For Iraq coalition, US seeks bare essentials
Turkey's cooperation, positioning in the Gulf, and flyover rights are top priorities.
As the American troika of President Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld arrives in Prague Wednesday for a NATO summit, the off-the-agenda focus will be the planning for war with Iraq.Skip to next paragraph
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Who will go along, if the US decides war is necessary, and who will not?
The "coalition of the willing" that Mr. Bush says he will put together to fight an eventual war will not be his father's broad coalition formed for the Gulf War. This time around, America will focus its coalition on the basic players and logistical arrangements it needs - with the PR aspects largely put aside.
This means that in addition to Britain, and maybe Australia, helping in the fight, the US will focus on getting what it considers essential to wage this war: Turkey, for its bases and for crucial political considerations; a site for forward positioning in the Persian Gulf; and some essential flyover rights.
"Turkish bases are essential, and some sort of forward position in the Gulf that could be in Qatar, Bahrain, or Kuwait is essential. That's it," says Danielle Pletka, an American Enterprise Institute foreign-policy specialist.
With Secretary Rumsfeld convinced that it's better to be "lonesome" than limited by an unwieldy hodgepodge of participants, the appeal of a broad coalition for appearance's sake is likely to be limited.
"This time around, we will not allow ourselves to be constrained by whoever joins this coalition," says Ms. Pletka. For the Gulf War, "there was a facade of Arab support, and that was nice. But President Bush understands the difference between nice and essential."
The US diplomatic push for war partners and behind-the-scenes support, still in its initial stages, comes on the heels of a US victory in the UN Security Council that is likely to serve as an example for this diplomatic phase: The US will negotiate patiently for what it wants - and in the end, the objects of this American press may find the will of the global superpower hard to resist.
After eight weeks of difficult negotiations, the Security Council voted 15 to 0 earlier this month for the tough inspections regime for Iraq that the US wanted. At the NATO summit, the US will push the Alliance to express support for the UN resolution. Bush and other US leaders at the meeting will also discuss participation in any military action.
Turkey, a NATO member, already allows US and British jets enforcing no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq to use bases on its territory. Other NATO members are not likely to be essential participants in a war. But the US does not want members like Germany, with important American bases, opposing it.
As one indicator of how difficult it will be for countries to resist the US appeal, even Iraq's neighbor Syria, one of 10 temporary members of the Council, voted in favor of the UN resolution. Syria's desire not to run any further afoul of the US helps explain why another member of Bush's "axis of evil" - Iran - is already quietly working with the US to help ensure stability in the region if Saddam Hussein is ousted. Last week, in fact, Secretary Powell hinted at prospects for improved relations with Iran.
Patrick Lang, a former Mideast specialist with the Defense Intelligence Agency, says Iran is quietly cooperating with the US on training Mr. Hussein's Shiite Muslim opponents in southern Iraq. Like the Iraqi Kurds in the north, the Shiites should be prepared to help resist and battle Hussein's forces, the US believes - but not to the point of fueling any desires for independence that could destabilize the whole country.
Turkey, meanwhile, is already in talks with the US about what it would want in return for its cooperation. It's a sign, experts say, that the key ally is likely to go along. "The Turks will want to emphasize their status as NATO members and allies of the US," says Lang.
Concerned about the nationalistic dreams of the Kurdish people on its eastern border in northern Iraq, Turkey will also want to leverage its participation against assurances that no independent Kurdistan will result from a war. For its part, the US will want assurances that Turkey will not use war as a pretext to invade northern Iraq to head off Kurdish action.
One country that was essential to the Gulf War but is likely to sit this one out - at least publicly - is Saudi Arabia.
Charles Freeman, who was the US ambassador in Riyadh during the Gulf War, says Saudi leaders will be unwilling to buck stiff public opposition to an American war. But he says he does expect overflight rights to be granted - exemplifying the kind of quiet acquiescence he would expect to see from other Arab countries in the interest of getting any war over quickly, before it can engender too much turmoil and endanger regimes.
Lang agrees. "I recently spoke to a foreign minister from one of these [Arab] countries who said, 'If any war runs over a month, we're all in bad shape,' " he says.
Of particular concern is the stability of Jordan. The pro-Western regime of King Abdullah - dependent economically on Iraq - is already at odds with public opinion on US policy in the region. "Jordan," Pletka says, "is going to require special attention and help."