Prague, 9 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- We begin today's RFE/RL review of the Western press with a discussion of the ongoing search for Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction. U.S.-led forces have found circumstantial evidence of unconventional weapons -- such as chemical-weapons antidotes, protection suits, training manuals, and some suspicious chemicals -- but to date no actual weapons have been discovered. These and other issues relating to the war in Iraq remain a major topic of debate throughout the Western press. Also addressed today are some of the lingering problems in Afghanistan, Cuba's current crackdown on political dissidents, and EU expansion.
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
An editorial in "The New York Times" today observes that as U.S.-British forces seize control of more Iraqi territory each day, one of the "great questions" that remains is whether Iraqi President Saddam Hussein really has the weapons of mass destruction "that were cited as the prime reason for launching the invasion." The paper says most Western analysts believe Baghdad has "at least some chemical and biological arms." Otherwise, the Iraqi leadership "could have headed off the invasion by showing that he had destroyed his previously known chemical and biological stocks." Yet if Iraq does have unconventional weapons, "Mr. Hussein has shown remarkable restraint by not using them."
Perhaps U.S. threats to prosecute Iraqi commanders who used unconventional weapons helped deter their use, the editorial says. But it is also possible Iraq "simply has far fewer horror weapons than many have suspected." Some analysts now suggest that Hussein kept only small amounts of banned weapons materials because he knew Iraq's research and manufacturing capacity "could be geared up after the United Nations' scrutiny eased off."
Thus far, "The New York Times" says, the evidence of unconventional weapons "has been mostly small-scale and circumstantial. No actual chemical weapons have been clearly identified yet, and there is no conclusive proof that any suspicious chemicals are warfare agents and not pesticides."
The paper says that solving the mystery of Iraq's alleged unconventional-weapons stocks "requires urgent, neutral investigation" by the United Nations or experts from neutral nations, once a "sustained search" is possible.
An editorial in the "Chicago Tribune" warns against the possibilities for weapons proliferation during or immediately following the war in Iraq. Thus far, U.S.-led forces in Iraq have found "circumstantial evidence of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. Gas masks, protective suits, caches of antidotes to chemical weapons -- just about everything except the weapons themselves." A recent discovery of metal drums containing possible chemical weapons is now being tested.
But "the dangers of Hussein will not instantly evaporate when he is killed or captured," the paper warns. "As his government disintegrates, the stores of nerve agents and vicious toxins will be in the custody of military officers no longer answering to anyone. And those officers, motivated by greed or hatred of the United States, could sell or give them to terrorist groups."
The Chicago daily says the first mission of U.S.-led forces is to defeat Iraqi forces, "but a close second should be finding these weapons before they fall into the hands of our worst enemies." The paper cites U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz as saying on 6 April that U.S.-British troops are focusing on other priorities at the moment, and that for now, the search for unconventional weapons is "incidental." But "it should be much more than that," says the paper. The U.S. administration cannot be content to defeat the Iraqi Army and the current regime, and only then begin looking for weapons of mass destruction -- "because by then, many of them may be gone."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE:
Writing in the "International Herald Tribune," Mohammad Tarbush, the author of a book on Iraqi history, says the United States and Britain had a perfect opportunity "to demonstrate their care for the well-being of the Arab people. They could have forced Israel to implement long-outstanding UN Security Council resolutions calling for its withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza, and helped the Palestinians build a modern democratic state." Then, he says, "people all over the Arab world, and beyond, would by now have been bestowing their benediction on President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain."
Instead, U.S. and British leaders are saying "that it is their war on Iraq that will herald the arrival of freedom and democracy in the Middle East." But Britain "has experience of trying to bring democracy to Iraq," and "its record is hardly encouraging," says Tarbush.
For centuries, he says, Iraq was divided among competing clans, and religious and ethnic groups. A 1920 popular uprising against Britain was defeated by British forces. After the revolt, Britain set out "to create an Iraqi state, partly in response to the demands of [Iraqi] nationalists, mainly to cement its own interests in the region."
Tarbush says the blueprint for the new Iraqi state "resembled any Western democratic state of that time," including "a constitution, a cabinet, a parliament, [free] elections and [a] number of newspapers and periodicals." However, he says, the model never brought Iraq the reality of "a viable democratic state."
The European Parliament in Strasbourg was due to vote on 9 April on EU expansion, which Daniel Broessler, writing in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," says is not just another stage in the EU's development but a "highlight," as the union's 15 member states are expected to embrace 10 new countries in the biggest enlargement the bloc has ever seen. The landmark decision opens the door for eight former communist states -- the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia -- to enter the Brussels-based club on 1 May 2004 along with the Mediterranean island states of Cyprus and Malta.
The war in Iraq has brought about an element of "disunity" within the EU, but Broessler says "a union in Europe does not mean unanimity on all issues." Expansion will not lead to immediate European unification, but the beginning of a concord. However, if the above 10 countries are not accepted, "then that will mean the beginning of disunity."
The success of this experiment will depend on how the EU deals with its differences. Central and East Europeans should indeed be made welcome, he says. But at the same time, they should not be under the impression that they have reached their final goal and it is time to relax. The Strasbourg parliamentarians must make this clear to their new colleagues, says Broessler.
NEUE ZUERCHER ZEITUNG:
A commentary in the "Neue Zuercher Zeitung" condemns the arrest of 78 Cuban dissidents since 18 March in what is the worst repression in decades of the opponents of President Fidel Castro. Sentences were handed down in nonpublic trials ranging from 12 to 28 years in prison.
The commentary recalls the heyday of Castro's popularity, when he was considered a revolutionary romantic hero, speaking on behalf of neo-liberalists, opposing the embargoes of the United States -- the "North American Goliath" -- and condemning globalization. But in the meantime the world has changed, the Swiss paper says. Castro has grown old and "his days are numbered, both physically and politically."
Cuban socialism, too, is seen as a "fading model, as a curiosity from another age." Yet Castro refuses to face this reality, says the editorial. Numerous attempts to move the dictator to change his ways have failed. The man who has held office as a statesman for longer than anyone in the world does not seem inclined to give up the reins of power as long as he lives.
THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR:
An editorial in "The Christian Science Monitor" says the "situation in Baghdad is deteriorating as the regime collapses." U.S.-British forces now "face the challenge of preventing or halting revenge killings, looting, and other criminal acts. They need to move quickly to switch from fighting to policing streets and setting up a temporary system of justice."
The paper says, "Although they are loath to do so, coalition forces must establish martial law in the short term if they are to stabilize the situation. [Without] law and order, aid organizations cannot deliver relief supplies to hungry and sick people. People cannot lead normal lives. Democracy cannot take root."
The paper suggests an "international civilian police force may be needed to help keep order until the creation of a functioning Iraqi force that its citizenry can trust. International jurists should also be brought in to train qualified Iraqi lawyers as quickly as possible to act as judges. United Nations experience in setting up judicial systems can be helpful here," it says. But "[all] ethnic and religious groups must be represented in both the police and judiciary," both regionally and nationally.
The paper says war crimes trials should not take place in foreign courts, nor should they wait for new Iraqi courts to be established. Instead, an international court such as that set up for the former Yugoslavia "should be quickly created to cover war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Iraq, during the Iran-Iraq war, and in Kuwait."
THE WASHINGTON TIMES:
Writing in "The Washington Times," columnist Cal Thomas says the disintegration of Hussein's regime in Baghdad offers an opportunity "to open a window of freedom and prosperity in Iraq. But the window will not be open long before political and religious opportunists try to close it."
For a new Iraq to rise from the remains of the former regime, three major institutions must be reformed. "The first is the media," writes Thomas. The Iraqi media must be replaced "with a balanced and accurate news and information [service]. For three decades, Saddam Hussein has presented to Iraqis a litany of lies. This must change or whatever else that might be done in Iraq will count for little."
The second major change must take place in the Iraqi education system. Thomas suggests "a Peace Corps-like army of teachers from many national and religious backgrounds" may be needed, but this "must be done if the next generation of children is to have something to live for."
A third alteration must be made to the religious system. More radical elements of Muslim clergy "believe in the forceful obliteration and domination of those with whom they might disagree theologically or politically," he says. Iraq's Muslim moderates must be encouraged "to reshape the theology and world view of Iraqis."
Thomas says the "transformation of Iraq may be a greater task than the war of liberation. But the effort must be made."
THE WASHINGTON POST:
Ann editorial in "The Washington Post" says a "complacent Washington" seems to be satisfied that Afghanistan is better off than it was under the Taliban regime and before U.S. intervention. But the paper says regional experts are worried "about a steady unraveling."
Outside Kabul, "warlords and bandits rule the country," battling each other and robbing citizens. "At the borders, aid shipments [are often] diverted to the warlords, depriving the central government of resources and revenue. [In] some places, the Taliban's extreme practices, including the persecution of women, have been reimposed."
The paper says: "All of these phenomena have flourished in a vacuum knowingly created by the [U.S. President George W.] Bush administration, which refused to support the deployment of peacekeeping forces outside Kabul. Rather than disarm and disable the warlords, U.S. commanders continue to depend on them and even to finance some of them." This makes it "impossible to end the lawlessness in the countryside or extend the authority of [Afghan Transitional Authority President Hamid] Karzai's government."
The paper says now that the U.S. administration's attention is focused on Iraq, the White House "appears to be virtually ignoring Afghanistan's slow deterioration -- its former point man on the subject, Zalmay Khalilzad, has spent the past few months [instead] brokering deals with Iraqi exiles and Turkey. Yet only the Bush administration has the ability to reverse the country's negative momentum."
A "Le Monde" editorial today says the U.S.-led war in Iraq is largely a "demonstrative" conflict, a message of deterrence sent around the world with the 24-hour media coverage of the United States' "incomparable" military strength. With rapid ground incursions into enemy territory and less insistent reliance of air power, the U.S. has put to rest any suspicions that they were unwilling to incur casualties among their troops.
But this war is not only about Iraq, the paper says. It serves as a warning to other countries of the region thinking of developing weapons of mass destruction or of harboring terrorist groups. When U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld denounces Syria and Iran, as he has recently, he is indicating a possible focus for future U.S. attention. Both Damascus and Tehran are alleged to have weapons of mass destruction and support groups such as Lebanon's Hezbollah.
"Syria was the only Arab country to say loud and clear that it hoped for an American defeat in Iraq," notes "Le Monde." Iran has been "more ambivalent," supporting an end to archrival Saddam Hussein but also afraid of a U.S. military presence on its borders.
None of this means the United States is going to lead an ongoing campaign of preventive wars in Syria and Iran, says the paper. But it asks, what if the "demonstrative" war in Iraq has the opposite effect, prompting rogue states to amass unconventional weapons in order to avoid Iraq's fate?
(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)