Will Uncle Sam's longtime friends get cold feet when targeted by terrorists?

Posted: Thursday, November 27, 2003

WASHINGTON It's not easy to be a friend of the United States these days.

Recently, in a span of just eight days, an Italian police unit in Iraq was bombed, leaving 18 dead, and terrorists killed more than 50 in two separate attacks in Turkey. Japan, meanwhile, came under terrorist threat.

Italy, Turkey and Japan have been defense treaty allies of the United States for more than 50 years. And in terms of supporting the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, no country has supplied more manpower than Italy, aside from Britain and the United States itself.

Japan is second behind the United States in providing post-war reconstruction assistance to Iraq. Responding to a terrorist warning last week, Japan urged its citizens abroad to exercise ''utmost caution.''

As Muslim countries go, Turkey is unique.

''Turkey is an offense to al-Qaida and its affiliated groups because it is a secular state, an 'infidel' republic,'' says Zeyno Baran, a native of Turkey and scholar at the Nixon Center for Peace and Freedom.

She notes that the overwhelmingly Muslim country has military relations with Israel and no anti-Semitic tradition.

Baran also points out that Istanbul, site of the two attacks this month, is relatively easy prey for terrorists because of its openness, teeming streets and numerous ''soft'' targets.

Turkey may have contributed to its vulnerability to terrorists, she says, by allowing visitors from Iran and Pakistan to travel to Turkey without visas. As Baran points out, both countries are heavily populated with Islamic radicals.

Henri Barkey, a Turkish-born former State Department official, observes that Turkey is home to hundreds of thousands of refugees from various Muslim countries who are trying to get to Western Europe. He suggests some of these people may have carried out the bombings in Istanbul.

''They tend to be easily manipulated by al-Qaida,'' Barkey says.

The administration rejects the notion that al-Qaida and allied groups are singling out countries friendly to the United States.

''These terrorist attacks are attacks on freedom,'' said President Bush, speaking in London last Thursday shortly after the second bombing in Istanbul.

Terrorists, he said, ''hate freedom. They hate free nations.''

Richard Armitage, the State Department's No. 2 official says: ''Clearly, al-Qaida is trying to go after civilized nations, nations which value human lives and human rights, and Turkey is a leading nation in that regard.''

That thesis draws no distinction between countries which are friendly to the United States and those that are unfriendly. It suggests that France and Germany, which opposed the war in Iraq, are no less vulnerable than countries that enthusiastically joined the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.

But Charles Pena, of the libertarian Cato Institute, says much of the anti-American resentment in the Islamic world and beyond is the result of interventionist U.S. policies.

''Such resentment breeds hatred, which becomes a stepping-stone to violence, including terrorism,'' he says.

On occasion, the United States faces a lose-lose situation. Intervention carries a high price but so does nonintervention.

After the first Gulf war, the United States stationed troops in Saudi Arabia to help protect the Kingdom against possible attack by Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

The deployment helped deter Saddam, but it also inflamed Islamic radicals such as Osama bin Laden, who railed out against the presence of American ''infidels'' on sacred Saudi soil.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz has acknowledged that the U.S. deployment was bin Laden's ''principal recruiting device'' as he sought to build al-Qaida.

The big question is whether U.S. allies will get cold feet after deadly attacks against their citizens. Will they loosen their ties with the United States and other allies?

Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi says the attacks on Iraqi police in Iraq will not derail his country's mission there.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan says: ''We will not be intimidated and will maintain our fight against terrorism with more determination.''

George Gedda has covered foreign affairs for The Associated Press since 1968.

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