Could U.S. be wrong, critics right?

Posted: Wednesday, February 12, 2003

WASHINGTON -- Already at odds with the United Nations, the Bush administration now finds itself quarreling with NATO, the Western alliance the United States has always dominated. Snubs from France, Germany and Belgium have riled U.S. policy-makers and raised fresh questions on war preparations and goals.

The administration insists its escalating course on Iraq is the right one. But some analysts and critics suggest the United States could defeat Iraq militarily only at the expense of poisoning vital trans-Atlantic relations.

''We cannot run NATO this way, with allies plotting against allies. We must get the alliance back on the firm footing of common goals and mutual respect,'' Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., said Tuesday as NATO ambassadors in Brussels, Belgium, failed to break the deadlock.

The latest dispute involves efforts by France, Germany and Belgium to block a request by Turkey for NATO war supplies to help deter a possible retaliatory attack from neighboring Iraq.

President Bush's spokesperson, Ari Fleischer, called it a setback for NATO and for Turkey, the only Muslim member of the 19-nation alliance, but ''a setback that the president believes will be overcome.''

It comes as anti-war opposition and anti-American sentiment spread throughout Europe. ''Nothing today justifies war,'' French President Jacques Chirac asserted.

France also has threatened to block U.S. war plans on the U.N. Security Council where it holds veto power. Russia, which also holds a Security Council veto, has joined with France and Germany in calling for extending weapons inspections in Iraq and delaying war.

Ignoring the widening U.S.-European rift, the administration pressed ahead Tuesday in further building its case for war, citing a new audio tape purported to be of Osama bin Laden as evidence of links between the suspected Sept. 11 terror leader and Iraq. The voice on the tape called on Iraqis to carry out suicide attacks against Americans and defend themselves against a U.S. attack.

The NATO deadlock has dealt a heavy blow to the 53-year old alliance and represents the sharpest trans-Atlantic feud since Egyptian President Gamal Abdel-Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal in 1956.

The Eisenhower administration, breaking with Britain and France, opposed the use of force to reopen it. Britain and France, aligned with Israel, went to war anyway. This time it is Britain and the United States pressing for the use of force in the Middle East.

''I think in the short term, the United States is in the stronger position. It can accomplish its military goals without German and French help,'' said Michael Mandelbaum, a foreign policy professor at Johns Hopkins University and author of the book, ''The Ideas that Conquered the World.''

''The downside is that the task of reconstructing Iraq once the United States has inherited responsibility for it could be long, difficult and expensive. International support at that point is indispensable,'' Mandelbaum said.

Many Democrats and GOP moderates, including critics of a rush to war, are finding themselves in a predicament -- not wanting to appear unpatriotic if war begins and annoyed at some of the European reaction.

''The ingratitude of the governments of Belgium, France and Germany boggles the mind. If it were not for the heroism of American soldiers during the Second World War, Hitler's Third Reich would be in its eighth decade,'' said Rep. Tom Lantos of California, the top Democrat on the House International Relations Committee.

At a Senate hearing Tuesday, Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., told Secretary of State Colin Powell that ''all this big talk, braggadocio'' by the president ''frightens the international community, much less some here in this country.''

Powell insisted the United States was not putting its international alliances in jeopardy. ''We're not breaking up the alliance,'' he said, noting a vast majority of NATO supports the United States on Iraq.

But Michele Flournoy, a senior adviser with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said it is ''imperative that we build a stronger international coalition over the next several weeks. The downside risks of going to war without that are substantial.''

Tom Raum has covered national and international affairs for The Associated Press since 1973.



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