Kerry shouldn't count on allies' help with Iraq

If elected, he could face same resistance Bush has

October 21, 2004|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Despite John Kerry's assertion that his election would bring more international support for the war in Iraq, he is likely to face the same resistance from U.S. allies as President Bush to sending troops to fight the insurgency or giving big infusions of money to provide jobs to Iraqis and rebuild the country, diplomats and analysts say.

Though public opinion in many countries favors Kerry over Bush, the current violence in Iraq and the widespread unpopularity of the war would make it politically difficult for their leaders to offer significant help to the United States if the Massachusetts senator captures the White House, according to analysts.

Kerry has repeatedly criticized Bush for alienating longtime U.S. allies, saying the president rushed to war and refused to give them a major stake in Iraq's postwar reconstruction.

He has made drawing greater international support the top element of his plan for correcting what he calls the "mess" in Iraq and making the country secure enough that U.S. troops can start to come home. "Getting more countries in Iraq won't be easy now," Kerry said yesterday. "In fact, this president makes it harder every day."

"But with new leadership, a fresh start, and new credibility, I believe it can be done - because chaos in Iraq is as bad for our allies and Iraq's neighbors as it is for us. It's in their self-interest to prevent Iraq from becoming a permanent terrorist haven in the heart of the Middle East," Kerry said in a speech in Waterloo, Iowa.

Global mission

A spokesman, Mark Kitchens, said that with a Kerry presidency, "more boots on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan is certainly possible," from traditional U.S. allies and other countries that lent support during the 1991 gulf war.

Kerry hopes to persuade the NATO alliance to make Iraq part of its global mission. Potential troop contributors would be assigned "specific and relatively low-risk but critical roles, such as training Iraqi security personnel and securing ... borders."

Kerry has called for a summit of the world's major powers and key Arab and Muslim nations to seek troops, trainers for Iraqi security forces and a special brigade to protect United Nations staffers, all measures urged in a U.N. Security Council resolution adopted last June.

In general, Kerry faces a big challenge in generating substantial new support from other nations, analysts say.

"There may be some reluctance to bail the Bush administration out, but I also think there's going to be a lot of reluctance to bail a potential Kerry administration out, too," said Kenneth Pollack, a Middle East specialist at the Brookings Institution. "One of the things that's been very clear is that even if there is a change here in Washington ... there's no great enthusiasm, at least among Europeans, for playing a greater role."

There is little doubt that a Kerry victory would be welcomed by much of the public in Western Europe, where Bush is widely unpopular. Views of the United States in much of the Middle East have turned sharply negative under Bush, because of the war in Iraq and because of strong U.S. support for Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians.

Because of the anti-Bush sentiment, many analysts say foreign leaders would want to give Kerry a sign of support on Iraq if he were elected. In Europe and the Middle East, many leaders fear the prospect of chaos or civil war in Iraq if the American effort fails. They worry that this would increase instability in the region and possibly lead to more anti-Western terrorism.

But what difference Kerry's election would make in terms of actual contributions of troops or money, debt relief or training of Iraqi security forces is unclear.

Last month. a senior aide to German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Bernd Mutzelburg, told Kerry advisers in Washington not to expect Germany to send troops if Kerry wins, a German Embassy official said, confirming a report in the Financial Times of London.

In a speech last week, France's ambassador to Washington, Jean-David Levitte, reiterated his country's long-standing refusal to send troops to Iraq. A French diplomat said this position has been made clear to candidates throughout the election campaign.

Levitte said more European troops aren't the answer. "On the contrary, it would reinforce the feeling of occupation at the very moment we should give the Iraqi people, as we did for the Afghan people, a sense of empowerment," he said.

Josef Joffe, publisher-editor of the German weekly Die Zeit and a commentator on trans-Atlantic relations, said, "Europe doesn't want the U.S. to fail, [but] it doesn't want the U.S. to win." Speaking at a weekend conference sponsored by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, he relayed a current joke in Berlin: "Schroeder wants Bush to win because it's easier to say `No' to Bush."

Poland, one of Bush's strongest supporters in Europe, has announced that it plans to withdraw its troops next year.

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