Cheney's impossible task.

Cheney's impossible task.

Cheney's impossible task.

What the foreign papers are saying.
March 13 2002 3:36 PM

Saddam, Again

Vice President Dick Cheney's 10-day tour of the Middle East has the papers convinced (again) that the U.S. administration is determined to strike against Iraq. The Times of London said Cheney's attempts to win Arab support for military action against Baghdad "will be greeted … by a solid wall of resistance in the nine Arab capitals he visits." Even moderate Arab leaders, such as King Abdullah of Jordan and King Muhammad of Morocco, are unequivocally opposed to war with Iraq. Saddam has changed tactics since the Gulf War, where his intransigency alienated the Arab world. In recent months, his $25,000 payments to each Palestinian family that loses a "martyr" have increased his popularity. Also, as the Independent's Robert Fisk pointed out in an op-ed, "Privately, pro-western leaders in the Arab world have grave concerns about the Bush theory of 'regime change.' For if Iraqis were helped to overthrow their dictatorial government, what if Egyptian or Saudi citizens also decided on a little 'regime change' of their own?"

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British Prime Minister Tony Blair  said Monday that the threat from Saddam is "not in doubt at all," but elsewhere there is little international support for war with Iraq. A Guardian op-ed said the U.S. administration has "broken every rule in the playbook" from Gulf War I: "That campaign had a clear, unarguable provocation and justification: the invasion of Kuwait. There is no such cause here, only the fear of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons—a fear that's been lurking for years and not gained any special urgency now." Britain's Daily Mirror called Saddam Hussein "mad"; a "bar-room brawler, he sneers at President Bush the equivalent of: 'Come on, big boy, let's see how tough you are.' Saddam believes he cannot lose. He will either force the US to back down or suffer such terrible destruction of his country that Arab sympathy will be with him." Hong Kong's South China Morning Post recommended jaw-jaw rather than war-war:

[T]he war against terrorism is unlikely to achieve its goals through military conflict. The longevity of Iraq's President Saddam Hussein, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and Cuba's Fidel Castro are proof of that. Instead of threatening and snubbing its rivals or calling on other nations to justify its use of military force against them, the Bush administration must listen to world opinion. It must practise what it preaches and turn to the accepted conflict-resolving strategies of diplomacy and dialogue instead of military muscle.

The Financial Times focused on the practical difficulties of bringing down Saddam. "Policy experts" claimed that a ground operation would involve at least 200,000 troops, bringing the risk of extensive losses on both sides. Also, there is no obvious candidate to replace Saddam. Iraq's Kurdish and Shiite opposition movements are too weak to mimic the Northern Alliance's role in the Afghan war against the Taliban; what's more, the 400,000-strong Iraqi army is well-equipped and well-trained. The second option of a U.S.-encouraged army coup is also unlikely to succeed. A Western diplomat told the paper, "Saddam rules very effectively by fear, which means that until people in the military or the party see a movement that is absolutely guaranteed to succeed, they will not turn against him." The Guardian reported Wednesday that the United States "is orchestrating secret contacts between Iraqi opposition factions with the aim of finding agreement on a new leader to replace Saddam Hussein. A grand opposition conference has been provisionally scheduled for May, and it is hoped to hold it in Bonn, symbolically echoing the Bonn meeting that set up the Afghan interim government."

June Thomas is managing producer of Slate podcasts.