This is no time for America to shut out other nations

April 07, 2003|By Jules Witcover | Jules Witcover,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Republicans and Democrats alike in Congress stepped up to the plate the other day in overwhelmingly voting nearly $80 billion for the Bush administration to fight the wars against Iraq and global terrorism. With American forces in the field, they could do no other.

The good legislators also wisely listened to the administration in rejecting a vindictive and short-sighted amendment by Republican Rep. Randy Cunningham of California to cut $1 billion in foreign aid to Turkey in retaliation for its refusal to permit its territory to be used by U.S. troops in the invasion of Iraq.

Mr. Cunningham argued that "there needs to be some message sent to any country that chooses to put in harm's way American and allied soldiers." But National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice pointed out in a letter to Congress that Turkey had been a trusted ally in other wars and was now providing support in other ways.

The House action was tinged, however, with an exercise in folly that does not bode well for dealing with the costly reconstruction of Iraq after the shooting stops and for mending the badly shattered U.S. diplomatic relationships with countries that balked at a second U.N. resolution authorizing the Iraqi invasion.

In a voice vote, the House, this time ignoring the White House, took vengeance specifically on France, Germany, Russia and Syria, all members of the U.N. Security Council, by specifying that no American money was to go to companies from those countries for rebuilding Iraq.

A sponsor, Republican Rep. George R. Nethercutt Jr. of Washington, said his amendment "sends a signal to our allies that we appreciate those who support us in our time of need," and then added threateningly, "and remember those that have sought to thwart coalition efforts to defeat Saddam Hussein's regime."

In other words, after having tried and failed to bribe Turkey and smaller members of the Security Council to do America's bidding on launching the war, the United States is to make what Mr. Nethercutt called "the coalition of the unwilling" pay for its sins. It's hard to believe that this petty action, which is opposed by the White House, will stand.

Such punitive thinking flies in the face of what Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told foreign ministers of the European Union and NATO on the same day as the vote. While saying the United States and allies would "play the leading role" in postwar Iraq, he pointedly added: "This is not to say that we have to shut others out and not to say that we will not work with the international community, especially the United Nations."

Failure by the United States and Britain to invite other U.N. members, and particularly those such as France, Germany and Russia who actively worked to scuttle the second resolution, would only reinforce the opinion of many in Europe that the Iraqi invasion is only the first step in American empire-building.

The Bush doctrine of pre-emptive war proclaims that the status of the United States as the world's remaining superpower bestows a responsibility for ensuring world peace, acting alone by force if necessary. But other nations fear that the doctrine claims a unilateral license to police the world based on unchallenged American military power.

Such perceptions, valid or not, make it imperative that the United States put behind it the U.N. opposition to the U.S.-British timetable for making war against Iraq and get on with restoring good will among those longtime allies and with Russia, which can help in other worthwhile tasks facing the international community.

It is imperative, that is, unless the administration has concluded from the U.N. rejection of the second resolution that trying to work through the world body is a waste of time, as many Republican conservatives believe. Once again, Mr. Powell may hold the key, as the conciliatory inner-council voice who first persuaded President Bush to go the U.N. route for a time, before starting the war.

Jules Witcover writes from The Sun's Washington bureau. His column appears Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

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