America's Allies in Gulf War Shy About Bombing Iraq's Nuclear Facilities
Bush says they will support action if Saddam continues to be evasive. COALITION QUANDARY
WASHINGTON — IN threatening Saddam Hussein that he had better tell all about his nuclear weapons program, the White House seems increasingly caught in the difficult position of trying to frighten the Iraqi leader without scaring anyone else.On one hand, administration officials continue to insist that the resumption of bombing remains a viable option. On the other hand, they have been at pains to say the planes will not be taking off anytime soon, and that coalition allies will have a say in what happens. "Everybody's reluctant to use force," President Bush told reporters earlier this week. But the president added that if Saddam Hussein continues to withhold information about his weapons of mass destruction, "you'd see the countries of the world come together and say, 'We've got to do something about this So far, such a spontaneous bonding hasn't occurred. Several key allies of the United States in the Gulf war have expressed hesitation about the resumption of hostilities against Iraq. Turkish officials have said they will not allow air bases in their country to be used for launching strikes against Iraqi nuclear facilities. That is an important objection, as the allied rapid deployment force intended to provide security for Kurds in northern Iraq is to be based largely in Turkey. Egypt also has reportedly objected to new use of force. And Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman Vitaly Churkin said in an interview on American television Sunday that new strikes could have more negative consequences than positive ones. If Mr. Bush wants to rally the Gulf war coalition for a new offensive, he will have to launch a concerted diplomatic campaign, says Raymond Tanter, a former National Security Council official who is now a professor at the University of Michigan. Otherwise, says Professor Tanter, any US use of force would inevitably have less international legitimacy than did Desert Storm, and Saddam Hussein might finally succeed in splitting up the nations still arrayed against him. President Bush "has to jump-start the coalition," says Tanter. "It's almost as if the coalition's batteries have died down over the summer." If the United States and its allies do decide force is necessary, they might well wait until Saddam Hussein provides another policy-forcing event, such as a skirmish with Kurdish fighters, to provide a pretext for their actions. Simply threatening to destroy nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons sites probably isn't enough, judges Tanter. Saddam would have a choice between turning them in - guaranteeing their loss - or waiting to see if the US Air Force might miss some of them. Instead, Bush might "try and build consensus within the coalition to target the Iraqi leadership directly," says Tanter, though that might run afoul of the US anti-assassination law. That discussion of threats and use of military force against Saddam Hussein is still news, almost a year to the day after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, points out the limits of the Desert Storm victory. Saddam can no longer threaten to hold Western economies in thrall through control of Kuwait's oil resources. But, in terms of the power balance in the region, "political results are still very much pending," says Prof. Charles Winslow, a University of Indiana Middle East expert. There are some benefits to the US of Saddam remaining in power, says Professor Winslow. He points out that "it's a reason for us to be there in strength," making regimes Iraq might again threaten still dependent on American firepower for protection. The cutting edge of that firepower, the rapid deployment force based in Turkey, is now moving into place. Many of the 1,500 troops making up the US share of the force's ground strength are already at Silopi, in Turkey, according to the Pentagon. The American units include a rifle company, a headquarters company, and some 70 helicopters, including Apache attack aircraft. Most are being reassigned from Germany, but Pentagon officials aren't calling it a permanent change of station. "It is temporary duty," Pentagon spokesman Pete Williams said last week. "But we haven't put a deadline on it. It's as long as the members of the coalition force believe it will be necessary." Air cover will be provided by US F-16 fighters and A-10 ground attack planes based at Turkey's Incirlik Air Base, along with other allied aircraft. Pointedly, the Pentagon has said that F-117 Stealth fighters, perhaps the most deadly of the Gulf war air weapons, won't be part of the rapid deployment force package. Meanwhile, administration plans to sell US arms to its Desert Storm allies continue to expand. At last count the White House had notified Congress of some $4.2 billion worth of proposed weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, and other Middle East nations. The latest planned sale involves a $365 million package for Saudi Arabia, which according to a Reuters report includes cluster bombs, Sparrow air-to-air missiles, and laser-guided bombs such as those that Pentagon videos showed performing so successfully against Iraq.