Prague, 11 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. Congress has voted to grant President George W. Bush the right to use force in Iraq should Saddam Hussein fail to comply with UN resolutions. Several commentators in major Western dailies discuss this development and what it means for the chances of a second war in the Persian Gulf.
Other issues addressed today include the Central Asian role of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Kazakh-Uzbek border treaty signed in September, Pakistan's parliamentary elections, and corruption in Russia.
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
An editorial in "The New York Times" says now that President Bush has been granted the congressional authority to use force in Iraq, it is "all the more important" for the U.S. administration and the country at large to debate the dangers that may lie ahead. It says new information has come to light that makes clear "just how difficult it will be to manage an escalating crisis with Iraq."
The paper cites a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) document released this week that says the threat of force may create more dangers than it counters. "As long as the United States continues to work with the Security Council to insist that Iraq comply," the paper says, "Saddam Hussein seems unlikely to strike out wildly with his chemical and biological weapons. That could change quickly, however, if the Iraqi leader believes that an American attack is imminent."
Washington, the paper says, must also "refine its thinking about the way to establish a postwar Iraqi government that [reflects] the desires of Iraq's diverse population." One option would be for the United States to remain in the country to conduct war crimes trials and "organize a gradual transition to civilian rule." Others in the U.S. administration advocate establishing a provisional government based on Iraq's exiled leaders.
But the paper says sending UN officials to conduct unfettered inspections and disarm Iraq remains the "desirable alternative" to war.
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL:
An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal" today remarks that the U.S. administration's plans for launching a war in Iraq gained 296 supporters yesterday, as the U.S. House of Representatives voted to approve President Bush's use of military force if Iraq does not comply with UN resolutions.
The paper says the fact that only 133 voted against the use of force "shows a national consensus to liberate Iraq that might impress even the United Nations Security Council, if not Saddam [Hussein] and some American editorial writers," who have expressed their doubts over the necessity or desirability of war.
The editorial says another important message of yesterday's vote was "national resolve." It adds that the UN can also now be sure that, armed with this congressional support, Bush "is serious when he says the U.S. will act alone if it must."
THE WASHINGTON POST:
In "The Washington Post," Michael Kinsley also cites the declassified CIA document released this week that says Iraq is, in Kinsley's words, "unlikely to use biological or chemical weapons against the United States unless we attack Iraq and Saddam Hussein concludes he has nothing to lose."
The U.S. administration disagrees with the CIA's assessment of the risks Iraq poses. But Kinsley says President Bush cannot "have it both ways." Bush cannot insist that Hussein "is able and eager to do so much harm to the United States that we must go to war to remove him" and yet "refuse to acknowledge the increased risk of such harm" in going to war.
"Ambiguity has its place in dealings among nations," says Kinsley. "Sending mixed signals and leaving the enemy uncertain [are] valid tactics. But the cloud of confusion that surrounds Bush's Iraq policy is not tactical. It's the real thing."
Kinsley says the American public also seems confused about the issues. "They tell pollsters they favor the Bush policy, then they say they favor conditions such as UN approval that are not part of the Bush policy. Many, in polls, seem to make a distinction between war, which they favor, and casualties, which they don't."
An editorial in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" comments on the first general elections in Pakistan to take place since Pervez Musharraf seized power in a military coup nearly three years ago. The elections took place yesterday amid sporadic reports of violence.
Such reports, says the commentary, belie U.S. claims that these elections are "an important milestone on Pakistan's road to democracy." The paper says this election is a "pseudo-democratic exercise because the power in the state will not be vested in the representatives of the people, but solely in Musharraf's hands."
The general has granted himself the power to dismiss parliament and sack the new prime minister, and has won a controversial referendum giving him five more years as the nation's president. Such developments, says the paper, give grounds for mistrust, and it is "embarrassing that Washington is blowing the same trumpet about democracy as Musharraf."
The antiterror alliance needs Pakistan and Musharraf for support in the reconstruction of neighboring Afghanistan and for keeping Islamic militants in check. The West is thus far more concerned about stability in Pakistan than democracy. But the editorial warns that this must not lead to a misguided appreciation of the general as a "democrat," since that would be a false rendering. It would be far more honest to admit that he is a dictator and, as the paper puts it, "Once a dictator, always a dictator."
THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR:
In a contribution to "The Christian Science Monitor," Brenda Shaffer, research director at the Caspian Studies Program of Harvard University, commends the peaceful signing of a compromise border delimitation agreement in September between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
Shaffer writes, "Since the Soviet breakup and the independence of the Muslim states of Central Asia and the Caucasus, Western media reports and policy reactions have tended to focus on the negative occurrences in the region. But few observers have pointed out that the leaders of Central Asia have displayed commitment to not letting their disputes over water resources and border delimitations develop into violent conflict."
Moreover, Shaffer says, there are good economic and strategic reasons for the United States to act more as a "partner" seeking to improve these countries rather than as "a lofty critic."
Kazakhstan could prove to be a significant player in future American energy policy. Its oil reserves and future potential make it one of the top five world producers over the next decade. Large contingents of U.S. soldiers are currently based in Uzbekistan, which has served as one of the main staging grounds for U.S. military and humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan.
Summing up, Shaffer says, "It is time the Western governments recognize the good job the new states of Central Asia have been doing in preventing wars among themselves in this difficult period of transition."
In the "Financial Times," Robert Cottrell writes from Moscow on corruption and political maneuvering in Russia in light of elections for the lower house of parliament, the Duma, in December of 2003. He says among the Communists, there is "all manner of excitement." Those both inside and outside the party "have begun to realize that its 25-35 percent of public support is pretty indestructible" and might even increase if the party replaces its "ill-tempered" leader, Gennadii Zyuganov.
This state of affairs has created a strange alliance between Boris Berezovskii and Aleksandr Prokhanov. Cottrell calls Prokhanov a "writer and propagandist" whose newspaper, "Zavtra," is "infamous for its anti-Semitic and other populist opinions." Cottrell describes Berezovskii as "a tycoon of Jewish descent whose central role in the crony capitalism of the 1990s made him one of 'Zavtra's' main hate-figures."
Berezovskii left Russia two years ago after troubles with Russian President Vladimir Putin and has continued to criticize the Kremlin from his exile in London. Now, Berezovskii and Prokhanov are setting aside their differences in order to work out how best they can combine Prokhanov's wiles and Berezovskii's money to oust Zyuganov, and so turn the Communist Party into a more effective vehicle for use against Putin.
Cottrell says that reportedly their favorite candidate to take over the party is Sergei Glaziev, an economist who lost a race this year for governor of Krasnoyarsk.
In "Eurasia View," Alena Kim discusses a report released by the Brussels-based think tank, the International Crisis Group (ICG), on the role of the OSCE in Central Asia.
The report recommends that the OSCE forge a "new strategic approach" in the region, taking into consideration the area's political, economic, and cultural framework. The ICG also recommends that the OSCE increase the resources it devotes to Central Asia, noting that the organization also has been slow to consider the particular characteristics of the region's "societies and sensitivities."
But the ICG report acknowledges some of the difficulties the OSCE might face in attempting to expand its regional presence. It may have to re-evaluate its own structures "to better respond to conditions in Central Asia. The report also states any attempt to expand OSCE offices in the region would likely provoke local governmental opposition."
The chances for success of an expanded presence will also depend significantly on whether Central Asian governments are willing to play "a direct role in the formulation of a new strategy." Ultimately, the ICG report says, how the OSCE responds to challenges in Central Asia may "play a pivotal role" in determining the organization's future.
In France's "Liberation" newspaper, columnist Pascal Riche says the United States' path to war in Iraq is becoming strewn with obstacles. One month ago, an offensive launched this winter seemed probable; now this seems increasingly unlikely. But Riche says President Bush has not completely abandoned his original objective; the diplomatic complications have merely necessitated that Bush modify his timetable.
Even as Bush softens his rhetoric and clarifies that war is not "imminent nor inevitable," he is still far from giving precedence to a peaceful solution.
Resistance to Bush's plans will not come from the U.S. Congress, Riche remarks, given its decision yesterday to sanction Bush to use force in Iraq. That vote thus ended the Iraq debate, in which the opposition Democrats were, from the very beginning, wedged into a corner.
Riche says it was an act of Machiavellian pragmatism for Bush to begin the war debate ahead of congressional elections in early November. The only way for Congress to avoid allowing the Iraq debate to completely eclipse all other issues -- such as economic stagnation, corporate scandals, and Bush's weakness on social issues -- was to vote quickly for the war resolution.
On the other hand, to hastily grant Bush carte blanche to send young Americans to war also would not have had a positive effect on the voters.
(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)