What U.S. newspapers are saying

Feb. 26, 2003 at 12:34 PM
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New York Times

Will Saddam Hussein prove to be a match for Joe Millionaire or Michael Jackson? CBS is rightly pleased to have landed an exclusive Dan Rather interview with the Iraqi dictator. Tonight, when much of Mr. Rather's scoop airs on "60 Minutes II," we'll find out whether the nation's viewers find Mr. Hussein as compelling as reality TV or eccentric celebrities.

This is the last night of the all-important sweeps period, when networks broadcast their most-hyped programming, and TV news is increasingly hijacked to report on the results of manufactured "reality," as if the bachelorette's choice of suitors or the latest expulsion from the island were events of global consequence. The appearance of Mr. Hussein in the midst of it makes for a truly eclectic, if not peculiar, mix. His interview is sandwiched between an episode of "Star Search" and an interview with Robert Chambers, the "preppy murderer." ABC News's "20/20," unable to round up any intriguing foreign despots of its own, is going later in the evening with Robert Blake, the has-been actor accused of killing his wife.

The nation may be cruising toward one of those moments of cultural humiliation when the world compares the number of people who watch the Hussein interview with the 40 million who last week watched Joe Millionaire pick wholesome Zora over Sarah, the presumed gold-digger. CBS may be hoping only to match the 27 million viewers who watched ABC's Michael Jackson documentary earlier in the month -- and even then it's unlikely that Fox will be rushing in to air unseen scraps of the Baghdad interview. But it's hard to imagine how Mr. Hussein, who claimed 100 percent of the vote in last October's referendum in Iraq, would react to news that he lost the ratings battle to Barbara Walters's visit with the jailed ex-star of "Baretta."

Houston Chronicle

All is not quiet on the eastern front. Secretary of State Colin Powell returned this week to Washington from a trip to Asia, where he reportedly found little support for U.S. policy in dealing with North Korea.

The Bush administration refuses even to talk with Pyongyang until it gives up its nuclear weapons program. The North thumbed its nose at Powell, test-launching an anti-ship missile into the Sea of Japan.

South Korea's new president, Roh Moo-hyun, said in his inaugural address Tuesday that he would demand a more "equitable" relationship with Washington and would not blindly follow U.S. policy. Even the Japanese shied away from a U.S. push for a harder line.

All of this highlights the Bush administration's troubling inability to enlist broader support for its foreign policy: namely the rush to war in Iraq while failing to deter North Korean provocations.

Los Angeles Times

United States combat troops should not be fighting in the Philippines. Last week, unidentified Defense Department officials said that up to 3,000 U.S. soldiers would do just that. The government of Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo promptly issued denials, and on Monday the Filipino foreign secretary, Blas Ople, said the Washington reports "emanate from junior officials who don't know what they are talking about."

Let's hope that's true. Indeed, the Philippine government is doing the United States a favor by saying American soldiers are welcome to train and advise Filipino forces but not to march into the jungle themselves to fight Abu Sayyaf guerrillas.

The rationale for such an expanded role is simple: the war on terror.

By most accounts, Al Qaeda has cells or affiliates in scores of countries. After Sept. 11, the United States has helped foreign governments target them. But there is a danger in spreading forces too thin. It's also important to listen to the concerns of host countries. ...

The Philippines is not Vietnam, and this is not the 1960s. Still, Washington must remember the lessons of that quagmire in expanding trainers' and advisors' missions and increasing their numbers.

The Philippines was a U.S. colony for nearly 50 years. It was home to two major U.S. military facilities until 1992, when Filipinos, bridling at American influence, demanded the withdrawal of U.S. troops. Today, the nation remains a solid ally. The Pentagon shouldn't put that relationship of mutual respect at risk by swaggering in to do a job Philippine soldiers can learn to do themselves.

Washington Times

President Bush's plan to protect Americans against a terrorist attack through a phased-in mass vaccination has come to a virtual standstill due to unexpectedly stiff resistance from health care workers. We had hoped that such smallpox refusniks numbered only a small fraction of the national total, and thus posed merely a minor threat to public health preparedness. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

According to recent reports, about 4,200 individuals have been vaccinated -- less than 1 percent of the administration's target for this first phase and about 495,000 short of where the administration hoped to be at this point, a month after the campaign began. Several factors appear to be responsible for this standoff. Some health care unions have advised their members not to take the vaccine until the federal government commits significantly to a compensation fund. Some health professionals are reluctant to place themselves or their patients at risk from adverse effects of an inoculation in the absence of an imminent threat. ...

Given how problematic basic smallpox preparations have become, we can only hope that it does not take an outbreak to end the standoff.

Washington Post

The new draft resolution submitted to the U.N. Security Council by the United States and Britain this week has the advantage of simplicity. It asks only that the council judge whether Iraq has complied with the terms of the disarmament resolution unanimously approved by the council last Nov. 8. The language of Resolution 1441 is very precise: It offers Iraq a "final opportunity" to voluntarily disarm but says that false statements or omissions by Iraq in its weapons declaration, combined with failure "at any time . . . to cooperate fully," would be a "material breach" of the resolution. Chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix has reported to the council that Iraq's weapons declaration was incomplete; he has also said in each of his reports that full cooperation has not been forthcoming. No council member disputes those findings. So the new resolution merely restates these uncontested facts, together with the inescapable conclusion: Saddam Hussein has failed in his "final opportunity." ...

All this may sound like a legalistic debate over the wording of resolutions, but vital principles lie behind it. Resolution 1441, which the Bush administration painstakingly negotiated with the French and Russians, says what it does because past attempts to disarm an unwilling Iraq with U.N. inspections had failed. Saddam Hussein this time was to be offered a stark choice between immediate voluntary disarmament and "serious consequences," which all understood to mean war. This was a sound strategy, and it might have succeeded had the forceful message not been quickly undermined by the French and their allies. The most damaging contradiction in their position is this: They would insist that the United States act through multilateral institutions such as the Security Council; but they themselves will not support those institutions if the outcome is a sanctioned exercise of U.S. power. That's because their priority is not disarming rogue states, or strengthening world government, or even preventing war per se. It is, rather, to neutralize what the French call the American "hyperpower." When its security is threatened, there is no reason for the United States to accept such paralysis -- especially when it has the unambiguous terms of U.N. resolutions on its side.

Dallas Morning News

How many French does it take to defend Paris? No one knows. They've never tried.

What did France's government do after opponents of war with Iraq marched through the Arc de Triomphe? It surrendered - out of habit.

Such anti-French jokes are becoming de rigueur in the United States. They are a reaction to intense French opposition to U.S. war in Iraq, but also a manifestation of something much deeper, a belief that France never misses an opportunity to spitefully undercut its trans-Atlantic friend and rival. Implicit in the jokes, and in the simmering sentiment for a boycott of French goods, is the belief that France is a nation of moral cowards who feel insufficient gratitude for the United States' twice having freed their country from German occupation. ...

Americans shouldn't hesitate to express their opinions about France. But they should resist the temptation to reduce the country to a caricature. France and its centuries-old relationship with the United States are a lot more complicated than that.

(Compiled by United Press International)

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