Accessibility links

Breaking News

Western Press Review: The War In Iraq And The Death Of U.S. Senator Patrick Moynihan

Prague, 27 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary on the war in Iraq turns increasingly today from the military clash to political and other side issues. In the United States, the death of intellectual and longtime U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan diverts the attention of some commentary from the war.


An editorial in "The New York Times" considers the possible outcomes of what the headline calls the "First Big Battle." The newspaper says: "Iraq's generals have grown smarter since the first Gulf War, when their fixed desert positions left them vulnerable to devastating bombardments. This time, the critical battles will be fought in the more populous Euphrates River Valley, where the Republican Guard has hidden tanks and guns near civilian targets, forcing American planes to destroy them one by one.

"Allied war planners hope to degrade the strength of Republican Guard divisions from the air before the ground battle begins. If one or more Republican Guard divisions can be routed quickly, the way to Baghdad may be opened. But if the battle becomes protracted and many civilians are harmed, Iraq's resistance may stiffen, dragging out the campaign and arousing world opinion."


Britain's "The Independent" editorializes that images of the dead and wounded in Iraq are correcting people's misconceptions about the nature of war. "Almost a generation has grown up in this country with experience only of victorious wars fought in incontrovertibly good causes and, crucially, with minimal casualties. The British interventions in former Yugoslavia, to keep the peace in Bosnia, and to protect Kosovar Albanians expelled by Slobodan Milosevic, were almost free of [allied] casualties. Strictly as a military and humanitarian operation, the intervention in Afghanistan was successful beyond all expectations."

The editorial concludes: "Those largely benevolent and successful uses of military force, encountered in mainly sanitized, tele-visual form, are the only acquaintance that some people now have with war. No wonder, perhaps, that military force, used judiciously, is now seen in some quarters as a force for good, and an appropriate tool of power. Whether or not the war in Iraq is, as U.S. and British commanders insist, going entirely 'according to plan,' the graphic images of death and destruction from Baghdad provide a salutary corrective."


In an editorial headlined "War Crimes," "The Washington Post" notes that "one or more U.S. missiles" might have struck a shopping area in Baghdad yesterday. The editorial says that, if this is true, "it would be one of the most tragic instances so far of civilian Iraqi casualties from allied fire."

But the editorial finds that most of the guilt for harm to the innocent falls on Saddam Hussein. It says, "Iraqis have endured far more injury from Saddam Hussein's forces -- and those blows have been deliberate."

The editorial says, "Until [Saddam's] goons are truly defeated, few [Iraqis] will dare speak out." It goes on: "It may be that many Iraqis will resent the presence of American and British troops; that remains to be seen. But the final spasms of brutality by the regime's criminal apparatus ought to reinforce one truth about this war -- the end of Saddam Hussein's rule will be a liberation."


Another commentary in "The Washington Post," this submitted by Harold Meyerson, editor of the U.S. magazine "American Prospect," takes a greatly different perspective. "In the history of the planet, ours is the only government to show its concern for human life through the precision of its bombs. That says a lot about our technological prowess. It also says a lot about the insensitivity of our statecraft."

He continues: "But for the bombs, everything else about this war could not be better calibrated to gravely damage America's standing, prestige and good name with the peoples of the world. Indeed, there's not a single nation, except Israel, whose people join the Americans in support of this war. In Eastern Europe, arguably the most pro-American region on the planet, the percentage of people opposing the war ranges from the mid-60s in the Czech Republic to the high 70s in Poland."

Meyerson concludes: "The United States has alienated a planet that has long looked to us as a force for decency in human affairs. In [U.S. President] George Bush's America, however, it's the bombs that show the human face of our nation, while our statecraft, to steal a line from W. B. Yeats, reveals a gaze as blank and pitiless as the sun."


Commentators in the German press discuss the Iraq war and its impact on NATO and European public opinion.

An editorial in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" examines Central and Eastern European response to the war. "Following the brief NATO membership of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary, NATO was engaged in the conflict in Kosovo in 1999. This time war has broken out just before the admittance of seven Eastern European countries. The war in Yugoslavia bound the alliance with a sense of relevance, whereas the war in Iraq strengthens the feeling of irrelevance. For countries like Romania, Slovakia and Lithuania, this comes as a shock since for years they had considered NATO as a haven of security and now find that this was an illusion."


Guenther Nonnenmacher comments in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" that both NATO and the European Union have been plunged into crisis. "The aim and purpose of these organizations are questioned. This is most apparent in NATO, where the common enemy has obliterated the former consensus, and since then NATO has failed to find a new point of agreement. Hence, doubts appear concerning the very existence of the organization."

Nonnenmacher goes on: "The Europeans, and this includes Great Britain, will only be taken seriously when they exert some influence, when they prove their worth in practical ways. It is an open question whether this is at all possible within the framework of the existing organizations. It will be impossible to rediscover NATO and the EU, but following this war much will have to reconsidered."


Martin van Creveld writes in a commentary in "Die Welt" that the predicted joy of the Iraqis at the arrival of foreign troops has failed to materialize. "As the war in Iraq enters its second week, several things are becoming clear in the fog of war. The most important factor perhaps is the recognition that unlike the confident prognoses of some Americans, Saddam Hussein's regime has not capitulated. The Iraqi forces have not surrendered in the thousands, and the POW camps the Americans established in neighboring Kuwait are empty. Likewise, the civilian population has not greeted the advancing Americans with open arms."


Two British commentaries take on the topic of Turkey's role.

"The Guardian's" John Hooper writes that the United States and Germany have discovered one small area of concurrence. "Whatever their other differences, Washington and Berlin are fully in agreement that Turkey has to be prevented from staging an incursion into the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq."

The commentator says that Germany has diplomatic firepower with Turkey to back up this view. "Last weekend, the government in Berlin said that if the Turks carried out their plans, it [Germany] would demand the return of the Patriot [missiles deployed to protect Turkey] and pull its crew members off the AWACS [surveillance planes]."

He writes: "Ankara's line is that they would be there [in northern Iraq] to preempt a flood of refugees into Turkey and stop guerrillas from the radical Kurdish PKK movement from mounting insurgency operations in the same direction. But whether the second of those missions can really be achieved without bringing Turkish troops into conflict with other Kurdish elements remains to be seen. The situation is still immensely sensitive."


"The Independent" editorializes: "Turkey sheepishly promised yesterday that it would not send troops into northern Iraq unless there is a refugee crisis or a major threat to Turkish security. Western leaders -- both pro- and anti-war -- would do well to use all possible influence to ensure that the Turks stick to this pledge."


A number of commentaries sound an alarm that concentration on the Iraq war is diverting needed world attention from other grave dangers. One of these, say two contributors to the "International Herald Tribune," is posed by North Korea.

Writers Alan D. Romberg and Michael D. Swaine are scholars with U.S.-based foreign affairs foundations. They comment: "While the world's attention is riveted on Iraq, the United States cannot afford to ignore another brewing crisis with potentially even greater consequences. The Bush administration's approach to North Korea is quickly moving from the inexplicable to the irresponsible. If it continues on the current course, America could soon find itself confronted with the unpalatable choice between a nuclear-armed North Korea and war."


In "The Boston Globe," columnist Robert Kuttner writes: "The war in Iraq might not be going quite as smoothly as the Bush administration hoped, but the war at home is going just swimmingly." Kuttner says that the Republican president and the Republican House of Representatives have pushed through immense tax cuts just as the Iraq war is demanding immense unbudgeted expenditures.

The writer says the forthcoming budget is cutting programs for war veterans while opening up new tax loopholes for corporations and wealthy investors.

He writes: "One final issue lost in the fog of war is the effort by tax reformers to close the loophole that allows unpatriotic U.S. companies to move to offshore tax havens. The IRS puts the cost to the U.S. Treasury at around $70 billion a year -- about the cost of the Iraq war. It's an instructive contrast -- ordinary American soldiers slogging through the sand of Iraq while Bush's corporate cronies relax on a sandy tax-free beach."


Far from the topic of war and Iraq, "The New York Times" in an editorial eulogizes former U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who died yesterday at the age of 76. "The public man hailed in one decade as a pioneer neo-con intellectual would serve in the next as the fierce centrist counterpuncher warning of the social havoc implicit in the Reagan era's budget policies.

"In his later years, Mr. Moynihan was proud to have been summarized as 'independent to the bone.' He demonstrated that in not letting his personal affection for Bill and Hillary Clinton get in the way of his opposition to their doomed health care proposal.

"Some liberals never forgave Mr. Moynihan for his years as an adviser to President Richard Nixon, when he argued that welfare encouraged family breakups and advised that the race issue be treated with 'benign neglect.' But he was never, in any context, a simple man. While assailing welfare, he was attempting to get support for a plan that would provide a guaranteed income to all poor families."


An editorial in "The Washington Post" says of Moynihan: "His thinking in the 1960s on welfare, family and race played a major role in the long-running debate about the country's programs of assistance to the poor. He was credited by many -- and reviled by some -- as a primary creator of the movement to reform the welfare system. He was accused of blaming the poor, when in fact he merely understood early on what is now widely acknowledged: the importance of coherent families.

"In any event, by the time major changes in welfare were approaching, he was against them: He thought the legislation would harm poor people. That was a characteristic Moynihan moment -- an example of his refusal to try to shape reality as he saw it into the mold of some abstract theory or doctrine."


Columnist George F. Will writes in "The Washington Post": "Many of America's largest public careers have been those of presidents. Many, but by no means all. Chief Justice John Marshall was more consequential than all but two presidents -- Washington and Lincoln. Among 20th-century public servants, General George Marshall -- whose many achievements included discerning the talents of a Colonel [Dwight] Eisenhower -- may have been second in importance only to Franklin Roosevelt. And no 20th-century public career was as many-faceted, and involved so much prescience about as many matters, as that of Daniel Patrick Moynihan."

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