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Western Press Review: The Arab View Of U.S. Policy On Iraq, And Tackling The Roots Of Terrorism

Prague, 15 November 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Among the topics discussed in the Western media today are the Arab world's view of U.S. policy on Iraq; UN Resolution 1441, which calls for tough new inspections of Iraq's suspected weapons programs; NATO expansion; and looking at the form and nature of terrorism.


The current edition of the Britain's "The Economist" weekly takes a look at the Arab world's attitude toward U.S. policy on Iraq. On 10 November, a meeting of foreign ministers from several Arab states declared their opposition to any U.S.-led military campaign in Iraq. But at the same time, the magazine says, they voted unanimously in support of the new UN resolution calling for renewed weapons inspections and threatening "serious consequences" should Iraq fail to comply.

The magazine says most Arab governments dislike Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein "and resent his regime for continually dragging the region into unpleasant quandaries." Yet even so, these governments "see more danger than benefit" in giving him ultimatums. Regional leaders harbor fears of popular unrest, and themselves "remain skeptical of America's ultimate intentions. Talk by some American officials of 'rearranging' the Middle East map, and praise for Israel's prime minister, Ariel Sharon, as a 'man of peace' have won no friends among Arabs."

The magazine writes: "Stalled economies, stale local politics, a sense of impotence in the face of America, and seething anger towards Israel have combined to put the 'Arab street' in a very surly mood. The world's main case against Iraq, that it is failing to declare its weapons of mass destruction, simply does not bother the wider Arab public."


Thomas Oliphant of "The Boston Globe" says now that the UN has passed a tougher resolution on Iraqi disarmament threatening action should Iraq fail to disclose its weapons programs, "What remains now is the question of what definition of Iraqi defiance will suffice as a trigger for war." In a piece reprinted in today's "International Herald Tribune," Oliphant says U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell "must continue walking a tightrope as he faces the forces inside the administration that continue to agitate for basically unilateral action soon -- represented by Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld." Oliphant warns that an attempt by the U.S. to declare war "on a flimsy basis" would "risk the domestic and international consensus so painstakingly assembled."


Klaus Dieter Frankenberger, writing today in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," says that in spite of German politicians' grand proclamations about the country's defense responsibilities, this is not proven in deed. "The truth is that even in the military field, Germany has given up the goal of true partnership." The paper says Chancellor Gerhard Shroeder's governing coalition "refuses to give thought to the military capabilities that this requires."

Defense Minister Peter Struck takes a realistic view of the government's financial troubles and does not want to make rash promises to his NATO partners. This, says Frankenberger, has "the honesty of a bankruptcy declaration."


Similarly, the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" comments on German politicians' unwillingness to actively engage in NATO. Apart from uttering a few platitudes about the NATO alliance being viable and geared toward expansion, the paper says it is noticeable what has not been said.

Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer has avoided mentioning any NATO crisis or weapons inspections in Iraq, which is likely to take center stage at the NATO summit in Prague. There was no mention of how Germany was going to act under the new circumstances. There was no mention of Germany's contribution to a security force.

The commentary says, "The government is saving its parliament from facing hard truths," as the parliamentarians are reluctant to revise yet another election campaign slogan.


In "The New York Times," Peter Bergen of the New America Foundation and author of a book on suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden says Al-Qaeda has recently undergone an evolution. The terrorist network, he says, has called for a wider war against broader Western interests, and is no longer just targeting the United States.

Bergen says this shift "was precipitated by Al-Qaeda's loss of its headquarters in Afghanistan. Deprived of a physical base, Al-Qaeda has morphed into something at once less centralized, more widely spread, and more virtual than its previous incarnation." A recently released audiotape attributed to bin Laden "threatens by name not only the United States but Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, and Australia." Bergen says: "Those threats should be taken at face value. Mr. bin Laden's statements have been a reliable guide to the subsequent actions of Al-Qaeda, and in the past he has presaged his most spectacular attacks with some public announcement."


Columnist Adrian Hamilton, writing in Britain's daily "The Independent," says it is clear that suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden wants "to create an air of general fear in the West and that he would like to wrap up every local Muslim dissatisfaction in a general conflict between Islam and the West."

And Hamilton says the West is misguidedly responding in just such a way as to prove bin Laden right. Hamilton calls it "astonishing" that, after pressuring Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein into accepting a tough new UN resolution, both Washington and London insist they remain skeptical and that "the war plans are still on." This attitude gives the world the impression that "the object is forced regime change whatever [Saddam Hussein] does."

Hamilton asks how this will be seen "in a Muslim world that is already convinced that President [George W.] Bush is pursuing a plan that has nothing to do with peace and everything to do with oil." And what happens when the West supports Russian President Vladimir Putin in Chechnya, or when it "[pretends] not to notice" what China is doing to its Muslim Turkomans (Uighurs), or when the West supports "the worst of regimes in Uzbekistan and Jerusalem?"

Hamilton says if you deprive terrorism "of its cause, [you] leave it without its justification." If bin Laden succeeds in becoming "a champion of the Muslim downtrodden," it will only be because the West has made him so.


In "The Wall Street Journal Europe," analyst Vladimir Socor says the upcoming round of NATO enlargement is a significant step toward the goal of "making Europe whole and secure." Where NATO advances, he says, "countries are at peace and permanently safe, as part of an enlarging West. Where it does not, European countries are still up for grabs by former masters [who] feel entitled to reimpose their control. One sees this day by day in Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia.... [If] these are left in the vacuum outside, how can Europe possibly be whole and secure?" he asks.

Socor notes that following the NATO summit in Prague next week, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) will also hold its year-end meeting. The OSCE, he says, "can be successful only where NATO has taken charge of the 'hard' security" concerns. In breach of an OSCE mandate, Russia maintains troops in Moldova's Transdniester region. Russia also carries out cross-border raids into Georgia, in spite of OSCE reports on the raids. With this, Socor says, Russia's "disrespect for the OSCE could not have been made clearer."

Meanwhile, in Belarus, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka "has spent this entire year throwing the OSCE Mission's members out of the country, one by one."

Socor says the OSCE "must tackle these problems forthrightly" at its upcoming meeting, as the organization "now faces the most severe test of its credibility since the demise of the Soviet bloc."


"Sueddeutsche Zeitung" columnist Peter Muench examines Iraq's latest diplomatic moves and the U.S. reaction to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's acquiescence to United Nations Security Council Resolution 1441. The resolution provides for inspectors to examine Iraq's weapons capabilities following what Muench calls "pressure from the world community."

Nevertheless, Muench says there are grave doubts over Iraq's peaceful intentions, even though it was right to give Iraq a last chance. Months of diplomacy have not actually clarified whether war or peace is the more likely outcome.

Muench goes on to surmise that a turnaround within Iraq would avert a war, if or when the Iraqi people recognize the weaknesses of their leader. Sending weapons inspectors lends to this possibility, in which case the decision between war and peace would lie with Saddam Hussein. But he says nobody currently believes Iraq's fate to be in good hands.


In France's "Le Figaro," columnist Renaud Girard says in the ongoing confrontation between Washington and Baghdad, the United States has won the first round by securing Iraq's acceptance of the new UN resolution on weapons inspections. The unanimous approval of Resolution 1441 by the UN Security Council was a diplomatic coup, says Girard. France's insistence helped ensure that Iraq was given one real last chance to agree to disarm, which helped make it possible for Syria to accept the resolution.

One heard much of a Franco-American divide, but Girard says one must remember the profound nature of relations between these old Western allies. Disputes between France and the U.S. are always about form and method, never about values. Not a single sensible politician in France wants Saddam Hussein to develop nuclear weapons, says Girard. There are, however, many who reject the principle of preventative strikes, launched unilaterally.

It now remains to be seen if Iraq will play the inspections game, Girard says. The Iraqi president can no longer rely on trickery, not only because the resolution has laid out very precise terms, but also because any Iraqi obstruction will be immediately reported to the UN Security Council.

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