After some high-profile White House meetings earlier this week, U.S. administrator Paul Bremer returned to Iraq with fresh orders to speed up the process of reconstruction. On Thursday, President Bush remarked that the meetings were intended to accelerate the formation of an Iraqi government and local peacekeeping authorities. Pressure is looming over Bremer and the U.S.-backed Iraqi Governing Council to put together a plan for an Iraqi constitution and deadline before a U.N. Dec. 15 deadline. The president’s comments drove world media to contemplate the prospect of an early American withdrawal from Iraq.
An op-ed in the Guardian speculated that the U.S. election campaign might decide the length of the occupation: “If American seriousness becomes widely questioned that will reinforce the wait-and-see attitude, which is part of the problem. The final paradox may be that the more determined the US is to stay, the sooner it may be able to leave.” Nearly every commentator agreed that it would be disastrous for the United States to withdraw prematurely, though ideas on how to stay the course varied widely.
An op-ed in the Australian daily the Age reviewed the successes and failures of the interim administration. On the political front, the United States “has made little discernible progress,” but, the piece argued, there have been many other successes. “[P]ower and water have been restored to pre-war levels or better; most schools and universities have reopened; over 170 newspapers are in circulation; hospitals are functioning.” As a further reason to forge ahead, the piece cited an U.S. newspaper headline that appeared eight months after Hitler’s fall: “How We Botched the German Occupation.”
France, one of Bush’s most outspoken critics, seemed to welcome the news. Le Monde offered a restrained we-told-you-so article and promised that “President Bush can count on France for solidarity, advice and courage.” The piece went on to highlight the grim statistic that more U.S. soldiers have already died this year in Iraq than during the first three years of U.S. operations in Vietnam. A separate editorial was less kind: “The United States has the means to win wars, it does not have the means to win the peace.” The editorial insisted that the United States should turn to the United Nations before it’s too late.
Papers in the Middle East had some of the most nuanced reactions to the news. Lebanon’s Daily Star betrayed a Francophile tendency in an editorial commending the United States for its intention to share more power with the Iraqis—something France has demanded all along. The piece said the Iraqi crisis will ease once Americans learn to take French counsel as “well-intentioned advice from an old and dear friend” and other nations accept that they will usually be “junior partners” to the United States. Elsewhere, the Star posed the difficult question of whether the United States ought to win or lose the peace, since a victory might only encourage them to try again somewhere else. A Jerusalem Post op-ed attacked doves who advocate a U.S. withdrawal and lambasted moderates as well: “Those who want to sound responsible say the US should hand the job over to an international force—as if any country that’s stayed out of the fighting so far wants to send thousands of troops to Iraq now.”
Other regional papers focused on the grim realities inside Iraq. A news article in Egypt’s Al-Ahram Weekly cited a Washington Post piece that described the Iraqi governing council as a washout: “[A]t least half the council is out of the country at any given time, and … at some meetings only four or five members have shown up.” The piece noted that the United States “seems keen to rectify a major error it committed” by sidelining Sunnis in the interim government. An editorial in the United Arab Emirates’ Gulf News made an obvious but important point: “Bush’s earlier claim to ‘Bring ‘em on!’—as a challenge to Saddam supporters—has misfired.” The piece went on to envision the Iraq situation’s impact on Bush’s election prospects and to guess that domestic politics is the primary force behind his Iraq policy: “Bush Jr is anxious to prove himself better than Bush Sr in every way, including getting a second term as president.”