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Western Press Review: The Debate Over Postwar Iraq

Prague, 9 May 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Many Western commentators turn their attentions today to the aftermath of the war in Iraq.


Britain's "Independent" suggests -- cautiously -- that the U.S. government's celebration of military triumph in Iraq may be generating good sense in the United States and good news for the world. The newspaper says in an editorial:

"Is it possible that there could be some kind of peace dividend from the fracturing of the world over the war in Iraq? This may seem naively optimistic 18 months after America's declaration of a 'war against terrorism' directed so counterproductively at such arbitrary targets."

The editorial says: "There have been several signs that the [U.S. administration of President George W. Bush] is moving more constructively to try to deal with the causes of terrorism by healing regional conflicts. In Israel-Palestine, Korea, Ireland, Zimbabwe, and now Kashmir, the [United States] has engaged in quiet, even-handed diplomacy."

The newspaper concludes: "It may be optimistic to suppose that the [United States], having expunged the long-term irritant of Saddam [Hussein], might turn its power in a sustained way to resolving regional conflicts around the world. But, given that the alternative is a corrosive and self-fulfilling cynicism, let us try to be optimistic."


The "International Herald Tribune" editorializes that the early days of U.S. occupation in Iraq have been flawed and that the new U.S. administrator must act decisively.

The "IHT" says: "It is too soon for definitive judgments. But it is not too early to say that the first few weeks of U.S. occupation under the leadership of Jay Garner, a retired army lieutenant general, have left a great deal to be desired. For most Iraqis, relief over the end of more than 30 years of harsh Ba'athist dictatorship still seems the dominant emotion. But unless Washington's newly reinforced team, under Paul Bremer, quickly turns things around, goodwill could rapidly turn sour."

The editorial says: "Like it or not, the United States is now the legally responsible occupying power in Iraq. As such, it is required to protect the security, health, and basic well-being of the Iraqi people. Bremer must move swiftly to honor that obligation."


In London, "The Times" laments editorially the cost to Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar of his country's support for the United States' Iraq policy. "The Times" comments: "Aznar is a casualty of war."

The newspaper goes on: "Of all the Western leaders who gave firm backing to President Bush's decision to go to war with Iraq, Jose Maria Aznar has paid the highest price. His stance was deeply unpopular before the war began; but, despite the coalition victory, there has been for him -- unlike [for] other coalition leaders -- no Baghdad bounce, only Baghdad bruises. Spaniards are still overwhelmingly opposed to the role their country played, and are set to punish the prime minister at the ballot box."

"The Times" says: "Yesterday President Bush made clear that he will continue to work closely with a 'man of principle' -- he was not referring to Gerhard Schroeder -- who came to America's defense when the chips were down. But his praise for Spain's offer to make its air bases available and dispatch of medical and engineering units to Iraq is likely to cut little ice with Spanish voters."

The editorial concludes: "Senor Aznar has already announced that he will not stand for another term. Before the Iraqi venture it seemed as if he might be recruited as either the next president of the European Commission or as the first president of the European Council, if such a post emerges from the current constitutional convention. That seems, for the moment, unlikely. It would be unfortunate if his talents did not find another outlet."


Focusing on another U.S. ally in Europe, "The Wall Street Journal Europe" praises Poland for its backing of the U.S. actions in Iraq. The newspaper editorializes: "Modern Poland came of age this spring. Polish troops fought alongside the allies in Iraq, and Warsaw this week agreed to head up peacekeeping operations in northern Iraq, with Britain and the [United States] taking over the two other zones."

The editorial continues: "The reactions in Berlin, Brussels, and Paris speak far more eloquently to the tectonic shift under way in Europe after Iraq. Their leaders were stunned into silence before hurling insults when the high-profile Polish role in Iraq came to light. Their diplomats grumbled that the Poles were vassals to the U.S., 'bad Europeans,' willing to take European Union subsidies and undermine efforts to build a common European foreign policy."

The newspaper says: "Lacking any other arguments, France and Germany appeal to a new form of Euro-chauvinism -- the advocates of a vital trans-Atlantic link (such as Tony Blair or Jose Maria Aznar) are traitors who've made the wrong choice."

It continues: "Now isn't the time for insults. Poland offers Europe an opportunity. The Poles are genuinely worried about the position of Germany and France and want to help mediate between them and America. Today's summit between the Polish, French, and German leaders in Wroclaw can take a first step. A second could come when President George W. Bush visits Krakow in late May."

And the "Journal" asks: "So who's the 'bad' European here?"


Oksana Antonenko comments today in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" that Russia's continuing objections to lifting sanctions in Iraq could precipitate an international crisis. Antonenko is a senior fellow at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.

The commentator writes: "Russia's current opposition to the lifting of UN sanctions against Iraq threatens to isolate Moscow on the world stage and provoke a major crisis in U.S.-Russian relations." He continues: "Russia continues to insist that sanctions be lifted only after UN inspectors have certified that Iraq is [free of weapons of mass destruction]. This puts Russia on a collision course with the [United States] and undermines its so-far carefully managed policy of strategic ambiguity on Iraq."

The writer says: "Mr. Putin [now has] made it clear that Russia will not work to make it any easier for the coalition to bring stability and security to Iraq. Not only has Mr. Putin refused to lift sanctions or provide economic relief to Iraq by replacing the oil-for-food program, he has also refused to recognize the legitimacy of any interim U.S.-run government in Iraq."

Antonenko argues: "The danger for Moscow now is that the longer trans-Atlantic divisions continue, the more marginalized Russia's role will become. Rather than sniping at Washington and London, Russia needs to consolidate its position as a trans-Atlantic consensus broker, working alongside the U.K., and thus help to bring the U.S. back to the UN table. Mr. Putin needs to adopt a more proactive policy built around common interests."


A fellow at the Center for the New Europe in Brussels, Stephen Pollard, comments in "The Times" that in seeking to keep Iraq sanctions in place, France and Russia have progressed from the mistaken to the shameful. He calls them the "axis of weasels."

Pollard writes: "Let's simply point out that the behavior of the Russian and French presidents, and their lapdog foreign ministers, is truly nauseating -- a fit of pique translated into foreign policy, which will cause real and lasting damage to the prospects of Iraqis and to the chances of a free, stable, democratic Iraq.

"The arguments against the war may have been wrong. They may have been misguided. They may have been proved wide of the mark by events. But they were -- some of them -- respectable. There are no arguments, respectable or otherwise, against the lifting of sanctions. There is only the truly shameful, hypocritical, self-centered spectacle of the axis of weasels wanting to punish the Iraqi people for the failure of their [own] foreign policies."


"The Boston Globe" devotes space to a commentary -- under the headline "Terror Tag Never Fit Iran's Mujahideen" -- by Mohammad Mohadesin, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, a coalition of Iranian democratic forces committed to a secular government in Iran.

He writes: "The recent cease-fire agreement between the U.S.-coalition forces and the People's Mujahideen, the principal opposition movement to Iran's fundamentalist regime, has aroused debate in Washington. With much commotion, the mullahs' supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, other leading clerics, and their vociferous lobby in Washington are questioning the wisdom of the United States signing a cease-fire with the Mujahideen."

Mohadesin says: "The critics are essentially those who, in a futile search for a moderate mullah, prescribe appeasement of a regime that was declared as being part of the 'axis of evil' by President Bush and described in the State Department's report 'Patterns of Global Terrorism' as the 'leading state sponsor of terrorism' in the world today."

The writer goes on: "The lesson to be learned from recent developments is that the United States must take Tehran's threats against the region and Iraq seriously. Policy makers must break out of the box dictated by appeasement and, as U.S. lawmakers have reiterated, take the side of millions of Iranians and their resistance for freedom and democracy. Without doubt, a democratic, secular Iran offers the best strategic guarantee to promote democracy and stability in the region and Iraq."


Writing in the current (May-June) edition of the U.S. journal "Foreign Affairs," political scientists Adeed and Karen Dawisha contend that a democratic Iraq can best be achieved by a federal system based on the country's 18 existing administrative divisions. An effective democratic-federal organization, they write, will create its own training ground in self-government -- not only for Iraq but also for the Arab world.

The writers say: "The blueprint for Iraq's democracy must reflect the unique features of Iraqi society. Once the system is in place, its benefits will quickly become evident to Iraq's various communities; if it brings economic prosperity -- hardly unlikely given the country's wealth -- the postwar structure will gradually, yet surely, acquire legitimacy. As is shown by the Eastern European example, where ex-communist dictatorships have lined up to join NATO and the European Union, putting in place democratic political institutions that function properly, meet the particular needs of a given society, and deliver the goods can rather quickly produce 'habituation' -- that is, inculcate democratic habits in the population that become well entrenched and resilient."

The essay says: "A democratic federal system would turn Iraq into the standard against which other Arab governments are judged."


In "The New York Times," political scientist Ian Baruma, a professor at New York state's Bard College and a student of the post-World War II development of Japan's democratic government, says criminals within the former regime's Ba'ath Party must be identified and punished or purged. Baruma writes: "Some form of de-Ba'athification is clearly needed. Democracy depends on public trust; how can one talk of trust in the rule of law if it is administered by former torturers?"

The difficulty, the writer says, lies in determining how. He writes: "In Iraq, Arabs will not take kindly to being judged by Kurds, or Sunnis by Shi'ites. So who can 'master the past' after Saddam Hussein?

"Surely not America. No matter how grateful Iraqis may be to the Marines for their liberation, the Americans have neither sufficient knowledge nor the authority to clean the ranks of Ba'athists.

"This leaves some kind of international effort. It would have to include Kurds as well as Arabs, and ideally should take place in Iraq, where witnesses can be easily summoned. Since neither the United States nor any new Iraqi government would engender the trust to do the job, and the International Criminal Court is not set up to deal with domestic purges, it would have to be an ad hoc institution established under the auspices of that much-abused, highly unpopular, often ineffective, sometimes mendacious but occasionally extremely useful organization: the United Nations."

Baruma concludes: "Not ideal, perhaps, but faute de mieux -- that is, lacking a better alternative -- is the best reason for having the United Nations in the first place."


Commentator Stefan Ulrich, writing in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," discusses the U.S. role in rebuilding Iraq and the dilemma faced by the Security Council if it gives the United States a free hand in lifting UN sanctions against Iraq.

The writer says: "One must grant that the U.S. administration has a clear idea about post-war Iraq as elsewhere: France should repent; Germany and Turkey must apologize, and the United Nations can help a little, but otherwise keep quiet.

"Underlying these expectations, there is the conviction of those surrounding President George W. Bush that the military victory gives them every right to act. The U.S. self-confidence demands that the Security Council immediately lift Iraqi sanctions and give the [United States] a free hand in rebuilding Iraq."

Ulrich writes: "This raises a dilemma for those who opposed the war in Iraq: On the one hand they must necessarily wish the [United States] well in its ventures -- for the sake of the Iraqis and the Middle East as a whole. On the other hand, they are aware a U.S. success will only augment the hubris in the White House and will confirm that the next conflict can again be settled without the UN and override peoples' will."

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