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Western Press Review: How Much Diplomacy Is Too Much Diplomacy In Iraq?

Prague, 7 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Western editorial writers and columnists continue today to mull the impact of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's address to the UN Security Council earlier this week and what it bodes for a possible war against Iraq.


"The New York Times," in an editorial, says the Iraq crisis has entered a period of what it calls "intensely coercive diplomacy." The paper says the pressure is building on Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein "to give up his evasions or even his office. He may well do neither, inviting an American attack, but we are glad to see the Bush administration turning up the heat before it turns to war."

The U.S., it says, has left little doubt that it is preparing for a confrontation, but U.S. President George W. Bush has confirmed that he is willing to allow the "diplomatic dance to swirl a while longer," and would welcome another UN Security Council resolution.

The paper notes the French, Germans, Russians, and Chinese still favor giving arms inspectors more time, but that even France acknowledges that Iraq is undermining diplomatic efforts "by blatantly failing to show even a smidgen of good faith."

Saddam is a "cagey despot," it says, "and he is certain to use the coming week to make a dramatic concession or two." But the Security Council and chief weapons inspector Hans Blix appear to be tiring of Saddam's antics. "Coercive diplomacy has its limits," the paper concludes. "It didn't budge Mr. Hussein from Kuwait a decade ago. But it is well worth trying."


Columnist Thomas L. Friedman, also writing in "The New York Times," says he has been struck by an incredible contrast -- "the contrast between the breathtaking audacity" of what the Bush administration intends to do in Iraq "and the incredibly narrow base of support that exists in America today for this audacious project."

He says Washington is gearing up for the rebuilding of Iraq, along the lines of the rebuilding of Germany and Japan after World War II, but that Americans are geared up for, at best, something like the quick and dirty invasion of Grenada.

Friedman says he is not worried about the Arabs and Turks, or the so-called "Arab street," where he says Saddam has very little support. He says he is worried about his neighbors.

"I've had a chance to travel all across the United States since September, and I can say without hesitation there was not a single audience I spoke to where I felt there was a majority in favor of war in Iraq," Friedman says. "The dominant mood is: 'Mr. President, we don't want to be against you in a war on terrorism. But do we really have to do this?'" Friedman says, "I don't care what the polls say, this is the real mood" in America.

He says it is time Bush leveled with the country -- about the dangers posed by Saddam and about the long-term costs of a war. Ultimately, he says, it is the support of the American people -- not the United Nations, not France, not Poland -- that will determine whether the United States has the means to see this challenge through.


Commentator Adrian Hamilton, writing in Britain's "The Independent," says it is perfectly possible to envisage the population of Iraq greeting U.S.-led forces with cries of joy and garlands on the tanks.

"We know enough from the fall of Ceausescu [in Romania] and Erich Honecker [in East Germany] to understand that tyrannies tend to be like empty egg shells - once cracked, they collapse completely," he writes. "And yet it is precisely because the triumph may be so complete and the desire for a different and more democratic future so strong, in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East, that this war remains not just wrong but deeply dangerous."

He acknowledges a general mood for political reform in the Middle East, but in Iraq what will happen instead, Hamilton writes, "is a Western army of America and its white allies marching into an Arab capital with the declared intention of occupying the country for three years or more, and all in the name not of democracy but U.S. security."

Far from being greeted as a liberation, the occupation of Baghdad will be seen throughout the Islamic world as an exercise in American power, he writes. Politics will be further radicalized, the pro-Western reformers in places like Egypt and Iran will be marginalized, and anti-American rhetoric in the streets will grow louder.

"Instead of aiding a part of the world towards peace, stability, and democracy," Hamilton concludes, "we will have betrayed the very cause we claim to be espousing. Instead of increasing security for the West, we will have destroyed it."


In an editorial today, the "Financial Times" says Powell's "cool, forensic analysis" to the Security Council may have been a pivotal moment in the U.S. debate on Iraq. Powell appears to have persuaded some of Bush's most vocal critics at home, but the success of his presentation with America's allies is still uncertain.

The skeptics continue to urge extended diplomacy. Yesterday, France and Russia repeated their insistence on more time for inspections. A small group of NATO members once again blocked the alliance -- "quite unreasonably," the paper says -- from performing its proper and justifiable job of providing security guarantees to Turkey in the event of war.

The paper says skeptical governments are right to demand more evidence from Blix and Mohammad el-Baradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency when they report to the Security Council next week.

But it says that unless there is a dramatic change in Iraqi behavior, those who insist that the threat posed by Saddam "can indefinitely be dealt with by means other than force will have to give more form to their approach if they are to retain credibility.... If there is an alternative short of military action that the council might adopt, now is the time to unveil it."


An editorial in the German daily "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" looks at the latest moves by North Korea and U.S. reaction to them. Pyongyang says it has restarted a nuclear reactor and is also threatening a possible preemptive strike if Washington strengthens its forces in the region.

The paper says, "Whereas the U.S. is steering ahead toward war with Iraq, the Stalinist regime in North Korea is exploiting the direction of the wind to alter the balance of power in East Asia and to dislodge the U.S. from this sphere. North Korea is embarking on this plan with incredible cheek, most recently by threatening the U.S. forces stationed in South Korea with a first strike with atomic weapons."

The paper warns the U.S. that concentrating on a war with Iraq should not prevent it from dealing with North Korea. "This is an urgent matter," it says. "Wind should be taken from North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's sail by political means, not militarily. Security is at stake and in particular the veto power of China, whose semi-brotherhood with the regime in North Korea is enabling North Korea's survival.

"But surely," the paper concludes, "not even nuclear power China can have an interest in an atomic weapons race in East Asia."


In a commentary in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" titled "Don't Panic About Pyongyang," Hugo Restall writes that everyone can agree that the situation developing in North Korea is dangerous. "North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-il, may not be entirely rational," Restall writes, "and even if he is only playing at being irrational to make his extortion racket more effective, there is the possibility of miscalculations or accidents leading to an unintended escalation of the crisis."

But beyond this reality, he says, there is plenty to disagree about. For instance, how the situation was allowed to deteriorate to this point and which policies would decrease the danger.

"At every step along the way to obtaining nuclear weapons," he says, "Pyongyang has been rewarded for threatening behavior. As a result, it has changed its behavior only temporarily after each pay-off, and has continued its nuclear program in secret because a proper monitoring program was never insisted upon."

Restall says the wisest course for the U.S. now would be to deal first with Saddam's still nascent nuclear program, while waiting for North Korea to accept that more appeasement will not be forthcoming. He notes North Korea already has a couple of nuclear bombs, so the balance of power on the Korean Peninsula won't change radically in the next few months if it makes several more.

The next step may be a session of the UN Security Council to show North Korea that it does face serious consequences if it doesn't allow inspectors in to see whether it is refining weapons-grade plutonium or uranium. It should also be given assurances that if it does begin to engage the outside world and improve its human rights record, better relations with the U.S. are possible.


The Swiss daily "Neue Zuercher Zeitung" discusses Turkey's attitude toward a possible war with Iraq. The Turkish parliament yesterday voted to allow the United States to begin renovating Turkish military bases and ports for use in any war.

The paper says Ankara is moving in the sphere of "realpolitik" and notes how Turkey had been reluctant to accede to American requests and maneuvered until the last moment.

The Turkish military is far from enthusiastic about the idea of war in Iraq, and the moderate Islamic government is opposed. As for the general public, there is absolutely no support for war. However, says the paper: "The decision corresponds to power politics. The U.S. administration has brought Turkey to its knees with financial enticements and threats."

Moreover, Ankara has a strong interest in sharing in the decision making concerning Iraq in the event of war and the establishment of a new order. Some Turkish politicians would like to take advantage of the opportunity, it says, to engage its troops in Iraq to assert Turkey's own political and economic interests. They are mainly intent on three goals: to stop the entry of a stream of refugees immediately at the frontier, to prevent the establishment of an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq, and finally to take advantage of a chance to participate in a future exploitation of Iraqi oil.

It is clear, says the commentary, that the Turkish government's policy is not guided by idealistic principles but by purely realistic considerations.

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

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    Grant Podelco

    Grant Podelco is the editor in chief of RFE/RL's English-language website. He first joined RFE/RL in Prague in 1995 as a senior correspondent after working for many years as a writer and editor for daily newspapers in New York, Oregon, and Texas. He reported from Afghanistan in November 2002 to mark the one-year anniversary of the fall of the Taliban.