After Vice President Dick Cheney’s speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars Monday, the foreign press took up one of its favorite refrains: The Bush administration needs to provide a better justification for going to war with Iraq if it expects international support. (Similar choruses were heard in July, March, and last November.)
The Independent said “the swingeing rhetoric directed by Mr Cheney at the Iraqi leader on Monday was lavish even by the war-mongering standards of contemporary US political discourse.” The editorial credited the vice president’s tone to a year-old quest for revenge: “It is understandable that, as the anniversary of 11 September approaches, America’s never-spent anger will rise to a frenzy and its politicians will reflect that. With Osama bin Laden not caught, an alternative villain-in-chief is essential.”
An editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald turned the vice president’s rhetoric against him: “Mr Cheney accuses those opposing a pre-emptive war against Iraq … as guilty of ‘wishful thinking or wilful blindness.’ Yet how much wishful thinking (and perhaps wilful blindness) is there in his rosy first-strike scenario. He says that ‘regime change in Iraq would bring about a number of benefits for the region’ but underplays possible adverse changes. For example, a pre-emptive strike may trigger chemical attacks by Iraq—probably on Israel, with grievous retaliatory possibilities—rather than prevent them.” The Khaleej Times of Dubai also cautioned the White House against not to get carried away with best-case scenarios:
[A] powerful lobby in the US administration believes that once the military action proceeds successfully (a fact being taken for granted), most dissenting voices within and beyond the region will fall in line. … Except that things might not be as neat as some in the Bush administration would like them to be. In such a case, the US would find itself in all kinds of trouble.
The Daily Telegraph said the United States should be “worried about the faint-heartedness of its allies over removing Saddam Hussein. … Despite its unique ability to project power, Washington does need partners in a risky military venture with incalculable political consequences.” The paper, which is broadly supportive of the Bush administration, said the time had come for the president to produce “much more information about Saddam’s pursuit of weapons of mass destruction” and to provide an “explicit, coherent and persuasive” argument to squash dissent within the administration and to encourage support abroad.
Several papers counseled the administration to reconsider its cost-benefit calculations. Le Figaro of Paris declared, “The chances of an improvement in Baghdad’s political situation are tiny compared to the risks that Western interests in the area would face.” Britain’s Daily Mirror said: “The world would be a better place without Saddam. But it will be an even more dangerous one if President Bush invades Iraq.” The Mirror’s main rival the Sun reached the opposite conclusion: “Saddam is a clear and present danger to the West. Of course no one wants a war. Attacking Iraq would carry political and economic perils. But the danger of doing nothing is that Saddam will one day blow us up.” Meanwhile, writing in Canada’s National Post, Mark Steyn pounced on former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft’s warning that a war with Saddam would “turn the whole region into a cauldron”:
I agree. The only difference is that I think an explosion is long overdue and turning the whole region into a cauldron is a necessary step toward taming and then reforming it. It’s the non-explosive non-cauldron Middle East that’s caused so many of our present woes.