Accessibility links

Breaking News

Western Press Review: Iraq, North Korea Continue To Dominate Commentaries

Prague, 15 January 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Confrontations with Iraq and North Korea continue to dominate commentary in the Western media today.


"The New York Times" comments approvingly in an editorial on what it calls British Prime Minister Tony Blair's "keen instincts" in urging that the West move more slowly toward possible war with Iraq. "Europeans sometimes ridicule Tony Blair for his supposed poodle-like obeisance to [U.S.] President [George W.] Bush, but on closer inspection it's clear that the British prime minister is less docile than he might seem. In recent days he has subtly signaled Washington that he is in no rush to go to war against Iraq. It is a message Bush should heed."

The newspaper continues: "The American military buildup in the Persian Gulf region should make clear to Mr. Hussein the consequence of failing to cooperate with the UN. These troop concentrations add a sense of urgency and determination to the inspections. They should not, however, be allowed to pressure Washington into a premature decision on resorting to military force."

The editorial concludes: "That is a point Mr. Blair seems to understand well as he carefully balances the role of public opinion in a democracy and the responsibilities of international leadership. Washington would do well to study his example."


In England, "The Times" provides space for a commentary by noted novelist John Le Carre. Under the headline, "The United States of America Has Gone Mad," Le Carre writes: "America has entered one of its periods of historical madness, but this is the worst I can remember: worse than McCarthyism, worse than the Bay of Pigs and in the long term potentially more disastrous than the Vietnam War.

"The reaction to 9/11 is beyond anything Osama bin Laden could have hoped for in his nastiest dreams. As in McCarthy times, the freedoms that have made America the envy of the world are being systematically eroded. The combination of compliant U.S. media and vested corporate interests is once more ensuring that a debate that should be ringing out in every town square is confined to the loftier columns of the East Coast press.

"The imminent war was planned years before bin Laden struck, but it was he who made it possible. Without bin Laden, the Bush junta would still be trying to explain such tricky matters as how it came to be elected in the first place; Enron; its shameless favoring of the already-too-rich; its reckless disregard for the world's poor, the ecology and a raft of unilaterally abrogated international treaties. They might also have to be telling us why they support Israel in its continuing disregard for UN resolutions."


Commentator Robert Scheer's article appears in the "Los Angeles Times," under the headline, "The White House Craves a Fight With Iraq, the Facts Be Damned."

Scheer writes: "Headlines tell us that United Nations arms inspectors have failed to find a 'smoking gun' in their ongoing, unimpeded search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Yet the Bush administration, like a peeved child, has treated what should be good news as nothing more than rain on its war parade.

"President Bush wants his war, and the inveterate hawks in his administration simply spin the glaring lack of evidence into further proof of Saddam Hussein's dangerous chicanery."

The writer adds: "It's truly frightening when facts don't matter as a nation prepares for war. Once the bombing begins, any search for truth will end. Now is the time to question a pattern of egregious distortion of the facts on the part of a White House that apparently feels it needs a war to retain its fading popularity."


"The Washington Post's" Michael Kelly asks: "On Iraq, are things going, as a British prime minister once warned an American president against, wobbly?"

Kelly writes, "Only three people really matter as to the [Iraq] outcome -- the Iraqi dictator, the American president and the British prime minister."

The writer continues: "And what is the state of resolve among the three who will decide war or nor war? Well, there is no sign that Hussein has suddenly gone soft. He might in the end try to strike a deal to save himself and his family and their loot through abdication and flight, but it will take an army, not a [UN chief arms inspector Hans] Blix, on his palace doorstep to bring that about."


The "Financial Times" says in an editorial that "Iraq's fate, and the chances of a new Gulf war, appear to be finely poised."

The newspaper says: "The buildup of U.S. -- and British -- troops in the Gulf is accelerating. Mr. Blix and his colleagues return this weekend to Baghdad to demand Iraq account for stocks of chemical and nerve gas agents they think the regime may still have. They are due to present a more complete report on 27 January. But military planners are working to get the logistics in place for an invasion towards the end of February."

It goes on, however: "A triumph of logistics is not an excuse to start a war. Clear proof that Iraq is still stockpiling or is engaged in developing weapons of mass destruction might be, because the UN has repeatedly judged that the Hussein regime is too dangerous and must be disarmed."

The editorial concludes: "Washington cannot simply declare Iraq in breach and start a war. Legitimacy and continuing support from the Security Council demand that evidence takes precedence over whatever Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair believe to be the case."


Mike Gonzales, writing in a commentary in "The Wall Street Journal Europe," says a war against Iraq is essential whether or not Saddam is proven to hold weapons of mass destruction. "Will a smiling Saddam Hussein be in power late next year, waving goodbye to another George Bush who failed to overthrow him and then lost an election? This scenario remains unthinkable, but could yet materialize if the White House heeds European and U.S. demands to try to show proof that Saddam has weapons of mass destruction."

Gonzales writes, "Though many count on the fact that the large Anglo-American military buildup in the region ineluctably will lead to war, going wobbly at the last minute could result in bringing the troops home and leaving Saddam in place."

He continues: "But Saddam's arsenal, by itself, is not the sole justification for action, which explains the apparent paradox that tens of thousands of troops are headed to the Middle East and not to the Korean peninsula. Replacing Saddam's regime with a pro-Western democracy is about creating a new dispensation for the Middle East, and that is about preventing another 11 September. This is the truth that dare not speak its name. And yet, all the main players understand this kind of language."


The "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" editorializes that UN weapons inspectors should be allowed more time to search for weapons of mass destruction. "All the states in the Security Council which want to avoid war can postpone a decision on a war resolution until the UN teams have accomplished their inspection task. The conflict would possibly lose its moral dynamics and the inspectors could make use of the time to tighten the controls screw."

"Nothing would be lost," the paper says. "On the contrary, as long as the weapons experts are engaged in Iraq, Saddam Hussein can hardly make any advances in his weapons program. The secret service and deserters could help much more in revealing arsenals. In the end, Saddam may preserve some of his hideouts, but the world could live with that more easily than with war."


In the "Los Angeles Times," University of Southern California religion professor Donald E. Miller calls in a commentary for U.S. religious groups to debate the morality of a war on Iraq. "Here in Los Angeles, there are growing signs of a vigorous peace movement."

Miller continyes: "Though part of this movement is anchored by pacifists who reject war in any form, the majority of faith-motivated people who are involved feel that an attack on Iraq does not fit the criterion of being a just war."

He adds: "Across the nation, the religious community appears to be mobilizing against a strike on Iraq. Except for the Southern Baptists, every major religious denomination has issued proclamations questioning unilateral action by the United States."


John Hughes, editor of the Salt Lake City "Deseret News," looks ahead in a commentary in "The Christian Science Monitor" to what should come after war and regime change in Iraq. "Clearly the United States, which will spearhead any military liberation of Iraq, will have to assume major responsibility for establishing civilian order and political stability."

The writer continues: "If you're a world leader disposing of dictators, you must pick up the pieces and stay around to help build democracy. It is expensive, and challenging."

He writes, "On the economic front, existing active oil fields must be swiftly secured during military operations." He adds: "Politically, the villains of the Hussein regime must be brought to justice. The talented, oppressed populace must become confident in freedom. Diverse groups and factions must subdue their differences in the quest for democracy."

The commentary concludes: "If the substantial U.S. role in all this is inept, the harvest will be years of anti-American suspicion and rancor in the region. If it is successful, Iraq could become an example for democratic reform and economic progress in other tormented lands of the Arab world."


A contributed commentary and an editorial in "The Boston Globe" urge, one, that the U.S. government not back off on Iraq because of concerns over North Korea; and, two, that the United States promptly enter into negotiations with North Korea.

Philip H. Gordon is a senior fellow in foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution. He comments: "On the current policy course, the [U.S.] administration [of President George W. Bush] will likely find itself next month in the absurd situation of invading a country that is welcoming in UN weapons inspectors while doing little about a country that is kicking them out."

The writer continues: "Mr. Bush is at least partly responsible for the mess in which he finds himself. While experts continue to debate whether North Korea is merely trying to negotiate a better economic and diplomatic deal with the United States and its allies or whether it is in fact pursuing weapons to stave off a feared invasion, it seems clear that Mr. Bush's policies have pushed Pyongyang toward the latter option."

However, Gordon writes, "It is misguided to argue that the North Korea crisis somehow means the United States -- and other members of the UN Security Council -- should never have resolved to deal with the Iraq problem in the first place."

The writer concludes: "There are many things that Mr. Bush will have to learn from the North Korea crisis, and the administration will probably ultimately have to back off of its refusal to offer some sort of economic and diplomatic deal with the North. But it is hard to argue that after months of painstakingly forging an international coalition on Iraq, giving up and allowing Saddam Hussein to develop nuclear weapons is the right response to potential nuclear dangers on the Korean peninsula."


In its editorial, "The Boston Globe" says: "If it is hard for private citizens to concede a mistake, it is much harder for a government. Witness how reluctantly President Bush and his advisers are coming around to acknowledging that they have no realistic option but to engage in a high-level dialogue, or perhaps even negotiations, with North Korea.

"That the administration is retreating from its initial hawkish posturing is evident in the three days of talks that New Mexico's Governor Bill Richardson held last week with North Korea's deputy UN ambassador, Han Song Ryol. The substance of the talks, as described by Richardson and State Department officials, was consistent with what the regime in Pyongyang has been saying not only since October, when the latest crisis over its nuclear program erupted, but for more than a decade."

The editorial says: "The good news is that Richardson had approval from Secretary of State Colin Powell for his talks with the North Korean diplomat."

It adds: "This is good news because it suggests that Powell, in contrast to other Bush advisers, sees the wisdom of engaging in diplomatic talks with North Korea and recognizes the value of the 1994 Agreed Framework that the Clinton administration negotiated and signed with Pyongyang."


In "The New York Times," Steven R. Weisman comments that what he calls President Bush's "new approach" to North Korea may avoid unnecessarily intensifying the crisis there. "President Bush's new approach to North Korea, involving an offer to consider food and fuel aid upon an agreement to dismantle the North's nuclear program, reflects a determination on the part of the administration to see the Korean crisis resolved peacefully and the focus kept on Iraq.

"With his advisers split on how to handle North Korea -- in an administration prone to ideological divisions on many international issues -- President Bush has been pressed by hard-liners to try to further isolate North Korea and hope that the dictatorship of Kim Jong-il will give in to American demands or collapse.

"That course could have intensified the crisis and left North Korea steadily building up its nuclear weapons program, which American intelligence officials say may already have one or two bombs and is capable of amassing a half-dozen weapons within six months."

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