At times during these tense past five months, it appeared that the unwieldy coalition of nations allied against Iraq might be in danger of unraveling.
Maverick peace initiatives, anti-war demonstrations and negative public opinion polls in many of the nations--ranging from economically mighty Japan to the minuscule Duchy of Luxembourg--tested the unprecedented coalition put together by the Bush Administration in the months of meticulous, detailed diplomatic maneuvering.
Just before Christmas, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney said he was troubled by “varying levels of commitment in terms of willingness to use offensive military action to achieve our objective” among the allies. Cheney pointedly excluded France and Syria from the list of nations he felt could be depended upon in the event of military action.
But even as the calendar brings the danger of war ever nearer, doubts have faded about the coalition’s willingness to fight--at least for the limited objective of liberating Kuwait. To resurrect that famous Vietnam-era phrase, nobody is exactly gung-ho. But what the French call “the logic of war” has been widely, if solemnly, accepted.
Commented John Roper, spokesman for the Kurt Gasteyger Institute of Security Studies in Paris: “The people had reluctantly accepted that if there is no scope for negotiations, one has to draw the inevitable conclusion--war.”
Syria, with 20,000 troops and a significant number of tanks in Saudi Arabia, remains the only major question mark among the countries with forces on the ground, mostly because of the unpredictable personality of its leader, President Hafez Assad.
Assad appealed to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein over the weekend to withdraw from Kuwait in the name of Arab unity. But Syrian statements regarding the conditions under which its troops now in Saudi Arabia might fight appear equivocal. Foreign Minister Farouk Shareh said last Saturday that they were on hand “for defensive purposes” and that Damascus is currently “consulting our Arab brothers in the gulf” about future operations. But he specifically ruled out participating in any anti-Iraq coalition if Israel joined in.
On the other hand, Egypt, next to Saudi Arabia the most important Arab partner in the coalition, seems more poised and ready than ever with its 35,000 well-trained troops.
In a remarkable display of cohesion in a chaotic land, the Egyptian public remains overwhelmingly supportive of President Hosni Mubarak’s policy in the Persian Gulf region, including Egypt’s leading position in the Arab alliance against Iraq.
Even the noisiest opposition groups, such as the Wafd and the Muslim Brotherhood, have not criticized Hosni Mubarak’s gulf policy, although the Muslim Brotherhood is vehemently opposed to the presence of Western forces in Saudi Arabia.
While Egyptians tend to be suspicious of the motives of the United States in the conflict, their hatred of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and abhorrence of the invasion of Kuwait were enough to tip them strongly to the American side.
“We are even more enthusiastic than the Americans,” said a 37-year-old Cairo taxi driver. “Egyptians hate thieves. If somebody steals from your brother, it’s your right to teach them a lesson.”
France, with 10,000 troops in Saudi Arabia as well as important air and naval forces deployed in the gulf region, appeared to some observers as the Western ally most likely to balk if war broke out. There were even deep divisions within the French Socialist government itself on the issue.
Just a few days ago French Defense Minister Jean-Pierre Chevenement--who before the conflict had been one of the founders of the Franco-Iraq Friendship Assn.--urged the American side to make a “small concession” to the Iraqis by agreeing to a proposed international conference on Palestine in exchange for the withdrawal of Iraqi troops from Kuwait. To the Bush Administration, this idea of “linkage” is anathema because it could be viewed as a reward for Hussein for his invasion of Kuwait.
However, President Francois Mitterrand removed much of the ambiguity of the French policy during a press conference Jan. 9, the day of the failed peace talks in Geneva between Secretary of State James A. Baker III and Iraqi Foreign Minister Tarik Aziz.
Like a father talking to a son whom he is sending off to battle, the 74-year-old Mitterrand lectured his people about the horrible price of war. But, invoking the glory of previous French battles, Mitterrand said the gulf is a just cause.
“France cannot be absent from the battlefield on which are positioned the defenders of international law,” Mitterrand said, “without losing a little of what she has gained in the course of history. France will take part in the armed conflict as a regrettable and fearful solution to the situation.”
Late opinion polls in many countries, including France, showed popular support for the military option to be nearly at the same level as that in the United States. A Jan. 5 poll conducted for the French Sunday newspaper, Journal Du Dimanche, by the BVA polling agency, showed that a remarkable 59% of the French felt that France should participate in an allied military action with the objective of liberating Kuwait.
Differences between the United States and its allies tend to be on a more personal, interpretive level. If Americans think that the European countries, for example, are not doing enough to help in the war effort, Europeans often feel they are doing too much to help what they consider mainly an American cause.
Annick Bonhomme, 43, a dairy farmer in the Camembert region of Normandy, reflected the common European attitude, unfathomable to many Americans, in a recent interview:
“I think we are helping the Americans without getting much in return,” she said. “I think a presence in the gulf is desirable to show solidarity with other countries. But if the conflict erupts, our role is not very clear. In fact, we are just following the Americans. The Americans have a big interest in this business.”
Despite anti-war demonstrations in nearly every country involved in the gulf conflict--including major protests which brought tens of thousands to the streets of Berlin, London, Paris, Rome, and other European cities last weekend--the movement has not been able to gather enough momentum to affect public policy.
In Turkey, for example, furor over the jailing of a 16-year-old schoolgirl accused of putting up an anti-war poster for a banned political cause fueled the already powerful anti-war movement in that critical country. Yet the Turkish government of President Turgut Ozal weathered the storm and even invited European NATO aircraft from Germany, Belgium and Italy to bolster its border defenses against Iraq.
In Spain, public opinion polls on the gulf issue show that the majority of Spaniards are strongly opposed even to the U.N. resolutions that linked disparate members into an alliance against Iraq. Spanish opposition to war is particularly strong because most of its army is composed of draftees. Also, Spain has a history of isolationism--the last time the Spanish army saw military action abroad was between 1909 and 1927 when a mission to Morocco ended in ignominious failure.
Yet the Socialist government of Prime Minister Felipe Gonzales went against the grain by agreeing to allow American bases in Spain to be used in the conflict and dispatching three navy vessels to the gulf.
The European commitment to the gulf conflict has been proportionately greater on the sea than on land. According to the Western European Union office in Paris, of the 21,000 cargo ship challenges that have taken place since the blockade of Iraq began in August, 15,000 have been made by European vessels.
Degrees of allied contribution to the military effort have varied greatly in other ways too. Tiny Luxembourg, for example, contributed by paying the fees for Dutch and Belgian ships to pass through the Suez Canal on their way to the gulf.
Pacifist sentiments among the allies appeared to be strongest in Germany and Japan, where the taste of defeat in World War II still lingers and haunts the corridors of government.
“Germany was the most reticent country for a variety of reasons,” commented Francois Heisbourg, executive director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. “For obvious historic reasons, Germany has learned the lesson that use of force is not necessarily beneficial. But preoccupation with the economic and political unification of the two Germanys has also focused public attention in other directions.”
Because of its relatively vulnerable coalition government, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl also has to pay closer attention to public opinion than other European leaders. Public opinion in Germany tends to be pacifist, envisioning involvement only as part of the country’s commitment to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Said Chistoph Lesche, 28, an industrial products salesman in Berlin: “Personally, I consider it wrong to resolve conflicts with military means in this day and age. The whole region would be devastated and even Germany would be endangered.”
Regarding the German 18 Alpha Jet military aircraft dispatched to Turkey, a member of NATO, at the request of the Turkish government, Lesche made an odd suggestion that is typical of the general German aversion to use of military force. “The German fighter planes should be a political signal and have no aggressive intent. They only have a range of 1,000 kilometers, are not modern and took off unarmed. That was a very sensible decision on the part of the Germans.”
Likewise, Japan prefers a seat far away from the action in the event of a war in the gulf.
“The Japanese don’t feel any direct connection to what’s going on in the gulf,” said Teiichi Suwara, a teacher in a college entrance preparatory school. “If there is a war, we will watch comfortably from afar, taking keen interest in the drama of the fighting. But it won’t be our war.”
The government of Japanese Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu and top officials in the powerful Tokyo bureaucracy have lined up loyally behind the U.S.-led effort to expel Hussein from Kuwait. The government pledged $2 billion in cash for the multinational military force in Saudi Arabia and another $2 billion in aid for the front-line states, for example.
Kaifu’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party even attempted to push legislation through Parliament to authorize dispatching a symbolic contingent of noncombatant Japanese troops to the gulf, although technically, as in Germany, this would violate the country’s constitution.
That plan failed, however, when people demonstrated in the streets and opposition leaders railed against sending Japan’s youth to war. Memories of Japan’s disastrous course in World War II are still fresh. Public opinion, reflected in polls, is strongly pacifist.
Indeed, Japan’s postwar education program appears to have been at least as effective in instilling pacifist tendencies as the prewar military propaganda was in building the fanatical samurai spirit.
The result is commonly known as heiwa boke , which means something like “peace dementia.”
“I have no concept of what it would mean to go to war,” said a Japanese woman in her mid-30s, researcher for a major bank. “I suppose it was the way I was indoctrinated about peace when I was growing up, but what America is doing now is simply unbelievable. It was the same thing when they invaded Panama. I couldn’t believe they would want to do something crazy like that.”
Most experts agree that the key factor in building the coalition against Hussein was the agreement by Saudi Arabia to allow foreign troops on its territory. “Once the Saudis had decided they would take outside support then the coalition became entirely possible,” said Heisbourg.
Despite the enormous disruption of its society caused by the buildup, public opinion in Saudi Arabia has been consistently supportive of the allied effort.
Saudi support for military intervention was stronger at the beginning of the crisis, when the shock of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait had just taken hold. Still, a broad spectrum of Saudis see justification for war.
“We don’t want war, but we also don’t want aggression,” said Bakar Amri, dean of economics and administration at King Abdulaziz University in Jidda. “It is time now for America to change its image. It lost Vietnam because it yielded to public opinion. If it loses this, believe me, America will never have any effectiveness or influence in Third World countries.”
Demonstrating their willingness to fight, thousands of Saudis have signed up as volunteers at new military recruitment centers throughout the kingdom.
One of them, Muid Sahran of Jidda, said recently:
“Our country has never been colonized or ruled by foreigners. The people of this country have the ability to deny themselves luxury to become hard fighters. We don’t expect to be mistreated. The Bedouin spirit is still in our hearts. We can prove a very difficult enemy. The changes have awakened us. Our fighting spirit has taken us back to our roots.”
Contributing to this report were Times correspondents and researchers Kim Murphy in Cairo and Riyadh, Karl Schoenberger in Tokyo, Tamara Jones in Bonn, Joel Havemann in Brussels, Fleur Melville in London, Janet Stobart in Rome and Petra Falkenberg in Berlin.
Attitudes on the Gulf Crisis
The results of a telephone survey conducted by the Gallup Poll on the attitudes of Europeans on the crisis in the Persian Gulf. Gallup Poll, London conducted 500 telephone interviews in each of these countries--Britain, Germany, France, Italy--and for the first time, Moscow. The survey was conducted from Dec. 7-14.
ATTITUDES TO CONTINUING WITH SANCTIONS OR INVOKING MILITARY ACTION
“By January 15th sanctions against Iraq will have been in place for nearly six months. Do you think that the international community should continue with sanctions alone after January 15 or should military action be taken after this date in order to make Iraq withdraw from Kuwait?”
Britain France Italy Germany Continue with sanctions alone 28% 31% 45% 50% Take military action 51% 31% 23% 17% Continue with sanctions for a while longer before taking military action 15% 33% 22% 23% Don’t know 6% 4% 11% 10%
Moscow Continue with sanctions alone 34% Take military action 10% Continue with sanctions for a while longer before taking military action 39% Don’t know 17%
HOW THREATENING IS SADDAM HUSSEIN TO WESTERN SECURITY?
“If Iraq were to voluntarily withdraw from Kuwait and Saddam Hussein remain in power, how threatening do you think he would still be to Western security and international order in the future?”
Britain France Italy Germany Moscow Very threatening 37% 30% 17% 20% 16% Quite threatening 37% 50% 39% 36% 22% Not very threatening 16% 14% 21% 28% 18% Not at all threatening 6% 4% 12% 8% 23% Don’t know 4% 1% 11% 9% 21%
SUPPORT FOR SUPPLYING MILITARY EQUIPMENT AND GROUND TROOPS TO THE GULF
“If military action is taken against Iraq by international forces in the gulf, would you support or be opposed to (country) taking the following courses of action?”
A.) Sending military equipment and supplies to the forces fighting Iraq:
Britain France Italy Germany Moscow SUPPORT October 85% 70% 43% 60% NA December 82% 68% 40% 43% 29% OPPOSE October 12% 24% 49% 32% NA December 15% 29% 54% 48% 63% DON’T KNOW October 3% 7% 8% 8% NA December 3% 3% 6% 9% 8%
B.) Sending ground troops from the (country’s) armed forces to join those already fighting Iraq:
Britain France Italy Germany Moscow SUPPORT October 77 62 33 28 NA December 76 58 31 14 8 OPPOSE October 19 32 61 66 NA December 21 40 63 76 89 DON’T KNOW October 4 7 6 6 NA December 3 2 6 10 4
Who Contributes What to the Multinational Force Deployed Against Iraq?
TROOPS United States: 430,000 Gulf Cooperation Council: 144,500 (Saudi Arabia, Oman United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait) Britain: 35,000 Egypt: 35,000 Syria: 20,000 France: 10,000 Bangladesh: 6,000 Pakistan: 5,000 Canada: 1,700 Morocco: 1,500 Niger: 500 Senegal: 490 Czechoslovakia: 370
COMBAT AIRCRAFT United States: 500 Gulf Cooperation Council: 360 Britain: 65 France: 40 Egypt: 20 Canada: 18 Italy: 8
WARSHIPS United States: 80 Gulf Cooperation Council: 36 Britain: 21 France: 12 Germany: 7 Italy: 6 Australia: 3 Belgium: 3 Canada: 3 Netherlands: 3 Spain: 3 Argentina: 2 Turkey: 2 Denmark: 1 Greece: 1 Norway: 1 Portugal: 1
NOTE: All countries listed have forces in place; exact figures in some cases represent pledges rather than current deployment.
SOURCES: Center for Defense Studies, Los Angeles Times