hunt says the rationale for toppling Saddam's regime cannot simply be that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. "So does North Korea, or for that matter, China," he says. Nor can the U.S. seek to topple any country that supports terrorism. Iran and Syria support Hezbollah and "are greater supporters of terrorism than Iraq."

Mideast leaders are worried about the secondary effects of an Iraq invasion, as it could "inflame the already incendiary Israeli-Palestinian issue." Hunt cites experts as saying a replacement regime in Iraq would take "a concerted U.S. commitment" after Saddam is toppled. "Otherwise, chaos would ensue, producing even more dangerous instability in the region."


In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," Steven Everts of the Center for European Reform discusses America's military emphasis in its approach to the world's problems, as opposed to Europe's reliance on engagement. The U.S. "feels comfortable wielding military power, if necessary alone, simply because it can," writes Everts. "If by contrast you are weak, like the Europeans, you don't confront but negotiate."

But which approach works? he asks. He questions how useful U.S.-style dominance has been when dealing with failed states in the greater Middle East and Central Asia, or anchoring Russia in a westward direction, or managing China's integration into the global system? "What use," he asks," has U.S. hard power been in evoking trust and respect instead of resentment?"

Regarding the Iraq question, he says, "To argue that U.S. intervention in Iraq will not only finish off Saddam Hussein but also unlock the Israel-Palestine question and usher in a new era of democracy and reform in the greater Middle East is ludicrous."

Everts says the "great value of Europe's approach to international affairs is that it seeks to create intensive webs of reciprocal obligations and exchange with other countries." The EU "tries to boost the capacity of international regimes to tackle the new global issues."


"The Washington Post" carries a contribution today by Samuel Berger, former national security adviser under U.S. President Bill Clinton. Berger says to conclude that "regime change" in Iraq is the desired goal "is to begin the discussion, not to end it." The U.S. must define the objective more broadly than simply eliminating the current regime, he says.

More is needed than simply planning a military invasion. U.S. strategy "should bring greater stability to the region, not less." The U.S. needs "to put in place the building blocks that can make long-term success possible, and [needs] to proceed on a timetable that is dictated [by] a hard-nosed assessment of the trajectory of Iraq's capabilities, particularly its nuclear program."

Furthermore, the U.S. must remain engaged in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he says, as an Iraq invasion could cause a break "along an already precarious Arab-Israeli fault line." A sustained post-invasion strategy in Iraq is also needed to help legitimize U.S. actions, he says.

If the U.S. does not conduct any operation correctly, says Berger, the world "could end up with something worse."


A commentary in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" discusses what it calls Georgia's "blind spot" regarding its involvement in the Russian-Chechen conflict. Georgia has inadvertently come between the two fronts in Russia's military campaign in the breakaway republic.

Tbilisi would welcome ridding itself of armed militants in the Pankisi Gorge, but cannot wage a war since it does not have the military resources. If the militants leave the country for Chechnya, Moscow threatens military operations in the Georgian frontier area, or simply takes "preventive" measures it deems justified.

The commentary continues: "The acts taking place on the Chechen borders are actually only a reflection of the hopeless actions of the Russian army, in apparently the longest-running 'peaceful' war, in which terrorism is not the cause but [the] barbaric attacks against separatist endeavors."

The paper says the fight against international terrorism has become a means for Moscow to suppress rebels in Grozny and elsewhere.


In a contribution to Britain's "The Guardian" daily, author and International Crisis Group board member William Shawcross writes that for all the warnings and moral arguments against a "regime change" in Iraq, "the real immorality and the greatest danger" is to allow Saddam Hussein "to remain indefinitely in power, scorning the UN, and posing a growing threat to the world." Shawcross says Hussein is "far more interested in creating and keeping weapons than anything else. The consequent impoverishment of the Iraqi people is a small price to him."

Shawcross speculates that "if and when an American-led attack appears to be imminent, Saddam [Hussein] will probably offer to allow them [UN weapons inspectors] to return, in order to divide his enemies and diminish international support for the U.S. position." But the UN's task "is likely to be hopeless." Shawcross asks, "How else are we then to enforce international law and eliminate the threat which Saddam represents, except by military action to change the regime?"

But the misgivings of other Mideast leaders "must be acknowledged," he says. Other nations would be glad to see the regime change in Iraq but "do not dare be associated with the military action necessary to achieve that...." And "faced with the ruthless, terrorist nature of the regime, the Iraqi people alone cannot change their government. Only outside intervention can do that," he says.


An editorial in France's daily "Le Monde" today calls the regime of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein "a monstrous tyranny." The paper says he is responsible for the misfortunes of 24 million Iraqis who, governed otherwise, would be some of the richest in the region. It is also more than likely that Hussein is seeking to develop weapons of mass destruction, in blatant violation of the obligations it signed in 1991. For these reasons, the paper says, the demise of the regime is unanimously wished "from Washington to Europe, by way of most Arab capitals."

But, the paper asks, "Does this justify a war with Iraq?" And to do so "without having the slightest idea of the regime that will succeed that of Saddam Hussein?" The paper cautions that it will be extremely difficult to maintain post-regime stability in a country divided between Sunni and Shiite Arabs and a strong Kurdish minority seeking emancipation.

"Le Monde" says U.S. President Bush seems more decided than ever to attack Iraq. But the U.S. administration is divided within itself. Some are openly skeptical of invasion and believe a policy of "containment" would continue to work in Iraq. Bush must prove there are real security reasons for military action, says "Le Monde." And he has not, as yet, done so.


An editorial in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" takes a look at the spiraling conflict between Israel and Palestine, in which each attack generates a counterattack. On 30 July, a bomb killed seven people and injured at least 80 others at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The Palestinian militant group Hamas, which took credit for the bombing, said it was in retaliation for the recent killing by Israel of one of its leaders.

The commentary calls for an end to the violence, but adds that it is difficult to stem Palestinians' anger when a majority feels it has nothing to lose. Israel has occupied the autonomous region for 35 years, regardless of UN resolutions. Likewise, the most recent promise made by Israeli Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer to clear occupied territories has not materialized. Moreover, there is again talk of deportations as a "collective punishment," which is conducive only to still more anger and hatred.

The commentary concludes that the chain of violence can only be broken if Israel makes fundamental policy changes.


An analysis by "Jane's Intelligence Digest" discusses Russian-Ukrainian relations vis-a-vis both nations' relationship to the West. "Jane's" says the Russian reaction to Ukraine's announcement that it seeks to join NATO was "uncharacteristically muted," given its strong objections to the idea even one year ago.

This is probably due to Russia's new perception of NATO as a political, rather than military, alliance. But Moscow is "much less enthusiastic" about Ukraine's bid for EU membership, says "Jane's." Moscow "is pushing Kyiv to join the newly established Eurasian Economic Community (EEC), a free-trade and customs union between five CIS countries: Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan."

But the analysis says Ukraine's closer relationship with the EEC "would contradict Kyiv's other European obligations." Even so, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has requested "observer status" for Ukraine within the EEC. "Jane's" asks, "Could Kuchma's eastward move in the economic realm represent the price he had to pay in order to apply for NATO membership?"


In "Eurasia View," CIS affairs analyst Igor Torbakov discusses the launch today of Russia's "largest military exercises in the Caspian Sea since the collapse of the Soviet Union." He says some observers see the maneuvers as a Russian attempt to "hasten the settlement of the lingering Caspian Sea boundary dispute." Others, however, suggest Russia is seeking to establish itself as the dominant partner in any future Caspian-oil-export cartel.

Torbakov cites regional experts as saying the military exercises are designed "to exert pressure on Iran to moderate its demand for a 20 percent share of the Caspian Sea." He says Iran's "refusal to compromise is widely viewed as a major factor in the stalemate that exists in multilateral negotiations on the sea's division."

Iranian officials, for their part, have expressed concern that Russia's maneuvers will destabilize the region. Yet Tehran has given no indication that it intends to alter its position.

Settling the dispute over control of Caspian Sea reserves would allow the development and export of its abundant natural resources, notes Torbakov. And "seeing an opportunity to re-establish itself as a superpower, Russia hopes to one day control the export of Caspian energy resources through the establishment of a regional cartel that would rival OPEC," the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)