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Western Press Review: Chirac's Threats And Global Divisiveness Over Iraq

Prague, 19 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Most discussion in the Western media today focuses on the possibility of U.S.-led military operations to create "regime change" in Iraq. U.S. and British insistence that military action is necessary to counter the dangers of Iraq's suspected weapons programs is straining relations between traditional allies within the European Union, NATO, and the United Nations, as the world debates the pros and cons of war.


An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" today says French President Jacques Chirac's "remarkable outburst" at the emergency EU summit on Iraq on 17 February damaged France's own national interests as well as the unity of international institutions, including the United Nations. Chirac roundly criticized several Eastern European nations for their support of U.S. policies on Iraq, and suggested their EU aspirations might suffer as a result.

The French president "hasn't just weakened the UN," says the paper. "He's also wounded the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and weakened French influence within the European Union." This "cannot be part of French long-term plans," the editorial suggests.

Nevertheless, Chirac has weakened the international standing of his country due to his own strident behavior. The paper says his remarks to the EU were so extreme "that they can only be seen as those of a man losing ground all around." And "for this," the paper says, Chirac "can only blame himself."


Several commentaries in the German press today also react to French President Jacques Chirac's outburst at the EU summit. An editorial in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" describes Chirac's speech as "vindictive."

Moreover, it says, the EU was wrong to even convene the emergency summit without the participation of candidate countries. Chirac's scolding, which the paper calls a "childish, dangerous, and stupid," were only further humiliation.

On the other hand, the paper notes, the governments of Central and Eastern Europe, wedged between the assurances of U.S. security guarantees and the prospects of prosperity in Europe, may well ask themselves whether siding with the U.S. is worth the consequences. Chirac's outburst serves as a reminder of the days when they were forced to toe the line under domination from the Soviet east.

The paper criticizes the EU stance, saying it is "neither appropriate nor worthy of the organization." It is now clear that the European structure will suffer tremors which can hardly be envisaged at present.


Israeli-based author Amos Oz discusses some of the dangers posed by a possible U.S.-led war in Iraq in a contribution to "The New York Times" today. Oz says encouraging moderation in the Mideast region is key, and that the appeal of religious or nationalist extremism can only be countered by more moderate forms of religion and nationalism.

But he says an American military campaign against Iraq "is liable to heighten the sense of affront, humiliation, hatred and desire for vengeance that much of the world feels toward the United States," and may undermine the moderate governments in the Middle East. The war debate is already splitting the traditional alliances between democratic states and dividing international institutions. "Ultimately," says Oz, "this will benefit only the violent and fanatical forces."

He goes on to say that the drive toward war in Iraq arises from the "simplistic" aspiration to "uproot evil by force." But he says, "the evil of Saddam Hussein's regime, like the evil of Osama bin Laden, is deeply and extensively rooted in vast expanses of poverty, despair and humiliation" throughout much of the world.

But if force is to be used to counter a perceived threat, Oz says, "it is crucial that it be brandished by the international community -- or at least by a broad alliance of nations. Otherwise, it is liable to redouble the hatred, despair and lust for vengeance that it set out to defeat."


An editorial in the "International Herald Tribune" says failing to consult the UN and major European allies on the issue of Iraq is not in the long-term interests of the United States. Washington "needs to begin rebuilding lost support in the Security Council by spelling out the substantive steps that Baghdad must take in the next few weeks to stay the threat of war. The council needs to pass a new resolution" that clearly lists these steps and formally declares that the "failure to achieve them by a specific date would put Iraq in further material breach of its obligations, exposing it to the serious consequences that a unanimous Security Council warned of last November" in Resolution 1441.

The editorial says it would be a mistake to ignore the doubts of France, Germany, and other nations regarding the use of force in Iraq. "Antiwar demonstrations across the world last weekend demonstrated widespread public misgivings," the paper says. "Many people who don't dispute that Saddam Hussein is a brutal tyrant [still] feel that the case for urgent military action has not yet been persuasively made."

The U.S. administration "should heed these views and work with the Security Council to win support for a new resolution. The potential consequences of an Iraq war are far too serious to take on without broad international and domestic support."


The "International Herald Tribune" publishes remarks made on 12 February by Democratic Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia in the U.S. Senate. Byrd is quoted as saying, "To contemplate war is to think about the most horrible of human experiences." And yet, he adds, in the Senate there is "no debate, no discussion, no attempt to lay out for Americans the pros and cons of this particular war."

Military action at this point would "[represent] a turning point in U.S. foreign policy and possibly a turning point in the recent history of the world," says Byrd. He calls the U.S. administration's new doctrine of preemption -- "the idea that any nation can legitimately attack a nation that is not imminently threatening but may be threatening in the future" -- a "radical new twist on the traditional idea of self-defense." War in Iraq is "not necessary at this time," he says.

But in its pursuit of a war in Iraq, Byrd says the U.S. administration "has split traditional alliances, possibly [crippling] international order-keeping entities like the United Nations and NATO." Moreover, it has turned diplomacy into threats by "labeling whole countries as evil [and] denigrating powerful European allies as irrelevant." Byrd says, "these types of crude insensitivities can do the United States no good."

The U.S. administration's "extremely destabilizing and dangerous foreign policy debacle that the world is currently witnessing is inexcusable," Byrd concludes.


In the German daily "Die Welt," Jacques Schuster says France's assumption that it speaks on behalf of Europe as a whole is a case of "L'Europe, c'est moi," a throwback to the presumption of the absolute right of monarchs during the reign of France's King Louis XIV.

Schuster says Western arrogance toward the East has been evident for some time. The French consider the Germans to be unintellectual, and the Polish as mere servants. They are similarly dismissive of the Russians.

What is remarkable about this attitude, says Schuster, is that it unfortunately prevails in top political circles. The governments of Germany and France were shocked by the dissenting opinions coming from Central and Eastern Europe in support of U.S. Iraq policy. The French-German alliance seems to be of the opinion, says Schuster, that "We are the Continent, and the rest of Europe must keep quiet."

Schuster says: "A Europe founded on such arrogance will never carry weight; still worse, if matters continue to develop in this direction we can forget about a joint European foreign policy. Many Europeans will lose faith in the European project as such, because the principle of equality has been undermined."


A contribution to "The Washington Post" by former U.S. national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski enumerates several reasons why traditional Western allies have split over the question of the use of force in Iraq.

First, the U.S. emphasis on "regime change" and its willingness to go to war alone has prompted suspicions that its request for UN approval of military action is "essentially a charade." Moreover, the U.S. administration's rhetoric describing the war on terrorism as a campaign against "evildoers who hate freedom" has "struck many abroad as excessively theological [and] unrelated to any political context."

Washington's "unsubstantiated efforts to connect Iraq with Al-Qaeda" have further raised doubts. Brzezinski says there is also "justifiable concern that the preoccupation with Iraq -- which does not pose an imminent threat to global security -- obscures the [more] serious and genuinely imminent threat posed by North Korea."

Brzezinski says force may have to be used to disarm Iraq, but its use must be "part of a larger strategy." The U.S. should avoid directing spiteful, retaliatory rhetoric at its allies, and must realize that peace in the Middle East requires both Iraq's disarmament and renewal of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

The UN must give Iraq a detailed list to comply with, and the U.S. should be willing to allow Iraq "the several months needed" to determine whether Baghdad is "grudgingly complying or deliberately evading."


A contribution to the "International Herald Tribune" by Ahmad Chalabi, head of the opposition umbrella group the Iraqi National Congress, says the opportunity afforded the Iraqi people by a U.S.-led military operation aimed at overthrowing the regime of President Saddam Hussein must be used to allow Iraqis to become "full participants in shaping the future Iraq."

Chalabi says: "American help is essential -- and is welcomed -- in winning the fight against Saddam. But the liberation of our country and its reintegration into the world community is ultimately a task that we Iraqis must shoulder. This is why the proposed U.S. occupation and military administration of Iraq is unworkable and unwise."

The current U.S. plan is unworkable, he says, because it rests on keeping the existing governmental structures in place, but under a postwar American administration. This "would ultimately leave important decisions about the future of Iraq in the hands of either foreign occupiers or Saddam's officials," says Chalabi.

He says the U.S. "does not need to handpick a successor to Saddam, nor does it need to predetermine every single step in the post-Saddam era." But Chalabi says Iraqis "expect the U.S. to make a full commitment to accepting the will of the Iraqi people."

He writes, "We hope Washington and other allies of the Iraqi people will hear the message" emanating from the Iraqi opposition conference beginning today: that Iraqis "are ready to assume responsibility for the transition to democracy."

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