Friday’s U.S.-British airstrike on Iraqi radar stations elicited a backfire of comment in the international press. Dawn of Pakistan summarized the reaction: “The opinion now emerging very strongly in international circles is that Washington’s policy vis-a-vis Iraq is unreasonable, inhuman and smacks of political chauvinism.”
Saddam Hussein’s regime scored a PR win, many papers claimed. The Independent of London explained that Saddam “can use the sanctions as an excuse for his own incompetent and ruthless leadership in Iraq. He and his people have been given a common enemy. He must be delighted that Mr Bush is displaying a crude lack of subtlety this weekend. … Saddam Hussein is a murderous tyrant. Iraq and the world would be well rid of him. But by their action, George Bush and Tony Blair have made Saddam even more secure.” Madrid’s El País declared that airstrikes “kill innocent people, provide the dictator with excuses, and don’t do anything except dangerously distance Washington and London from the rest of their Western allies.”
Le Monde of France suggested that the president was “finishing his father’s work,” just as in India, a country familiar with political dynasties, a couple of papers speculated that Dubya bombed Baghdad to avenge dear old dad. The Deccan Herald called the strikes “a blatant instance of arrogant and arbitrary use of force” that “smacked of personal vendetta and that he is bent on taking revenge on President Saddam Hussein and the hapless Iraqi people only because they had branded erstwhile US President and his father George Bush a war criminal.” An editorial in the Hindu declared:
The new U.S. President … has manifestly shown himself to be short on creative diplomacy at this moment by opting for sterile militarism, indeed ridiculous adventurism, as his first major foreign policy exercise. He has exposed himself to the inexorable criticism that he is perhaps more inclined than might be wise to complete the unfinished anti-Hussein agenda of his father.
Ha’aretz of Israel warned Bush that he now faces “a taut, potentially explosive, chain reaction scenario that was never a potential factor during his father’s administration.” The paper said Friday’s actions will signal that the new U.S. administration is not disposed to flexibility on Iraqi sanctions “despite Arab and international pressures on Washington” and that Bush views Iraq as “an isolated and tightly-defined problem which should not be allowed to influence other issues in the Middle East.” However, since Saddam has been a vocal supporter of the current intifada—and has sent $10,000 to the families of all the Palestinians killed since October—”any strike against Baghdad constitutes a dagger thrust straight at the heart of the [Palestinian Authority], and also a move which vexes the trend toward support for Iraq in Arab countries.” Britain’s Observer agreed: “The belief on the Arab street is that President Bush has used the pretext of Iraq upgrading its air defence to punish Saddam for the vocal and material support he is providing to the Palestinian intifada.”
An editorial in the Khaleej Times of Dubai articulated the Arab world’s frustration:
[T]he Western stand vis-a-vis Baghdad is seen as proof of its double standards because Israel, which continues to flout more UN resolutions than does Iraq, somehow never manages to appear in the coalition’s cross-hairs. … The West’s reluctance to lean on Israel to accommodate the Palestinians’ just demands and its infinite patience with the Tel Aviv leadership’s feet-dragging tactics, has destroyed what little goodwill remained from the Gulf War experience.
A handful of papers supported President Bush. ABC of Spain thundered, “Interpreting the bombing of Baghdad as the attack of an imperialist power against a defenseless nation is a cynical exercise in irresponsible demagoguery that gives a distorted picture of the situation.” Britain’s Sunday Telegraph ran an op-ed headlined, “Bush was asking for this,” while the Sunday Times saw the bombings as a preventive measure:
Saddam Hussein will not be deterred by this weekend’s allied airstrikes against his Baghdad defences from plotting further mayhem. But he may think twice before again testing the resolve of the new American president to keep him in check. … If [Bush] had not acted, Saddam’s installation of improved radar missile technology would have led to a greater risk of allied air losses and an enhancement of his prestige in the Arab world. He would have taken a giant step towards asserting himself as a powerful military force again.
Fidel’s worst nightmare: Until former Chilean President Augusto Pinochet was arrested in London in 1998, the bodyguards who accompany Fidel Castro on foreign trips were most worried about Cuba’s leader being targeted by a sniper. Afterward, their worst nightmare was an arrest-warrant-toting lawyer. An “exclusive” interview with a 16-year veteran of Castro’s elite protection squad, now in exile in Florida, published in Chile’s La Tercera said that after Pinochet’s detention, the Cuban government’s “No. 1 priority became ensuring at all costs that the same thing didn’t happen to Fidel.” Besides better guns and increased manpower, the crack squad recruited Castro look-alikes to fool subpoena-servers.
A footnote in history: Proving that rehabilitation comes to she who waits, last week Imelda Marcos opened a museum in the Philippines showcasing some of her famous shoe collection. According to the South China Morning Post, when the former first lady and her husband President Ferdinand Marcos fled Manila in 1986, the 3,000 pairs of shoes she left behind (Britain’s Independent put the count at 1,220 pairs) became a symbol of the dictatorship’s wasteful excesses in contrast to the poverty of most Filipinos. Now Marikina, the nation’s shoe capital, sees Imelda as “a patron of the shoe industry” and takes pride that half the shoes she left behind were Marikina-made. The Independent claims the city is “footwear-barmy. A pedestrian bridge is covered with two giant steel shoes, while a shoe statue stands outside the town hall, not far from Sandal Street and Slipper Street.”