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Western Press Review: U.S. Policy On Iraq, Russia's Tycoons, And German Elections

Prague, 6 August 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary and analysis continues to focus on a possible U.S. military operation in Iraq. Columnists variously warn of the dangers posed by both Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and a unilateral U.S. decision to depose a foreign head of state. Other issues include Russia's business tycoons and how September elections in Germany might affect the future of Europe.


In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," Alan Dupont of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at Australian National University discusses some of the strategic consequences of the 11 September attacks on the United States. "In an era of American preeminence," he writes, "responding to terrorism -- [or] responding to the U.S. obsession with the threat of terrorism -- is now a central concern of all states."

Europe is being forced to re-examine its relationship with America; Asia is also worried by the U.S. "preoccupation" with terrorism. "Important realignments are taking place," he says. Iran and Iraq are settling their differences, while "border security, protecting critical national infrastructure, defense against weapons of mass destruction, and domestic counterterrorism have risen to the top of the security agenda in many countries."

Dupont says Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's human rights record is "appalling," but it "is not demonstrably worse than those of a dozen other tyrants. [The] mere possession of weapons of mass destruction has been insufficient cause for international intervention in the past." Unless the U.S. administration makes a more persuasive case that Hussein is "uniquely dangerous," he says, a forceful regime change "would send a powerful message that might is right and that the United States alone determines the rules of the game." And this, Dupont concludes, "would be a repudiation of norms that have governed the conduct of international relations for the past half-century."


Stefan Kornelius in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" analyzes the Western powers' policy on Iraq. He says "war fever" has reached new heights in the U.S. in an attempt to fill the "summer void" and in view of forthcoming elections to Congress this fall.

But Kornelius says there is notable resistance to any rash move on the part of the U.S., both within America and even among its staunchest allies in Europe, Great Britain and Germany. Even though the allies agree that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is "a rogue and a dictator, who is capable of any evil act," Kornelius says "the dangers and risks involved in attacking him are not yet clear."

The allies are not sure what the aftermath of a war against Iraq would involve. But above all, he says, "the mega-message" has not been elaborated: Why Iraq, and why at this point in time? The public is only likely to lend its support in accordance with a detailed plan for the aftermath of such a war. Kornelius says: "A war against Iraq requires more than high-flying words. If Washington realizes this, then it is showing discernment." But, he says, "there is no reason for hysteria."


In Britain's "The Guardian," the daily's George Monbiot says there is something "almost comical" about the prospect of U.S. President George W. Bush "waging war on another nation because that nation has defied international law." Monbiot says since Bush entered office in early 2001, the United States "has torn up more international treaties and disregarded more UN conventions than the rest of the world has in 20 years."

The U.S. has flouted the Biological Weapons Convention and "refused to grant chemical-weapons inspectors full access to its laboratories, [it has ripped] up the [1972] Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, [permitted] CIA hit squads to recommence covert operations [that] included, in the past, the assassination of foreign heads of state, [undermined] the International Criminal Court, [and] sought to immobilize the UN convention against torture so that it could keep foreign observers out of its prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, [Cuba]."

But Monbiot says the U.S. government's intentions in Iraq have nothing to do with allowing weapons inspections. The U.S. has compelling domestic reasons for going to war, he says. First, operations in Iraq will lend the impression that "the flagging 'war on terror' is going somewhere." Second, as Bush has already discovered, foreign wars win votes. Finally, Monbiot writes, there is the need to "distract attention from the financial scandals in which both the president and vice president are enmeshed."


An editorial in Britain's "The Independent" proclaims that Germany's September election "is of crucial importance to the future direction of Europe." As EU expansion gets under way, the paper says Germany will "move from the eastern edge to the center of the new Europe." The elections for chancellor will determine how Germany views its new European role and its priorities for the next four years. And challenger Edmund Stoiber will soon reveal "how far to the right he is prepared to position himself in the hope of securing victory," the paper says.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has recently shifted his campaign focus from domestic to international politics, announcing that Germany would not support U.S. military intervention in Iraq. The paper says Schroeder was "assured a sympathetic hearing" with this statement, as German public opinion is largely against "precipitate action" in Iraq. But Stoiber attacked the chancellor for attempting to dodge "trickier domestic issues," such as high unemployment and the slowing economy.

"The Independent" says a victory for Stoiber would not mean that "a far-right tide" was engulfing the continent, nor that the idea of the social state is doomed. But he is relatively untried in international politics, the editorial says, and neither candidate can be written off just yet.


An editorial in France's "Le Monde" welcomes the Turkish parliament's 3 August passage of a set of social reforms designed to bring Turkey's standards in line with those of the European Union. The paper says after 22 hours of stormy debate, the parliament of this "pillar of NATO" -- the Muslim bridge between Europe and Asia -- adopted a series of reforms to democratize Turkey. Capital punishment was abolished and the linguistic and cultural rights of the 12 million ethnic Kurds recognized.

"Le Monde" says, "At least on paper, the 3 August vote marks a revolution." A wide majority sought to turn the page on Turkey's past with this vote, while proclaiming a desire for membership in the European continent. And in return for this "democratic upgrade," Turkey asks that at the European summit at Copenhagen in December, the EU will fix a date for negotiations on membership. But the editorial says everything rests on whether Turkey, still an all-powerful military hierarchy, will decide to go forward with this evolution or not. Nothing can be ruled out, but neither is anything guaranteed, the paper says.


In the British daily "Financial Times," Robert Cottrell discusses the concentration of industrial ownership in Russia. Russia's "oil, steel, aluminum, nickel, car, and heavy engineering industries are already dominated" by a few tycoons, he says. "The last basic industries, such as coal and timber, are being bought up now."

Cottrell says the dominance of the tycoons is reinforced "by the underdevelopment of the Russian banking system. The shortage of credit makes it difficult for newcomers to mobilize cash for acquisition and investment." In addition, "red tape and corruption [suffocates] small business in Russia." By contrast, the few big tycoons "have the money and influence to combat or collude with the government."

Cottrell says it is possible that the concentration of ownership will devolve over time, as manufacturing and service industries expand and as foreign investment increases.

"Some tycoons may turn into sellers of assets as prices rise," he says. But a lingering problem is the misallocation of investment resources. If Russia can institute a strong banking system to allocate investment resources more broadly and efficiently -- and lower the barriers to new business to maximize competition -- "it may yet achieve high and sustainable economic growth." But if not, Cottrell suggests another Russian economic crisis may be in the pipeline.


In Belgium's "Le Soir," Christophe Bourdoiseau also discusses German Chancellor Schroeder's latest political maneuverings. The Social Democrat leader reaffirmed yesterday (5 August) Germany's independence on international military issues, saying Germany is not inclined to rush into any "adventures" in Iraq.

Politically weakened by a slowing economy and high unemployment, Schroeder called for a "new morality" in a financial environment recently plagued by scandal. Long seen as a friend of big business, Bourdoiseau says Schroeder launched criticisms at his former allies in the 1998 campaign by calling for, among other things, businesses to take a more active role in training Germany's young people.

Bourdoiseau says criticisms of business leaders serve to mask Schroeder's own economic shortcomings. With 4 million Germans unemployed -- as many as when he took office -- Bourdoiseau notes that his challenger never misses an opportunity to remind the country that Schroeder initially announced that his administration should be judged on its record on unemployment. But Bourdoiseau says even with opinion polls showing him seven percentage points behind the opposition, Schroeder still has a chance to win a second mandate against a challenger often viewed as provincial and internationally inexperienced.

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