HONOLULU (East-West Wire, Dec. 17) - The capture of Saddam Hussein is having little impact in Asian nations that opposed the U.S. war in Iraq and the occupation, East-West Center specialists said.

That's because of strong opposition to how the war was waged in principle and to the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, a major sticking point for critics in Asia.

"While the capture of Saddam was a sweet victory for the Bushes and for those who support the invasion, it did not much change the view of those who opposed the invasion from the beginning on the moral and legal grounds that the invasion was not internationally backed, that there was not yet evidence of Saddam's involvement in Sept. 11, that there was no evidence of his links to al Qaeda, and that no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq," said Muhamad Ali, an Indonesian specialist on Islam and graduate degree fellow at the East-West Center who is a frequent commentator in Jakarta newspapers.

Response in India and Pakistan has been far less enthusiastic than in the United States, with other local and national stories gaining more attention, said Arun Swamy, an East-West Center research fellow and South Asia specialist. "Newspaper coverage of the capture focused on the former Iraqi president's denial that Iraq had possessed weapons of mass destruction, and on the question of who would put him on trial -- Iraqis or Americans," Swamy said.

Swamy pointed out the fundamental difference in how most Indians and Pakistanis view the war from the way Americans do. "Americans may have 'moved on' from the charges that were used to justify the invasion to a perception of U.S. actions as a war for democracy, but for most observers in India and Pakistan the legitimacy of the invasion rests on proving the original charges," Swamy said.

"The American insistence on convicting Iraq without evidence and punishing it without U.N. sanction had already eroded confidence in the American commitment to due process and justice," Swamy said. "The willingness of both the U.S. government and the American public to shrug off the failure to find weapons of mass destruction only lends credibility to the many in these two countries who view U.S. power with alarm and U.S. unilateralism as a threat to the world."

Ali noted that officials in Indonesia, the most populated Muslim nation in the world, have said they hoped Saddam's capture would speed up the rebuilding of Iraq and its transition to a sovereign nation, and they have also asked that Saddam be brought to trial in Iraq without foreign intervention.

"To say that the (U.S.) invasion is illegal does not necessarily mean to agree with Saddam's crimes against humanity, killing thousands of Kurdish minorities, his crimes during the Iran-Iraq war, and his invasion of Kuwait," Ali said. "It is for these crimes that Saddam can be brought to trial. Yet, a just and transparent tribunal should be ensured, and power-transfer to the Iraqis should be speeded up."

Richard Baker, special assistant to the East-West Center president and a specialist on international relations and Indonesia, said initial international reactions to the capture lead to doubt that the United States is going to get any real credit for the capture, or that it will do anything to rebuild the trust and confidence in American leadership that have eroded because of its Iraq policy.

"The critics of U.S. policy in Iraq have no inclination -- or reason at this point -- to applaud the capture because they do not see it as changing the broader policies which they oppose," Baker said. "So the focus of much international comment on the capture has had a decidedly suspicious or negative tone."

December 19, 2003

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