European allies shying from war against Iraq

Britain, France, Germany want Bush to give reasons

August 23, 2002|By Todd Richissin | Todd Richissin,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

LONDON - If there is a clear gauge for measuring the lack of support for American military action to topple Saddam Hussein of Iraq, it can be found among the best European friends the United States has, in Britain. And here, as in the United States, influential leaders have not only withheld support for war but are campaigning against it.

Prime Minister Tony Blair, who was among the first European leaders to back the bombing of Afghanistan and was key to forming the coalition that supported the action, has expressed second thoughts about a war against Iraq, a campaign that he previously signaled he would be willing to join.

"The prime minister has said Saddam is a menace," Blair's spokesman, Martin Sheehan, said in an interview this week. "He did not say that, yes, we are definitely going to war."

For some European leaders, their frustration with President Bush comes from uncertainty about what he has in mind. That should not be surprising. In what appeared to be an effort to temper the impression that he is dead set on war with Iraq, Bush said this week from his ranch in Texas that he is not certain of his next move.

"The problem for the United States," said Gerald Kaufman, an influential member of Blair's Labor Party, "is that you have a president who has no interest in - and most likely no capability of - explaining just why military action is needed and, more importantly, what he intends to do about Iraq after he's finished bombing it."

Kaufman, the Labor Party's shadow foreign secretary during the Persian Gulf war, said in an interview that he would back Blair if the prime minister joins a U.S.-led attack against Iraq, but he cautioned that targeting Hussein would be a grave mistake that would disrupt international efforts to uproot al-Qaida and other terrorist networks.

In an article for The Spectator, in which he publicly urged Blair to resist the call of war drums, Kaufman argued that Bush and his team have no concept of the dangers that an invasion would pose, not only to the stability of the Middle East but to the world economy.

"Bush, himself the most intellectually backward American president of my political lifetime, is surrounded by advisers whose bellicosity is exceeded only by their political, military and diplomatic illiteracy," Kaufman wrote. "The only man in the U.S. administration who knows the score is Colin Powell, who actually won the last war against Iraq. He is so marginalized as to be an object of pathos."

The deputy prime minister, John Prescott, acknowledged publicly last week that Blair's Cabinet is divided. Blair's Labor Party is expected to vigorously debate the matter at party conferences next month. The party's leader in the House of Commons, Robin Cook, declines to respond to reports that he opposes Britain joining any military action against Iraq.

"I'm afraid we're going to have to leave it there," said Cook's spokesman, Simon Oliver. "I don't think it's difficult to figure out why."

A BBC interview with the president's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, did little to convince people that Bush is serious about leaving options open. "Condoleezza War Cry," read a headline in the Daily Mirror. "Bush Aide Points At Iraq Attack," said the Daily Mail.

Bush has been no more successful in gaining support elsewhere in Europe.

France has said it has serious doubts about any attack. And German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said derisively that his country would play no part in what he called Bush's "adventure."

Frank Umbach, a policy expert at the Research Institute of the German Council on Foreign Affairs, said Schroeder's statement was intended in part to appeal to anti-American sentiment as the chancellor tries to come from behind in his re-election bid. But the underlying problem with Bush's Iraq policy, Umbach said, is that there does not seem to be much of a policy at all, and Europeans recognize that.

"What has been lacking in Germany, and all of Europe, is any discussion about what Iraq would look like after any military action, and that requires a leadership that, so far, people have not seen," Umbach said in a telephone interview from Bonn.

"On the other side of things, there has been absolutely no discussion about the dangers posed by leaving Saddam Hussein in power. There have been some slogans and some labeling but no real discussion."

Meanwhile, Blair, like Bush, has said any decision on Iraq will come later this year - if then.

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