Britain's Conservative Party looks to the old.

What the foreign papers are saying.
Nov. 3 2003 4:11 PM

Iraq's Not Vietnam, It's Afghanistan

European papers started the week contemplating the spiral of violence in Iraq, with photos of the wreckage of the downed Chinook helicopter that claimed the lives of 16 Americans dominating the front pages of several major dailies. Meanwhile, papers wondered if Tony Blair might finally have some real opposition on his hands as the Conservative Party dumped its leader, Iain Duncan Smith.

Germany's Die Welt issued an appeal for solidarity with the United States as American losses mounted following the weekend helicopter attack. "Americans are paying with blood in Iraq," read the paper's lead editorial. Despite widespread opposition in Germany to the U.S.-led invasion, the country "should be sensitive and intelligent enough to stand alongside America in Iraq," the paper said. It reminded readers of the U.S. role in the liberation of Germany and Europe from Nazi rule. Despite constant reassurances from across the Atlantic that the Bush administration will not abandon Iraq, another German daily, Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung, wondered aloud how soon it would be before the U.S. president cracks and engineers a pull-out. It would be the worst possible decision at this point.

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Like Die Welt, Berlin's Der Tagesspiegel also ran with above-the-fold photos and coverage of the helicopter disaster. In Munich, the front page of Süddeutsche Zeitung featured the weekend scene in faraway Berlin, where about 100,000 people protested Sunday against Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's planned reforms to Germany's bloated welfare state.

In Rome, where the government supported the removal of Saddam Hussein, La Stampa also led with Iraq, as did France's Le Figaro. La Stampa disagreed with the common assertion that Iraq is becoming another Vietnam. To the contrary, the paper said, it's turning into another Afghanistan, with the country becoming a base for terrorists after the U.S. invasion, much as Afghanistan did following the Soviet Union's ill-fated occupation from 1979 to 1989. (German and Italian translations via Deutsche Welle Radio's German and European press reviews.)

In Britain and elsewhere across Europe, the papers' attention has turned to the new leader of Britain's moribund Conservative Party, an old political hand named Michael Howard. (Not to be confused with Australian Prime Minister John Howard.) Even with Tony Blair's popularity at its lowest level since he took office, most European editorialists agree that rout-avoidance is the best Howard can hope for in the next British election. "For the time being, to lose the next general elections with relative dignity seems to be the most optimistic horizon for the Tories," wrote Spain's El PaísStill, to hear the pundits talk, Blair had best steel himself. "Watch out, Tony Blair!" yelped Der Tagesspeigel. "The years of governing without a serious opposition may be coming to an end." (German and Spanish translations courtesy of BBC Monitoring.)

Many called attention to Howard's age, which stands in sharp contrast to the younger Tory leaders that preceded him. "The Conservative party goes through leaders much as Henry VIII used up wives. It's been three in just six years. Unlike Henry, the Tories ditch a consort in favor of something older," noted the Observer's Andrew Rawnsley. "William Hague (age 36 when he became leader) was followed by Iain Duncan Smith (age 47) who [is] succeeded by Michael Howard (age 62)."

When Tony Blair's Labor Party took over in 1997, "the country was infatuated by [his] 'newness' and 'niceness': the Tory party chose the youthful William Hague as its answer to this political fad. Six years later, Mr. Blair no longer seems particularly new or particularly nice," declared the editors of the Sunday Telegraph. The right-leaning paper offered its "warmest congratulations" to Howard. "His leadership ought to augur a dramatic change in the culture of the party, which has been disastrously introspective and febrile for more than a decade."

Scott MacMillan is a freelance journalist who lives in Cairo.