Prague, 3 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the major Western dailies today once again focuses on Iraq, and the possibility of a U.S.-led military operation seeking "regime change" in the country. Pundits debate the merits and motives of such a campaign, as others call for increased United Nations involvement ahead of any military action.
Other topics discussed include a foreign aid program that really works, and the obstacles facing increased U.S.-Russian energy cooperation.
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE:
In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," David Phillips of the Council on Foreign Relations' Center for Preventive Action says the discussion about launching a military campaign in Iraq "has been handled more like a parlor conversation than a serious policy debate." The United States could have served its own interests better through "more skillful diplomacy" at the UN, he adds.
"Rather than issue a precipitous call to arms, the United States should have first asked the Security Council to review Iraq's compliance with its existing disarmament commitments," he writes.
When the United Nations found that Iraq was not complying with UN resolutions, the U.S. could then have increased the pressure for stricter inspections, perhaps with an authorization of force in the case of noncompliance. If Iraq "obstructed the United Nations, the international community would be unanimous in supporting action against the Baghdad regime."
"Through consultation," says Phillips, the U.S. "could have forged common purpose with front-line states," rather than alienating NATO ally Turkey and other potential Mideast partners.
A more well-considered approach might also have helped forge consensus among Iraqi opposition groups. But both within Iraq and outside the country, Iraqis "are wary of America's support. They believe the United States is far more enthusiastic about regime change than about nation-building."
LOS ANGELES TIMES:
An editorial in the "Los Angeles Times" says Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has been inadvertently bestowing renewed political legitimacy on his archenemy, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
When Palestinians "finally seemed ready to acknowledge the flaws of their discredited leader, Sharon managed to transform him once more into a hero to his people" by besieging his Ramallah compound.
Arafat had recently announced the formation of a new cabinet with a few respected Palestinian figures, "but too many others who were longtime cronies in his inept and corrupt government." The Palestinian Legislative Council, or parliament, denounced the new cabinet, which then resigned.
The paper calls this a "rare" and "encouraging" development. "It could have set the stage for new leaders to emerge, a younger generation that would not miss every chance for peace with Israel." But after Sharon's latest siege of Arafat's headquarters, "the moderates have fallen silent and Arafat is the Palestinians' hero. He should be paying Sharon for campaign advice," the paper remarks wryly.
But the "L.A. Times" says, "There may still be time to revive Palestinian moderates. Easing Israel's strict curfews and removing some checkpoints in the West Bank [could] be a start toward a cease-fire."
Such actions might also "encourage political activity before the elections and let Palestinians debate Arafat's flaws more clearly."
Gerhard Bitzan in the Austrian daily "Die Presse" says the U.S. does not seem to have a high opinion of the United Nations with regard to its resolutions on Iraq. He says whatever the outcome of the Security Council to the new agreement with Baghdad on the return of weapons inspectors, negotiated on 1 October by UN chief arms inspector Hans Blix, Washington is apparently determined to conduct a military strike against Iraq.
Bitzan says Blix negotiated with Iraq with the "full blessing of the UN." But Washington's reaction was to deem the agreement irrelevant. Lately, much has been said about the credibility of the UN. Both U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have repeatedly emphasized their faith in it. But the author says if the two leaders mean this, they will have to accept the latest UN-Iraq agreement and not hinder the inspectors. Only then will there be proof that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is playing a tactical game, or whether he is respecting the UN.
It is always possible, says Bitzan, to renegotiate an ultimatum and sanction military action.
A "Stratfor" (Strategic Forecasting) analysis discusses increased U.S.-Russian energy cooperation in light of the Russia Energy Summit held this week (1-2 October) in Houston, Texas. Washington is seeking to diversify its energy supplies to limit its dependence on oil from the volatile Middle East region. Russia, in particular, seems on the way to becoming a major U.S. supplier.
"Stratfor" says the U.S. would benefit from this arrangement by increasing its geopolitical control over Moscow, while Russia would receive an influx of foreign investment to modernize its energy sector and gain political relevance. However, "Stratfor" says Russia "will be unable in the foreseeable future to replace the Middle East as the main U.S. oil supplier."
If it is possible, "Stratfor" says, a "quick victory in Iraq seems to be a faster and easier way to maintain U.S. energy security in the meantime."
With "a new pro-U.S. government in Baghdad and sanctions lifted, Iraq would be able to step up oil exports quickly. Russia is currently working at the top of its oil production capacity [and] Iraqi oil is of much higher quality and has lower extraction costs." But U.S. victory over Iraq is not assured, so "Stratfor" predicts Washington will likely continue to "work simultaneously on several energy fronts to diversify its supplies."
THE WASHINGTON POST:
"The Washington Post's" David Broder says that within a mere few weeks earlier this year, U.S. President George W. Bush "announced first that the United States would not intervene actively in the Middle East, then told [Israeli Prime Minister] Ariel Sharon to end Israeli occupation of the West Bank (in Bush's words) 'without delay.'"
Then, as the Israeli occupation continued, Bush told the Palestinians to reform the Palestinian Authority and replace Yasser Arafat, which Broder notes "hasn't happened either."
But he says the clearest example of the gap between Bush's statements and his actions is his "famous description" of an "axis of evil," comprised of Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, in his State of the Union speech last January. Broder says now, several months later, the Bush administration "is preparing to send a high-level envoy to North Korea" to pursue improving relations with its government, while in a contradictory move, simultaneously "lobbying Congress and the UN Security Council to approve going to war with Iraq."
Iran, for its part, "has disappeared from the horizon, at least for now." Broder says Bush has Iraq "in his sights" and "will not be diverted." He suggests making judgments based on Bush's actions and not on what the president says.
THE WASHINGTON TIMES:
In "The Washington Times" today, Richard Rahn of both the Discovery and Cato institutes asks: "Who is the biggest provider of foreign aid? The World Bank? The International Monetary Fund (IMF)? The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)?" The right answer, he says, "is none of the above. The single biggest provider of foreign aid is the more than 10 million American immigrants and migrant workers who send back a portion of their earnings to their home countries." These payments, known as remittances, "provide an increasingly important means of support" to those remaining in less developed countries.
In light of the IMF and World Bank meeting in Washington, Rahn remarks that there is "considerable evidence that the World Bank and IMF waste tens of billions of taxpayer dollars each year and actually make things worse in the developing world."
In contrast, a study this year by the Inter-American Development Bank tracked remittances to Latin American countries from the United States. For Latin America alone, the study estimated the flow at $23 billion in 2001. Rahn says this amount "exceeds annual global World Bank lending, and is more than three times total annual spending by USAID."
These remittances "greatly exceeded all Official Development Assistance (ODA) to each of the countries," and accounted for 40 percent of the foreign direct investment to the region.
An editorial in today's French daily "Le Monde" addresses the political battle between the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush and the United Nations over Iraq -- a debate in which both the U.S. and UN are risking a degree of their credibility. The UN and Baghdad agreed in Vienna yesterday on some of the details regarding the return of weapons inspectors. But Washington is insisting on a new resolution, one that sets forth a more demanding mandate for inspectors and provides for the possible use of force if it is determined Iraq "is not playing the game."
Thus, the debate has begun, says "Le Monde." Britain supports the U.S., while the other three permanent members of the Security Council -- China, Russia and France -- are not in accord. The paper says Washington's argument would be a lot stronger if it did not smell of hypocrisy. The United States has seldom worked this hard to ensure other UN resolutions are heeded -- it almost seems that only the resolutions on Iraq really matter, the paper says.
Washington might note that for the 16 resolutions that have been broken by Iraq, Israel violates 28 others in its conflict with the Palestinians -- from resolutions denouncing the forced occupation of territories to those forbidding their colonization. Yet Bush has seldom uttered a word of condemnation over the infringement of these resolutions.
(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)