International Papers

Europe to Bush: We’ll Help (Maybe)

Newspapers across Europe commented on President Bush’s decision to turn to the United Nations for help in Iraq with turns of phrase that are certain to sound like impertinence to U.S. hawks.

“The entire world expected it. Neo-conservatives in the U.S. administration stubbornly opposed it. But the White House had to do it, after all. … Every day brings new evidence of the most unpleasant truth for the occupational contingent: The Americans have misjudged the strength of their forces and simply cannot ensure the security of any important facility in Iraq, be it the U.N. office in Baghdad or a town mosque,” wrote Vladimir Simonov on Russian state newswire RIA-Novosti Sunday.

European reaction was muted to President George W. Bush’s Sunday speech, which called on U.S. allies and U.N. members to put aside past differences and assume the “responsibility” for a broader role in Iraq. Bush’s plea came as no surprise, as papers had been mulling the expected appeal for much of last week.

Secretary of State Colin Powell heads to Geneva Saturday to try to convince the four other veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council—a committee written off as dead by U.S. neoconservatives after it failed to approve the Iraq invasion—to lend the United States a hand in restoring security and rebuilding the country. The U.S. draft resolution envisions a U.N. political role while military operations remain under U.S. command.

Papers in France, Germany, and Russia have reacted cautiously, without appearing to reject the proposal outright. On Friday, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and French President Jacques Chirac appeared together on the front page of Le Figaro. “Chirac and Schroeder say no once more to Bush,” read the headline in the right-leaning Paris daily. The pair met in Dresden Thursday and announced that the draft resolution “does not go far enough to enable a swift devolution of power to the Iraqis,” though the statement was widely interpreted as a push for more U.N. authority rather than an outright “thanks, but no thanks.” French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin sounded a more positive note, saying the United States is “going in the right direction” with the proposal.

Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung warned its own government against taking a broadly isolationist stance. While Paris has said it might send troops if the conditions are right, Berlin seems to have ruled it out entirely, the paper said. (French and German translations courtesy of BBC Monitoring and Radio France Internationale.)

On Tuesday, Spain’s El Paíscategorized Bush’s speech as a veiled confession of failure, comparing the commander in chief’s pessimism with what it pegs as Rumsfeld’s arrogance. Norway’s Aftenposten agreed, saying Bush appeared to be under extreme pressure Sunday, contrasting his performance with earlier, more confident appearances. Bush can no longer tell the world he has saved it from Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, the paper said. (Translations courtesy of Deutsche Welle radio.)

Moscow’s U.N. envoy told Izvestiathat it would be “politically irresponsible” to leave the United States high and dry in Iraq. “The main thing is to agree that Iraq, half-destroyed and plunged into anarchy, is a threat to us all,” said Sergei Lavrov. The handing over of sovereignty to Iraqis should take place according to a precise schedule, the envoy said. Agreeing with the French and Germans, Lavrov said it is time to acknowledge a change in course: The resolution should not be simply “a sheet of paper by which politicians will rationalize their actions” but must represent “a strategy adopted on a principally different basis than the current one.”

Lavrov also made the dreaded comparison with the invasion of Afghanistan—the Soviet invasion, that is, not the U.S. version. Lavrov said the situation in Iraq is worsening and that the United States is losing as many troops to Iraqi irregulars as the Soviet Union did to the  Afghan mujahideen. (Translations courtesy of RIA-Novosti and German Press Agency.)

The United Kingdom agreed to send 1,200 more troops to Iraq on Monday. Denmark, meanwhile, is doing its part: Copenhagen decided to add an extra 90 troops to its 400-strong contingent in Basra. Denmark saw its first casualty in August, when a corporal was killed in a friendly fire incident.

As the two-year anniversary of the attacks on New York and Washington nears, Czech papers are taking a broader view of the U.S.-led war on terror, focusing on the war’s mounting costs both for the United States and the Czech Republic. Following Sept. 11, security was stepped up at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which broadcasts to Iraq and is based on the main highway running through the center of Prague. (The Czech government lent the building to the station for a pittance after the 1989 revolution as thanks for its support during the struggle against communism.) With a blocked-off intersection in front of the building causing a traffic nightmare, a decision was made to move the station’s headquarters to a location further from the city center, but due to a lack of funds, the U.S. Congress is now delaying the move, Hospodarske Noviny reported Monday. The paper added that the invasion of Iraq has pushed the U.S. budget deficit to record heights. Meanwhile Mlada Fronta Dnes reported that Czech-led efforts—including field hospitals in Iraq and Afghanistan and an anti-chemical-warfare unit still in Kuwait—have cost the small Central European country billions of Czech crowns. (Translations courtesy of Radio Prague.)