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Western Press Review: Terrorism, Iraq Dominates Western Commentary

Prague, 17 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Last weekend's bomb blast on the Indonesian island of Bali focused Western press commentary this week and today, with pieces on terrorism, generally, and a potential U.S.-Iraq military clash specifically.


Britain's "The Daily Telegraph" editorializes today that the British should understand more clearly what is involved in marching beside the United States into Iraq. "In waging war on terror, America has been much readier to speak of its fundamental goals than has its chief ally, Britain."

The editorial goes on: "[British Prime Minister] Tony Blair has been right behind [U.S. President George W.] Bush in the need to destroy the Al-Qaeda terrorist network [and] there is no question that he would support the president should the administration decide to attack without United Nations backing. He has, however, been coy about the goal of military intervention."

The "Telegraph" continues: "Mr. Bush not only specifically seeks regime change but, as has become clearer since his State of the Union address, the spread of democracy into a region which is outstanding for its absence. In an interview with the 'Financial Times' last month, Condoleezza Rice, his national security adviser, said that Americans would want to be thought of as liberators in Iraq."

It continues: "That embraces not just the concept of a preventive strike, which has already raised hackles in Europe, but also the much more ambitious, and risky, goal of encouraging Arabs and Iranians to throw off corrupt, oppressive, and inefficient governments."

The editorial concludes: "If we are to go into Iraq alongside the Americans, it is as well that we know the nature of their end-game. That is no less than a revolutionary remaking of the Middle East. Under Mr. Bush, the lone superpower thinks big."


"The Wall Street Journal in Europe" jeers at this week's Iraqi referendum that unanimously extended Saddam Hussein's rule for seven more years. The newspaper's commentary, however, professes to see a redeeming bright spot: "We weren't sure whether to laugh or cry at news of Tuesday's 'election' in Iraq. In the end, we've opted to just cringe."

"There is at least one hopeful sign in all this, however. At least Saddam felt compelled to fake an election. Granted that the results were a foregone conclusion and no one in the outside world is taking the exercise seriously. It still says something about the triumph of the power of the ideas of freedom and democracy that Saddam even made an effort, however lame, to clothe his autocratic regime in the garb of democratic legitimacy."


Under the headline, "Iraq States Its Case," "The New York Times" today devotes opinion-page space to a commentary by Mohammed al-Douri, Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations. Al-Douri says that Iraq seeks peace, plans no attacks, and possesses no nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons.

He writes: "We are not asking the people of the United States or of any member state of the United Nations to trust in our word, but to send the weapons inspectors to our country to look wherever they wish unconditionally. This means unconditional access anywhere, including presidential sites in accordance with a 1998 signed agreement between Iraq and the United Nations -- an agreement that ensures respect for Iraq's sovereignty and allows for transparency in the work of the inspectors. We could never make this claim with such openness if we did not ourselves know there is nothing to be found."

Al-Douri continues: "Iraq is not a threat to its neighbors. It certainly is not a threat to the United States or any of its interests in the Middle East. Once the United Nations inspection team comes back into my country and gets up to speed, I am confident that it will certify that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction -- be they chemical, biological, or nuclear. Such certification, we hope, will remove the shadow of war and help restore peace between our nations."


"The Boston Globe" carries a commentary by Robert Kuttner, editor of the liberal U.S. biweekly "The American Prospect." He argues for giving weapons inspections in Iraq a chance. "There is an alternative to invading Iraq that deserves serious consideration. The United States, working with the United Nations, should give Saddam Hussein one last chance to grant unimpeded access to weapons inspectors. If he refuses, the United States should bomb suspected weapons sites."

The commentary continues: "A much-discussed plan in Washington is one proposed by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace for 'coercive inspections.' Under that plan, weapons inspectors would have full access to any site they desired, backed by a multinational military force that would come in with the inspectors. It's a fine plan and a good alternative to the disruption and slaughter caused by war. The only problem is that Saddam is extremely unlikely to agree to it."

Kuttner concludes: "Invasion of Iraq would mark the failure of U.S. power to use its influence in proportion to achievable U.S. goals. There are military alternatives that add up to more realistic defense policy than going to war."


The "Financial Times" carries a commentary today by Dominique Moisi, a prominent French international relations specialist. Moisi says that as the United States lost a supporter in Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Germany, it unexpectedly gained a sympathetic ear in Europe -- France.

Moisi writes: "Saddam Hussein has achieved a small revolution in Europe. While Britain remains faithful to its hard-line position on Iraq -- and to the United States -- France and Germany have switched places. Gerhard Schroeder, the German chancellor, has alienated Washington with his opposition to war. France -- usually Europe's critic-in-chief of unbridled U.S. power -- has struck a more emollient tone, a pleasant surprise for the White House."

The writer continues: "Schroeder's irresponsible posturing has harmed Germany's efforts to acquire a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. The French see his absolute opposition to war not as a sign of humanist modernity but as the legacy of a burdened past.

"All the same, most French oppose a unilateral U.S. strike against Iraq.... What it and many others question is the political legitimacy of Washington's strategy and the extent of U.S. commitment to Iraq post-Hussein."


Commentator Anatole Kaletsky writes in "The Times" today that the odds are against an immediate war on Iraq. "First, the Security Council must agree [on] a resolution." He continues, "The inspectors will then take a month to set up in Iraq." The analysis goes on, "Once the inspections begin, Saddam will do his best to slow them down, but he will try even harder to avoid any provocative breaches -- at least until the summer."

Kaletsky writes: "Finally, let us say that Saddam becomes more defiant as the summer approaches and Bush determines sometime in March that his bluff must be called. There would be further delays for military preparations and so on. By the time an attack is possible, the hot weather would be starting. Bush would have to decide whether to attack immediately or wait until this time next year."


"The Guardian's" Brian Whitaker takes aim in a commentary today at the idea that a defeated Iraq could be transformed into a beacon of democracy in the Middle East. "This line of argument sounds good until you actually think about it. Wars are always more palatable if people can be persuaded that the future of democracy is at stake. But there's a big difference between a war to preserve our own way of life against an outside threat and a war to impose democracy on others."

He writes also: "Beacons of democracy are fine, of course, so long as we are prepared to live with the results. There's a widespread assumption that Middle Eastern voters would, given half the chance, throw out the men with moustaches and elect clean-shaven figures like George Bush and Tony Blair. But we should not bank on that.

"In the present climate, with the United States swaggering around the region making no effort to clear up the festering sore of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it's more likely that military moustaches would be replaced by the straggly beards of Islamic militancy."


The United States, says an editorial in "The Boston Globe," should avoid putting too much pressure on Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri to crack down on Islamic organizations following the Bali bombings.

The "Globe" says, "Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim country, has also been the most moderate of Muslim societies, and the last thing Indonesia needs is for moderate Muslims to be provoked in the direction of radicalism."


Alan Dupont directs the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Australian Nation University. The "International Herald Tribune" publishes today his commentary urging caution in responding to the terror strike in Indonesia.

Dupont comments: "[Terrorism] does not yet pose a strategic threat to Southeast Asia comparable to the formidable, communist-inspired insurgencies of the post-colonial period. So far, the terrorists have not been able to seriously destabilize any Southeast Asian government."

He continues: "Today, moreover, Southeast Asians are fighting back with the assistance of the United States, Australia, and other Western governments. An embryonic counterterrorist network is taking shape in the region, based on enhanced intelligence sharing, police cooperation, and new antiterrorist legislation."

The writer says, "An ill-considered response [to Bali] might only serve to inflame tensions between the different ethnic and religious groups in Southeast Asia, make martyrs of murderers and create a more fertile operating environment for radical Islamists."


In an analysis under the headline "Indonesia's Final Days," the current issue of "Jane's Intelligence Digest" takes a more alarmist view of Indonesia's post-Bali status. "The consequences of the bomb attack which has killed nearly 200 could prove disastrous for Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation."

It continues: "Most terrorist incidents in Indonesia -- and there have been hundreds -- receive little international attention. What distinguished the latest bombing was that it was clearly aimed at foreign tourists and has achieved devastating results."

The report goes on, "One of the main reasons for the apparent reluctance of the Indonesian government to take rigorous action against militant Islamic groups is that Megawati's administration requires the support of Islamic political parties."

"Jane's" says, "Critics of the government's record on antiterrorist action point to Megawati's hesitation to push through tough legislation against militant groups."

It says: "Although post-Bali, this situation is almost certain to change, some Western intelligence analysts fear that it may prove a case of too little, too late. There is also wider regional concern that Indonesia may now face an escalating campaign of terrorist attacks. Given the relative weakness of the present government, and its dependence of the support of Islamic parties, the most likely result of the Sari Club bomb attack is a rapid destabilization of the country as a whole."

The report concludes: "The disintegration of Indonesia and its fragmentation into enclaves ruled by militant Islamic factions would present a security nightmare, both for the West and for Southeast Asia as a whole. The fall of the Indonesian state could well inflame similar separatist groups across the region, with the Philippines and Malaysia top of the list of possible targets."


"The Washington Post" columnist Jim Hoagland today likens the global war on terror to attacking a cancer with chemical poisons that sicken the body they seek to cure. "The war on global terror is the least bad of all the bad options available to Washington to contain the disease as far away from America's shores as possible: This war is chemotherapy for weak governments such as those of Indonesia and Yemen, which now face the stark choice of fighting international terrorism on their territory or watching their chances to become vibrant players in the global economy suffocate in the ruins of terrorist blasts."

Hoagland concludes: "Bush must now show a capability to run the two-front war on terror that Al-Qaeda and Iraq's Saddam Hussein have forced on him while articulating an economic strategy to absorb and spread the costs of the conflict nationally and internationally.... The struggle against this international cancer will be long and difficult. And we have just been reminded again that it is not America's war alone to wage."