US allies leery of post-attack Iraq

Support for an attack on Iraq continues to drag. European allies doubt US staying power in an invasion's aftermath.

When war commenced in Afghanistan last October, President Bush said the United States was committed not just to routing terrorists, but to rebuilding a broken country so no international threat would rule there again.

But today, US military forces – off fighting the war in the mountains against Al Qaeda – are not an active part of the international security force trying to support a shaky interim government in the capital of Kabul. And promised roads to reknit the Afghan fabric aren't being built, regional warlords are gaining strength, and signs of schisms within the new government grow by the day.

These so-called "day-after" issues go a long way in explaining why US allies remain leery of an American attack on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. While there is no love for the tyrant of Baghdad in either European or Arab capitals, there is plenty of fretting that the US will take out Hussein without preparing much for the aftermath – or even sticking around for it.

"The Europeans are resigned to the idea that if the Americans are committed to going into Iraq they will do it," says Dominique Moïsi, of the French Institute on Foreign Relations (IFRI) in Paris. "But the experience in Afghanistan only reinforces the doubts about American stamina for a longstanding commitment, and leaves European leaders asking, 'Are we going to once again be the cleaning lady of an American intervention?'"

The US doesn't really need partners to act militarily, but it wants them to help in postwar rebuilding and relations with the Muslim world. Republicans as much as Democrats are reminding Bush of this.

Last week House majority leader Dick Armey, a Texas Republican and faithful Bush ally, warned that the US "will not have the support of other nation states" if it launches an "unprovoked attack."

Indeed, Vice President Dick Cheney, in conversations Saturday with Iraqi opposition leaders, stressed a US commitment to democratic rule post-Hussein – implying support for sweeping, long-term leadership change, not just a change-of-guard coup.

As early as last February, Secretary of State Colin Powell said that the US was preparing to take down Hussein's regime "on its own" if necessary. Still, a military operation is likely to include British forces, and access to NATO bases in Turkey and other staging facilities in Qatar, and Kurd-controlled Iraq.

What the US knows it can't manage alone are postattack elements, from developing a new regime to peacekeeping and reconstruction. Experts say those problems could require an international presence for a decade.

"The Europeans see that we will expect them to come in and do the nation-building afterwards, and they're uneasy with that," says Lawrence Korb, a former assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration.

At the same time, the US wants partners – Europeans and Muslim countries – to demonstrate that this quarrel is the world against a rogue state – not the US against a Muslim power.

European leaders harbor little doubt, sources say, that the US through technology and sheer power can achieve "regime change" – the Afghanistan war convinced them of that. But they also believe a post-war Iraq would be considerably more complex, costly, and risk-fraught. A strong objection for Europeans is that the US hasn't made a case for taking out Hussein. Some are looking for a legal case, with some form of United Nations approval.

"The concern is that if the US decides on its own that Iraq is a menace ... to be taken down," says Korb, "then given the string of American unilateral actions under this administration ... and given the 'axis of evil' standard, then what's to stop the US from moving next into Iran, and then North Korea?"

Some foreign leaders and members of the US Congress also want to seek a UN resolution justifying military action. They argue that such a step gave legitimacy to the 1991 Desert Storm war on Iraq.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and French President Jacques Chirac this month warned the US that they could only support a strike backed by the UN Security Council.

Both the US and Britain have suggested that step isn't necessary because Iraq remains in violation of UN resolutions ordering inspection of Iraq's weapons development sites.

IFRI's Mr. Moisi says European leaders join their Arab counterparts in concerns about the impact another US-led attack on a Muslim country will have on the "Arab street" – especially at a time when the Middle East remains tense and suspicions of the US role there remain high.

But, he adds, "The question of Iraq is running into a European cultural aversion to the idea of using violence as a tool. Increasingly we see an aversion to a military solution to these problems."

Mr. Schröder last week called for a negotiated solution to the impasse over Iraq's weapons programs. Christian peace activists opposed to war with Iraq presented a petition with 2,000 signatures to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, while a new survey showed 52 percent of Britons oppose military participation with the US against Iraq.

Some observers insist that what motivates the naysayers is not all high-minded concerns about international law, nation-building, and giving peace a chance. The French and Russians in particular have important commercial interests in Iraq they want to protect, they point out.

Still, Moïsi says that "at the end of the day" the Europeans are likely to fall in behind the US, though without enthusiasm.

"It would be difficult for the French to oppose an American campaign," he says, "yet difficult for them to join it as well."

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