Allies hedge over tough US talk
Europe and Russia are balking at Bush's war plan, but the US may not need them.
WASHINGTON — "We are all Americans," declared the French daily LeMonde last week.
The Bush administration's energetic calls to marshal a concerted international defense of the civilized world were intially met with warm and universal support. But talk of a "crusade" is already giving Russia and some European countries cold feet. Does it matter?
It depends, say analysts, on which front of this developing "war" one examines.
To launch a military campaign against Afghanistan, for example, the US does not need the kind of broad international alliance built up for the Gulf War a decade ago, they say. That would only slow down the US.
"We don't need additional firepower to prevail in this war," says Andrew Bacevich, director of the Center for International Studies at Boston University. "Our problem is: We don't have the intelligence that will be crucial, so in the short term we'll need the intelligence capabilities of other countries."
Indeed, US Secretary of State Colin Powell has indicated that this would be a different kind of coalition. Different countries have different tools and information to add to what will be a multi-dimensional war, he said, with diplomatic, intelligence-gathering, legal, and law-enforcement elements - as well as military action, which he listed last.
The US will need sustained assistance from other countries to untangle and pull down the financial webs international terrorist organizations have spun. That work will range from developed countries that are the seats of the international banking system to the Arab and African countries where groups like Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda organization have their income base.
Countries like Iraq and Libya, suspected of ties to international terrorist organizations, are not likely to be the hot seats of financial coordination of the groups, analysts say, because of their estrangement from the international financial system. Key points of a financial web may well be countries whose governments are friends or allies of the US.
"The countries most useful to bin Laden are those that wouldn't raise too many questions about sources of money, but would have connections in the global banking system," says Kenneth Anderson, a professor in international law at American University in Washington. That would include countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and other Gulf states.
"The wild card in this is what happens if the web turns out to involve organizations located in, say, Palestine, or other countries of the Middle East, where the US faces a much more complicated intervention scenario," Mr. Anderson adds.
The US has said the war on terrorism will be an international struggle since shortly after the twin towers and the Pentagon were struck - and that both comforts a world that was already anxious about a "go-it-alone" America, while raising new flashpoints for international discord in the months ahead.
Already the US and its European allies are displaying quite different visions of how terrorism should be approached (see page 12). "The Europeans see this primarily as a matter of criminal investigation and law, but the US is saying, 'We went down that road, and look where it got us?'" says Anderson. The war versus police work "divide" will probably widen, especially as the US takes probable military action, he adds.
Others say the key will be a sustained effort that gets beyond the terrorist organizations to the countries that sponsor them. But that is where building and maintaining international consensus will be most difficult.
Colin Powell has said the US appreciates Syria's condemnation of Tuesday's attacks, and is ready to hear what Syria - which participated in the Gulf War coalition - has to offer in this fight. The State Department will receive the Saudi foreign minister tomorrow, and is sending off a team to probe Russia's dedication to the anti-terrorist cause. Mr. Powell also said Tuesday that the US is watching with interest Iranian overtures of late, but also noted that Iran remains on the State Department's list of terrorism-hosting countries.
"Going to Syria for help in this war is ludicrous," says Richard Perle, chairman of the Defense Department's Defense Policy Board and a former assistant secretary of Defense. "It's like going to the Genovese family to help out in a war on organized crime."
With the Gulf War experience in their hind sight, some Pentagon officials and analysts believe it was the international coalition that stalled the US from toppling Iraq's Saddam Hussein - and would again hamper a US effort to punish states involved in terrorism. "This is not the Gulf War where we needed a broad coalition," says Mr. Perle. "Approval of the rest of the world is a good thing," he adds, "but it is not essential." Mr. Bacevich agrees: "This will not be a band of brothers linking arms."
The international coalition will be a construction of "concentric circles," as one analyst close to the administration says, with the US seeking support and participation as broad as the United Nations for some aspects of the struggle, and acting with a core of willing and time-tested allies - or indeed alone - in others.