Saddam Hussein, master tactician.

Saddam Hussein, master tactician.

Saddam Hussein, master tactician.

What the foreign papers are saying.
Sept. 19 2002 11:08 AM

Saddam You!

Among the newspapers recommending acceptance of Saddam Hussein's offer to readmit U.N. weapons inspectors into Iraq was Britain's Independent, where an editorial credited Saddam with "typical tactical shrewdness in buying the extra time and avoiding the immediate threat of war," but recommended that Americans "should, against their better instincts, take the offer at face value, and reserve their position, so that America keeps the moral high ground and widest possible support for any eventual military intervention." The Daily Mirror said, "With one little letter [Saddam] has thrown the United States into turmoil and confusion," but "Danger Man Bush must back off now." The Jordan Times felt the Iraqi leadership "made a wise and timely decision" to accept inspectors. It added: "Iraq cannot be punished for crimes that some in the US believe it will commit or for pledges that some believe it will break. … At this stage, peace-loving nations can only take Iraq's commitment to allow UN inspectors back at face value." Le Monde of Paris agreed with the French foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, that "we must take Saddam Hussein at his word. ... It's the least that public opinion—in the Arab World, in Europe, in the United States—has the right to require before the new war is unleashed, with the thousands of "collateral" deaths it will bring the Iraqi people."

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Several papers from Arab states saw Iraq's turnaround as a smart tactical stroke: Tishrin of Syria said Baghdad had "succeeded in cutting off the U.S. hotheads who are planning to sink the region in blood and destruction," while Jordan's Al Dustur congratulated Iraq for depriving the United States "of a justification for a military attack." (Arabic translations from Tishrin and Al Dustur courtesy of BBC Monitoring.)

Lebanon's Daily Star urged the Iraqi regime "to restore their credibility—and so their people's hopes for a return to normalcy—by doing everything they can to be cooperative with the United Nations." Elsewhere, the Daily Star dissed Arab regimes who "frequently pay lip service to both a fraudulent solidarity with the Iraqi people and a simulated commitment to the national aspirations of the Palestinians" but have done nothing practical to support either struggle. The paper said the likelihood of a U.S. war on Iraq "should be keeping Arab rulers awake at night. When an American blitzkrieg has once again made mincemeat of Iraq and the Palestinian plight remains as painful as ever, how are they going to explain themselves to their respective peoples?" The Financial Times dismissed Saddam's apparent attachment "to the comfort blanket of 'brotherly' declarations from his Arab neighbors, until now all set against any assault on Baghdad" as a sign of his "despotic isolation" because the "façade of Arab opposition is crumbling."

Few papers had faith in Iraq's assurances. Britain's Daily Telegraph said, "The 'unconditional' offer to re-admit weapons inspectors is, almost certainly, a ruse. ... Saddam will not voluntarily give up his weapons of mass destruction because, without the threat they embody, his regime would be fatally weakened." The Times of London offered three reasons for skepticism: 1) The proposal was "issued in the name of … an expendable and inconsequential functionary" rather than Saddam himself; 2) the weasel wording of the Iraqi letter (an argument made by William Saletan in Slate); 3) the Iraqi policy switch was "executed at almost indecent speed." The English-language Arab News, published in Saudi Arabia, agreed that Saddam's "climb down" is "a crafty move by a wily tactician intent on spinning out the process and throwing American strategy into difficulties." The editorial urged the United Nations to increase its list of demands from Saddam, given his current position of weakness, since there are "many other promises that Baghdad has not kept." Meanwhile, Israeli daily Hatzofeh pooh-poohed U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's endorsement of the Iraqi statement, declaring, "Israel has learned the hard way that neither the United Nations nor its secretary-general can be relied upon. ... The problem is ... not the type of weapons but rather the man who leads the Iraqi nation. He is insane according to all the accepted rules in the Western world."

June Thomas is managing producer of Slate podcasts.