The coincidence of the airstrikes on Iraq and the suspension of the impeachment proceedings preoccupied most of the world’s press Thursday, bringing further damage to Bill Clinton’s international standing. Arab newspapers were predictably critical of the bombing raids. In one or two of them, U.N. Security Commission chief Richard Butler, rather than Clinton, was seen as the villain of the piece. In Bahrain, the daily Akhbar al-Khaleej wrote, for example: “A word from the spy Butler could have saved the Iraqi people from American aggression. And a word from him is sufficient justification for the American war planes and missiles to be launched.”
The pan-Arab paper al-Quds al-Arabi published an article by its Palestinian editor, Abdelbari Atwan, saying that “once again Clinton is using the Iraqi people as scapegoats to extricate himself from his domestic crisis. … What have the Iraqi people done to the Americans and their President to deserve such disdain and to be singled out for destruction, death, and extermination?”
In Jordan, the daily Ad-Dustour said the attacks would “only lead to more devastation and pain to people who have suffered a lot as a result of unjust sanctions.” Al Rai said that “the real aim of this strike is to get rid of Saddam Hussein and, in such a case, the real loser is international legitimacy and law.” The Jordan Times opined that America’s “well-phrased and logical” justifications of the attack had unfortunately been undermined by the coincidences of the postponement of the House impeachment vote and of “the remarkable window of opportunity that opened up right before Ramadan [the Muslim fasting month].”
In Israel, Ron Ben-Ishai, the military analyst of Yediot Aharanot, said Israeli defense officials had predicted a month ago that the American air offensive would be launched now, in mid-December, during the “narrow window” between Clinton’s visit to the Middle East and the start of Ramadan this weekend. “This consideration took precedence, apparently, over Clinton’s unwillingness to be portrayed as trying to divert American public opinion from the impeachment process,” Ben-Ishai wrote.
He added that the reason Israel was so calm in advance of the attack was that it had concluded there were no launchers or ballistic missiles to threaten it in western Iraq, and that even if Saddam decided to launch the few “Hussein” missiles and improved Scuds he still had, he would need more than 24 hours to transfer them from their hiding places to an area within range of Israel. Within this time, Israeli and American intelligence could detect the intention and prevent the launchings, he said.
Israeli papers also devoted much space to their country’s political crisis and the likelihood of early Knesset elections. In Ha’aretz, Dan Margalit wrote that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had made a major political miscalculation at Wye, having made the Palestinian state an established fact in the minds of the Israeli right–“certainly not the achievement he planned to be remembered for.”
In Britain, America’s partner in the attacks on Iraq, the conservative press was strongly supportive of them. The Times said they were “a grim necessity” forced on the allies by Saddam; while the Daily Telegraph, under the headline “See It Through,” ran an editorial urging them to extend the offensive into Ramadan. “[T]o set such a tight limit on bombing will ensure that it is little more than a pinprick,” it said. “[I]t will not seriously dent Saddam’s hold over his country. For that, a prolonged air campaign is the bare minimum.”
The liberal Guardian, however, said that the bombing would only be justified if it led to the self-determination of the Iraqi people. The London Evening Standard said that even those who wholeheartedly supported the offensive were “deeply dismayed by the fact that it is President Clinton who has made the decision, who has precipitated this grave step. …This President’s personal position is far too deeply compromised for the world easily to accept at face value either his judgements or his reasons.”
On the continent of Europe, there was harsh condemnation of both the raids and Clinton’s general conduct. In Paris, the daily Libération called the pretext for the offensive “dramatically thin” and linked it to the postponement of the impeachment process. The conservative Le Figaro supported France’s policy of detachment not as appeasement but rather as good sense. In Italy, Milan’s Corriere della Sera said it didn’t believe that Clinton had attacked Iraq to gain time on impeachment–it was the United States that wanted to retaliate before returning to the issue of its president. It added: “To us impotent spectators, there is left the sad privilege of realizing how weak in reality our principal ally is, and how deeply shaken it is in its politico-institutional mechanisms.”