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Western Press Review: Seeking A Multilateral Force To Rebuild Iraq, Creating 'Islamic Democracy' In Iran

Prague, 18 July 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Among the topics discussed in major Western dailies today are building a more multilateral force for reconstructing Iraq; British Prime Minister Tony Blair's address to the U.S. Congress yesterday; developing a liberal, Islamic democracy in Iran; and welcoming Albania back into the European fold.


Columnist Martin Woollacott of Britain's "The Guardian" says the U.S. administration is now actively seeking international help in rebuilding Iraq but is hampered by its unwillingness "to pay any serious political price for it." He says the United States is "in danger of moving from a unilateralism it freely chose to an isolation it neither desired nor expected." As the financial costs and logistical difficulties of reconstructing Iraq become more clear, "it looks as if America is going to be left to bear the burden without the major aid from its friends and allies, other than Britain, that it now desperately wants."

Woollacott says there are only about a dozen armies in the world that can provide "the military heavy-lifting" now required in Iraq. And already, India, Russia, Germany, and France have made it clear they are unwilling to contribute troops unless a clear UN mandate exists.

Moreover, a decision by Washington to expand the role of the UN in Iraq would not automatically bring in needed international aid. The EU and other world powers may remain reluctant to finance a project that would essentially remain a U.S.-dominated effort. A new UN mandate would presumably seek to increase international military and financial contributions, Woollacott says. But the "fine line" between increasing UN involvement to a point still acceptable to the U.S. and giving the world body enough of a role to reassure any nations that might balk at the prospect of merely financing an American adventure "will be a difficult one to tread."


An editorial in the "Chicago Tribune" says many within the United States are now questioning Washington's "go-it-alone strategy" for rebuilding Iraq. The paper says it is clear U.S. leaders "want to retain complete control over the rebuilding of Iraq, essentially stiff-arming the UN and other nations into a minor role." But this view is "not realistic. Right now, the need for international help far outweighs the administration's apparent desire to micromanage the rebuilding of Iraq." And "[the] only way to gain that help is to allow the UN to play a larger role in the rebuilding."

Several nations are unwilling to help unless as part of a UN-sanctioned force, the paper notes. And international forces are needed now, not only to relieve U.S. troops but to establish security. Moreover, it is "important that the occupying force take on an international mien [to] show that the world is united in its quest to help reconstruct Iraq."

The Chicago daily says the military campaign's objectives have now shifted. Today, the war is about "persuading Iraqis to embrace freedom, democracy and open markets. It's about convincing them that their ethnically splintered country can be ruled by a representative government better than by a brutal dictator. It's about getting the power and water turned on everywhere, all the time."


British Prime Minister Tony Blair's speech to the U.S. Congress yesterday was the first time a British premier addressed that body in nearly 20 years. But Britain's daily "The Independent" says Blair squandered that opportunity by not being more forceful. "To be fair," it says, Blair "pressed the cause of the road map to an Israeli-Palestinian settlement on an audience that is reluctant to put meaningful pressure on the state of Israel. But he should have been much blunter about the big picture."

For example, the paper says, Blair "could have used this chance to challenge American exceptionalism," to point out the inherent contradiction between some professed American values and its behavior around the world. "Your nation stands for fine values, he could have said, but it shies away from applying them consistently when it is frightened."

Moreover, having been Washington's staunch ally throughout the controversy surrounding the Iraq war, Blair "was uniquely qualified to point out the dangers for the U.S. of refusing to share responsibility for the postwar reconstruction." "The Independent" says Blair "does not like telling powerful leaders or admiring audiences what they do not want to hear." And that "can be a strength." But "last night it was a weakness."


A contribution by former U.S. Ambassador to Romania David Funderburk says Albania's progress in the last several years should earn it more help from its European neighbors. "In its decade of freedom, Albania has struggled domestically in the face of pyramid schemes, organized crime, money laundering, and corruption," Funderburk writes. "Through all this, progress has been made in the development of a multiparty political system, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and law and order."

And yet, "[despite] its progress, Albania remains poor and in need of outside investment. As in many other Eastern European countries, large numbers of young people are seeking job opportunities and education abroad." The government "has sought closer ties with the West in part to improve economic conditions in the country." Tirana's recent support for U.S. policy in Iraq and offers to provide bases for U.S. troops are just two such examples.

But Funderburk says while in many ways Albania leans toward Washington, "ultimately it thinks of itself as, above all, part of Europe." Although Albania has not yet been offered EU membership, "it is currently negotiating with the EU various agreements and membership in the EU remains a primary objective. This may just be the time for Europe to lend a hand and welcome Albania 'back' into the fold."


An editorial in the French daily says 100 days after the fall of Baghdad, Anglo-American troops are still facing guerilla warfare that is threatening the reconstruction process in Iraq. The continuing violence is undermining the optimism that surrounded the 13 July creation of an Iraqi Governing Council. This 25-member governmental body, composed of representatives from many of Iraq's religious and ethnic groups, is the first post-Saddam Hussein administration in the country. The council now has one year in which to outline a constitution and organize free elections. Once that is done, the work of the Anglo-American coalition will be over, says Paul Bremer, the chief U.S. administrator in Iraq.

The Iraqi council has said it will now focus on a few main priorities: in the short term, boost the economy and cooperate with the coalition in restoring security; in the medium term, focus on the constitution and holding elections.

But the paper goes on to question what the role in Iraq will be for the UN and the international community. To date, the U.S. and Britain have assumed almost full responsibility. But persistent difficulties are making it clear the international community will have to be involved. "Le Monde" predicts that the UN's role will be significantly expanded in the coming months. The paper says among the other benefits of increased multilateral involvement, Iraq's new Governing Council needs the international recognition.


In a commentary in "The New York Times," Reza Aslan of the University of Iowa says U.S. leaders have mistakenly interpreted recent pro-reform demonstrations in Iran "as a conflict between Islamic theocracy [and] Western secular democracy." But Iran's "academics, reformist theologians and liberal clerics" have for two decades "been struggling to redefine traditional Islamic political philosophy in order to bring it in line with modern concepts of representative government, popular sovereignty, universal suffrage and religious pluralism. What these Iranians have been working toward is 'Islamic democracy': that is, a liberal, democratic society founded on an Islamic moral framework."

Many of Iran's reformists want a "religious democracy." While this "may seem like an oxymoron to most Americans, it is in no way a new paradigm: the Jewish version of this ideal currently exists in Israel." But religious democracy has not been allowed to develop in the Mideast "partly because of religious fanaticism, but mostly because of the West's overwhelming fear of Islamic government." This fear has led the West to support "antidemocratic regimes" in the region and recently to call off elections for Iraq's Governing Council in favor of appointing it.

But Aslan says: "The only way to promote lasting democratic reform in the Middle East is to encourage it to develop according to its own indigenous culture and its own religious identity. That is precisely what reformists are trying to do in Iran, and rather than being feared or isolated, they should be supported."


An item in the London-based weekly "The Economist" takes a retrospective look at the case for war in Iraq and says in spite of the inability to find weapons of mass destruction, military operations were justified. The case for war can be divided into three considerations: First, were there "good grounds" to threaten Saddam Hussein with military action if he did not comply with UN resolutions? Second, was his noncompliance sufficient to warrant carrying out the threat? And third, in the postwar period, have Anglo-American allies worked "to make things better both in Iraq and in the region as a whole?"

Saddam Hussein "himself provided the answer to the first question," the magazine says. Clearly, he did not comply with UN inspections. So was it right to carry out the threat of military action, given his noncompliance? "Those in favor of carrying out the threat, including 'The Economist,' thought that to wait was too risky."

None of this has been called into doubt since the war. Hussein "had a clear record of developing these weapons, using them and concealing them. There can also be no doubt both that he was a brutal, ruthless dictator who murdered hundreds of thousands of his own citizens and that he harbored ambitions to dominate his region."

But will the Anglo-American allies make the region a better place? It is "far too soon to come to a judgment about this," "The Economist" says. But "so far the picture is mixed but on balance moderately encouraging."