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Western Press Review: The U.S. Ultimatum -- Will Hussein Accept Exile Or Face War?

Prague, 18 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary and analysis in the Western media today is dominated by discussions of war, which now looks likely to begin within the next few days. A speech delivered last night by U.S. President George W. Bush called for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his sons to leave Iraq within 48 hours or face military action. Many observers consider this stark ultimatum to be the last chance to avert war.

Today's commentaries also look at late Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic's vision for a Serbian future and the mysterious pneumonia-like illness that seems to be spreading across the globe after affecting hundreds of people in East Asia.


Writing in "The Christian Science Monitor," William Ury of the Global Negotiation Project at Harvard University says the U.S. president's 48-hour ultimatum for Saddam Hussein to leave Iraq is the "last best chance for peace," now that war seems only days away. Ury says the imminent threat of a "devastating" U.S. and British attack "offers the best opportunity yet" to persuade Hussein to accept the opportunity offered for his "negotiated exit," along with his inner circle.

Ury says if Saddam did leave peacefully, "it would be an extraordinary victory. The U.S. and British threat of military attack would have succeeded without war. Tens of thousands of lives would be spared, and hundreds of billions of dollars would be saved. The rift between the major powers could be mended and the integrity of the UN Security Council would be preserved."

But is this a likely outcome? Ury asks. He observes that Saddam "places a premium on his own survival." Moreover, Ury says, "the world is full of ex-dictators who swore they'd never leave peacefully -- yet did."

In Ury's estimation, the Iraqi leader "is not the psychological type to retire." Yet "he has in the past recognized the practical need, on occasion, for tactical retreats in the service of a long-term strategic advance. [If] Hussein could imagine himself living to fight another day, [then] his all-consuming thirst for power might just urge him to take the exit option."


An editorial in "The Washington Post" says the U.S. administration is about to embark on America's "most ambitious military campaign since the Vietnam War." Put simply, the U.S. administration aims to eliminate Iraq's illegal weapons arsenal and help install a representative government in Baghdad. The editorial says U.S. President George W. Bush "is right in insisting that Saddam Hussein face the 'serious consequences' unanimously agreed upon by the United Nations Security Council" in Resolution 1441 calling on Baghdad to disarm.

But this campaign will be conducted with "less support than the cause should have commanded." The Bush administration contributed to this outcome "through its insistence on an accelerated timetable, its exaggerated rhetoric and its insensitive diplomacy," the paper says. The administration "alienated potential allies and multiplied the number of protesters in foreign capitals. It also has refused to level with Americans about the human and financial costs of the coming war and the commitment the United States will have to make to postwar Iraq." In his speech, Bush "missed another opportunity last night to be clear about those costs."

"The Washington Post" says its editors believe the Bush administration "should work hard in the coming months to heal the rifts in the trans-Atlantic alliance, invite international collaboration with the postwar Iraqi administration and honor the president's pledge to seek UN endorsement for that administration."


"The New York Times" says unequivocally that the United States "is on its way to war." Iraqi President Saddam Hussein must leave Iraq or face military action. Disarming "is no longer an option. Diplomacy has been dismissed."

Iraq should be disarmed, says the editorial, but the U.S. administration has gone about achieving this in a "wrongheaded" manner. The Iraq crisis represented a crossroads for how the U.S. defines its role in the post-Cold War world. Former Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton interpreted that role in line with U.S. traditions of "idealism, internationalism and multilateralism," says the paper. But the administration of President George W. Bush has "devalued" allies and "overvalued" military force. "This war crowns a period of terrible diplomatic failure, Washington's worst in at least a generation," says "The New York Times."

When President Bush took office, he assembled what appeared to be an "experienced" national security team. But the "hubris and mistakes" leading to America's current diplomatic isolation began long before the 11 September 2001 attacks. Such impolitic moves included withdrawing U.S. involvement from the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, the International Criminal Court, and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Moreover, Washington "shortsightedly" withdrew from the Mideast peace process. The editorial says, "If other nations resist American leadership today, part of the reason lies in this unhappy history."


In Britain's daily "The Guardian," Iraqi political exile Sami Ramadani, now a London Metropolitan University lecturer in sociology, says Iraqis are desperately in need of regime change and the establishment of a democratic regime. "But democracy for Iraq will not be achieved by bombing and invading the country. It cannot be trusted to [U.S. President] George Bush."

Ramadani says the United States "will not accept a democratic verdict which is not to its liking in a strategically important country" such as Iraq, which possesses the world's second-largest oil reserves. Washington has crushed similar democratic initiatives around the globe.

He says the U.S. record on Iraq is clear: Washington backed Hussein's party, the Ba'athists, in a bid for power in 1963. In 1975, it helped Hussein and the Shah of Iran "crush the Kurdish nationalist movement." It then helped Saddam launch a "war of aggression" against Iran in 1980, supporting him "throughout the horrific eight years of war [in] the full knowledge that he was using chemical weapons and gassing Kurds and Marsh Arabs."

Ramadani says U.S. hawks, "now prominent in the Bush administration, have been advocating a war on Iraq for the past 12 years -- not to liberate the Iraqi people, or to protect the world from weapons of mass destruction, but to impose U.S. hegemony on a strategically important country."


Several German papers also react today to U.S. President George W. Bush's ultimatum giving Iraqi President Saddam Hussein 48 hours to leave Iraq or face military action.

Torsten Kraul in "Die Welt" says: "Diplomacy has come to an end. With this many hopes, but also many illusions, have been destroyed." The prospect existed that the UN was now the last resort for decisions on war and peace. "All that is now history," says Kraul. "The current situation indicates that Saddam Hussein's days are numbered. And the future lies in the fact that an entirely new chapter is unfolding in the Middle East."


A commentary in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" says the 16 March meeting in the Azores between the leaders of the U.S., Britain, and Spain left little room for optimism. The next day the door was slammed completely on diplomacy. The paper predicts, however, that those who have opposed U.S. President George W. Bush's logic of war, though they were ultimately unable to prevent it, will in the end decide the course of future events.

France, Russia, and those opposed to war are now "swallowing a bitter pill," says the paper. The real question, however, is whether this will be a lasting triumph for the United States or whether it will prove a fleeting victory.


Wolfgang Koydl, writing in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," says that whatever U.S. President George W. Bush might say, this outcome to the Iraq crisis is a defeat both for him and America as a whole. No matter how victorious the outcome of the war with Iraq, no matter the U.S. achievements in the renewal of Iraq after the war, the fact remains that the U.S. failed to win over the majority of its own allies to its position.

"The tragedy," says Koydl, "lies in the fact that President Bush is actually right to a considerable degree in his analysis of the situation, while the Europeans have aimed their resistance at a false target. He says a second tragedy is that the trans-Atlantic partnership's dealings have not been equitable. "Mutual trust is the fundamental requirement for good relations among people and nations," he says. "If America and Europe fail to succeed in reestablishing this trust, then, in the end, Saddam Hussein has won."


In "The Washington Times," "Policy Review" magazine editor Tod Lindberg says Serbia's late Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, who was shot and killed last week in Belgrade, emphasized the need for economic development and investment in the Balkans. He quotes Djindjic as saying: "Without money, there is only politics. And when there is only politics, there is hate."

Lindberg says Djindjic's statement was "a concise summary" of the way in which "civil society, including the marketplace, tempers the passions of politics." Lindberg says: "When people exchange goods for money in a properly functioning market, they are engaging in a transaction that is mutually beneficial. The importance of this goes beyond the economic. They in effect voluntarily treat each other as equals in that they share the same end of benefiting by working together in the transaction."

When this view is "[multiplied] across the whole of society, these transactions make for a social fabric of at least a formal equality, at least in relation to the transactions" in question. A true sense of equality may ensue, but at minimum, a zone is created that is free from political conflict.

Djindjic "made vast progress" in modernizing his country, "but Serbia's future remains an entirely unsettled question," says Lindberg. With his death, Djindjic "turns out to have been a martyr to the cause of a liberal, democratic Serbia, not the one who brought it into being."


An editorial in "The New York Times" today takes a look at the mysterious pneumonia-like illness that seems to have begun in China and is now spreading across the globe. The paper reports that as many as nine people may have died of the disease, which is believed to have affected 500 people. Symptoms include a high fever and breathing problems. Neither antibiotics nor antiviral medications have proved effective in treating the illness.

The current outbreak seems to have begun months ago in southern China, when 300 people seemed to be affected by an unusual form of pneumonia. But Chinese authorities failed to make quick contact with the World Health Organization, requesting aid only two weeks ago. The paper says such a delay "is not the way to be a good neighbor in an age when germs are only a jet flight away from any point on the globe."

But "one encouraging development" may be that the disease seems to be abating where it was first identified in China. Thus the disease may "burn out" elsewhere as well. Moreover, it seems to require close and prolonged contact with an infected person in order to spread. But the editorial says that "surveillance and prompt isolation of those infected will be needed" to ensure the disease does not mutate and continue to spread.

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