Prague, 30 January 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Today's Western press review will deal with global reaction to U.S. policy on Iraq following President George W. Bush's annual State of the Union address on 28 January. Bush reiterated his administration's stance that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's suspected procurement of weapons of mass destruction is a threat to international security and that Iraq must be compelled to disarm.
Other topics discussed in the Western media today include the chances for peace in the Middle East following the re-election of Israel's hard-line prime minister Ariel Sharon, Iran's dubious view of the United States, and what can be expected from Iraqi public opinion in the event of a possible U.S.-led offensive aimed at "regime change" in Baghdad.
A collective contribution to several Western papers today by Prime Ministers Jose Maria Aznar of Spain, Jose-Manuel Durao Barroso of Portugal, Silvio Berlusconi of Italy, Tony Blair of Britain, Peter Medgyessy of Hungary, Leszek Miller of Poland, Anders Fogh Rasmussen of Denmark, and Czech President Vaclav Havel expresses support for the United States in its stance on Iraq. Their contribution, which ran in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Times," and other dailies, emphasized that the United States and Europe are inextricably bound together by common values such as democracy, individual freedom, human rights, and the rule of law.
These eight European leaders avowed that the potential combination of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism pose an "incalculable" threat today. The UN Security Council is charged with the task of preserving international peace and security, they added, and the council must retain its credibility by ensuring compliance with its resolutions -- a thinly veiled reference to Iraq's alleged breach of several disarmament resolutions.
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
"The Wall Street Journal" welcomes the expression of support for the United States from European leaders in a combined declaration published today. "So much for the widely publicized 'split' between America and Europe" on the "vital" issue of Iraqi weapons programs, the paper says. There is a split, but it is between the United States and Germany, as Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has made clear his country will not take part in U.S.-led military action in Iraq. The paper says that France, which is also hesitant to support military action, is "putting its own interests ahead of any conceivable common global interest."
The editorial says U.S. President George W. Bush duly clarified the nature of the threat posed by Iraq in his 28 January State of the Union speech. Secretary of State Colin Powell will attempt to make more clear the links between Baghdad and Al-Qaeda on 5 February at the United Nations. The paper says that the eight European signatories to today's expression of support clearly share the concern that Baghdad could wreak "unspeakable havoc" in population centers around the world.
"The Times" of London says that the declaration of support for the U.S. stance on Iraq signed by eight European leaders and widely published in the press today makes "a powerful case" for Europe "to stand as one with the United States over Iraq and ask that the UN Security Council face up to its responsibilities." In the past, the paper says it has seemed Europe "might be turning its back on the United States," an impression that has driven many in Washington "to despair of a [European] continent that is always willing to call on the U.S. cavalry to sort out its own catastrophes from Belsen to Bosnia, but deems any American intervention elsewhere as unilateralism."
A "more coherent political approach is emerging on both sides of the Atlantic," says "The Times," as more intelligence is emerging on why definitive action is needed on Iraq. Moreover, a public-relations strategy is coming together. "While dossiers based on covert operations and the revelations of defectors will not persuade committed opponents of a war to change their opinion, there is a constituency which can be convinced that Saddam [Hussein] is [a] threat to their security." But "The Times" adds that for this to happen, "previously secret details have to be published and [Iraq's] failure to cooperate with the UN inspectors highlighted."
THE IRISH TIMES:
An editorial in "The Irish Times" says providing concrete evidence that Iraq is harboring illegal weapons, misleading UN inspectors, and cooperating with Al-Qaeda "is essential if the U.S. is to make a credible case for an attack [and] convince the UN Security Council that it should be mandated." The paper says that without such legal backing, "U.S. action against Iraq would be unacceptable. Governments throughout the world [would] then face difficult decisions over requests for aid in such a U.S. endeavor."
The U.S. administration has made some "profoundly serious charges" regarding the UN inspections process. But it is "high time they were put into the public domain and made available to the Security Council so that they can be verified by the arms inspectors, who are the legitimate people to evaluate them. They, in turn, must have sufficient time and resources to do so."
The paper emphasizes that the United States "will have to convince the Security Council to mandate military action if it is to be taken." The "belated" decision to make certain intelligence information available is a positive step, "but the evidence supplied must be independently validated. Even if it is shown to be largely correct it does not follow that military action is the only appropriate UN response."
All the most prominent German papers today discuss U.S. President George W. Bush's State of the Union address delivered on 28 January.
Wolfgang Koydl in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" writes: "It is an old rhetorical trick to swing into elevated heights when there is little to say. The foreign-policy section of Bush's speech falls into this trap. The ideals that Bush addressed were loud, lofty, and noble, so much so that the leader of a world power sounded at times like a politician preaching about world revolution."
Bush promised all the oppressed on earth U.S. support in the fight for freedom, especially in those countries no longer identified by name but referred to as the axis of evil: Iran, North Korea, and Iraq.
Koydl goes on to say that perhaps expectations were too high, and thus the actual speech seemed to be anticlimactic. However, even Washington has now come to terms with the fact that it must allow UN inspectors a little more time to search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Dietmad Ostermann in the "Frankfurter Rundschau" comments on the lackluster impression produced by Bush's speech. "The U.S. president gave perhaps the worst speech ever," he says. Nevertheless, Ostermann says the address probably had the desired impact both at home and abroad.
Ostermann says it comes down to a question of the facts. Failing to provide new proof of Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction only strengthens the already-existing opposition. Bush could have his hands bound if he fails to convince people about the necessity of an attack on Iraq. There are certain indications that even in the United States people are tiring of the prospect of war. Without help from allies and a UN resolution, the American majority does not support a war. But Ostermann says patriotism is lying just beneath the surface, "and as soon as the campaign begins in earnest the people will rally under the banner."
Also looking at the United States' foreign-policy role, Jacques Schuster in "Die Welt" writes that for Americans, "America is the ideology." It has developed out of Christian republicanism and democratic beliefs. At the end of World War II, America adopted a missionary ideology: a conscious mission to endow the world with freedom and democracy. But every mission requires an anti-principle, the realm of so-called evil that must be combated. The State of the Union speech by the American president earlier this week is proof of this mission. President Bush, full of pathos, proclaimed the division between good and evil, freedom and dictatorship. This stark and uncompromising distinction is a bit alien to Europeans, says Schuster, and this definition of the world is coming increasingly under attack from Germany.
THE BOSTON GLOBE:
An editorial in "The Boston Globe" says that along with the threat of terrorism, which dominated Bush's State of the Union address, two other major concerns are emerging this year: a foundering economy and the possibility of war in Iraq.
The paper says, "More detail is needed to convince a skeptical world that Saddam [Hussein] cannot be contained and that even a successful military attack would not have harmful after-effects." U.S. efforts to stop global terrorist attacks "must be redoubled," says the paper, and improved international co-operation is essential."
But at the same time, the paper goes on to say, "true leadership in the White House would fight the threat of domestic terrorism without undercutting precious American values." The United States was founded upon a value for individual rights and freedoms, but these same principles run counter to the "domestic spying, mass deportations, and detentions without charges or legal representation" that have characterized America's domestic fight against terrorists.
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
In "The New York Times," Abdel Monem Said of the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo says many observers in the Middle East were greatly disappointed in President Bush's State of the Union address. "People in moderate Arab states will conclude that the president [is] woefully misguided in his approach to the region's troubles."
The U.S. administration seems to view the issues of Iran, Iraq, terrorism, Islamic radicalism, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as distinct and separate, says Said. To Arabs, "these are all related issues." The United States should concentrate on finding a resolution to the Palestinian issue that "has the best potential for a positive impact on the region and beyond," he says. "Unfortunately, it received only a passing reference in the president's speech."
Iraq is not the problem, he says. "In fact, tackling Iraq will worsen the situation in the Middle East." Arabs "do not agree with the rosy American view of an invasion of Iraq." Bush "seems to believe that the Iraqi people will look at American soldiers as liberators." But some Iraqis will view the Americans as "new colonialists." Said predicts that the numerous Iraqi factions and ethnic groups "will take the opportunity to settle old scores. Iraq will descend into chaos. Turkey and Iran will interfere." And the Arab-Israeli conflict "will become increasingly volatile."
In Britain's "The Guardian," Seumas Milne writes that "every single alleged chemical or biological weapons storage site mentioned" in Prime Minister Tony Blair's dossier compiled last year on Iraq's weapons programs "has been inspected and found to have been clean." But Milne writes that by now, most people have already "grasped that regime change, rather than disarmament, is the real aim of this exercise."
But there is no evidence that most Iraqis, whether within the country or living in exile abroad, want their country to be attacked by Western forces, even if they oppose Saddam Hussein. "Even the main U.S.-sponsored organizations such as the Iraqi National Congress and Iraqi National Accord, which are being groomed to be part of a puppet administration, find it impossible directly to voice support for a U.S. invasion, suggesting little enthusiasm among their potential constituency."
A foreign invasion endorsed by a small minority of Iraqis "and which seems certain to lead to long-term occupation, loss of independence and effective foreign control of the country's oil can scarcely be regarded as national liberation," writes Milne. Moreover, the United States is unlikely to accept "anything but the most 'managed' democracy" in Iraq, due to fear over "the kind of government genuine elections might [produce]."
Milne concludes that the danger "of military interventions in the name of human rights is that they are inevitably selective and used to promote the interests of those intervening."
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
In "The New York Times," Elaine Sciolino writes that Iranians carry two extremely opposed views of the United States. On the one hand is the view that the United States is a enemy with evil intentions that must be opposed. On the other is the view, particularly popular with the two-thirds of Iranians under 25, that the United States is seen a place of opportunity and freedom.
As a result of possible U.S. plans to launch a war in Iraq, Iran is now pursuing a "pragmatic strategy of pursuing its own interests." As much as Iran dislikes the Iraqi leadership of Saddam Hussein, "the idea of American military rule or an American puppet government on its 730-mile [1,175-kilometer] border with Iraq is even less appealing." Sciolino writes that there is "deep resentment [among] Iranians who see self-interest in Mr. Bush's condemnation of Mr. Hussein for using chemical weapons against Iranian soldiers and Iraqi civilians years ago." Moreover, the new U.S. doctrine of preemption is causing unease as, ironically, Iraq used that same argument when it attacked Iran in 1980.
"Iran is convinced that no matter how much its interests coincide with those of Washington, the Bush administration will not do it any favors," writes Sciolino. So Tehran is now working "tirelessly" to circumvent war in Iraq. "But Iran is also practical enough to be positioning itself to shape a future Iraqi government," she writes, by allowing opposition figures of all factions safe passage across its territory.
A "Financial Times" editorial says Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's 28 January election victory "is a crushing blow for the peace camp in Israel and [for] the prospects of resolving the 55-year-old dispute over Palestine." The paper calls his re-election "remarkable," because a majority of Israelis consistently tell pollsters that they support dismantling Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank if it will help bring peace to the region. Nevertheless, Israeli voters granted Sharon, an outspoken supporter of the settlements, and his party an overwhelming election win.
But the paper says that under the circumstances, it is not surprising that voters leaned toward a "strongman such as Mr. Sharon," having fallen victim to repeated suicide bomb attacks from Palestinian extremists. Many Israelis now believe that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat "responded to a reasonable peace offer in 2000 by launching the intifada. They do not see in him a peace partner" and therefore rejected the opposition Labor Party's pledge to reopen negotiations with the Palestinian leadership.
A separate contribution to the "Financial Times" by Gerald Steinberg of Bar Ilan University says it is clear that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon "puts no faith in [the] assumption that Palestinian statehood will end decades of violent rejection." But the road map for stability in the region depends on two factors.
One is "the formation of a pragmatic Palestinian leadership that can guide the Arab street to accept the existence of Israel." The other, writes Steinberg, is the removal of Israeli settlements. Sharon has been an avid supporter of Israeli settlements, but Israel's resources are now overstretched. "With or without agreements with a Palestinian leadership, many settlements will be closed -- there is no other rational option." But should Sharon shift in this direction, Steinberg writes that he is likely to encounter strident opposition from settlers and parties on the political right.
An editorial Britain's "The Independent" discusses Labor Party leader Amram Mitzna's pledge that his party will not enter into a coalition government with Prime Minister Sharon's Likud Party. The paper says that Mitzna's choice "is understandable. In becoming associated with a coalition government's possible failures, he could jeopardize his own prospects in a subsequent election, and perhaps those of his party."
But paper says that right now, "a national unity government with Likud in the majority and Labor and [the secular party] Shinoui exerting a strong centrist influence could be the best outcome. It would provide a united front at a time of great uncertainty in the [region]. It could increase the chances of renewed dialogue with the Palestinian Authority and speed the shift toward recognition of a Palestinian state." All of these things may seem to be remote possibilities now, the editorial acknowledges, but they would be "far more remote with a government that comprised parties exclusively from the right."