Saddam Hussein's decision to stop (and then start) cooperating with UN inspectors has heightened tensions once again in the Gulf.
The onus has fallen on President Clinton to decide whether to initiate military strikes or give Saddam another chance to comply with UN resolutions.
If the President were to look to the media for advice, he would find that there are nearly as many opinions as newspapers.
A sample of editorials published in selected international and major US newspapers demonstrate that opinions differ surrounding the ongoing conflict, the immediate use of force and the ultimate goal of the US and its allies.
One opinion shared by many editorial boards is that this game of cat-and-mouse between the US/UN and Iraq has grown tiresome. Both the US and Iraq received a share of the blame for the situation.
The Toronto Sun (November 13) faulted the US, asking, 'How many more times can the US cry wolf about Iraq and still be taken seriously?' The Philadelphia Inquirer (November 12) expressed frustration with Iraq, saying Saddam was just hoping he could 'once more jerk the US around.'
Despite the general consensus that Iraq had finally overplayed its hand, there was still significant support for further attempts at a diplomatic resolution before launching a military strike. But patience was running low. The New York Times (November 13) stated, 'if Baghdad remains defiant, the President would be fully justified in ordering an attack.'
Other papers supported an immediate military strike. These editorial boards generally concluded that Saddam only understands force. The Dallas Morning News (November 12) suggested a 'massive use of force' to make Saddam 'understand that there is a huge price to pay for his deadly mischief.'
Not only did the major newspapers disagree about the use of military force, but they also differed in their view of the US/UN's end game in Iraq. Three general strategies surfaced in the coverage. The first goal, expressed more often by the foreign press, was to weaken or force the removal of Saddam. The second goal, favored by the US press, was to ultimately reinstall the UN inspection team. A third strategy was to diminish Iraq's ability to use and produce weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
It was generally agreed that if the US were to strike, it should be a forceful, sustained attack - not just 'pin-prick' bombing. This point appeared frequently; there was no support for a limited attack.
Given this broad range of editorial commentary, one thing remains apparent: The US will have to maintain its position as the world police without any clear guidance from the press.
Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can be found at www. carma.com.