Allies Sit on Sidelines for Desert Fox

TIMES STAFF WRITER

From 28 fighting or participating allies in Operation Desert Storm nearly eight years ago, the United States now finds itself with a single one.

And around the world, countries including NATO allies or others that have traditionally been friendly to the United States are calling for an immediate or speedy end to the U.S. and British bombardments of Iraq that began Wednesday.

Although governments from Argentina to Germany have expressed support or understanding for the attacks against Iraq and squarely blamed President Saddam Hussein's intransigence for making them necessary, there appears to be scant enthusiasm and meaningful silences in many of the official declarations. From other countries, the Clinton administration came under withering rhetorical fire for taking matters into its own hands.

"The actions against Iraq, as it appears to us, were not provoked by the Iraqis. . . . These actions are outrageous," Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny M. Primakov protested Thursday.

Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin charged that it was really the United States, not Iraq, that had "crudely violated" the U.N. Charter.

In the global village where CNN and the Internet carry the Beltway buzz to the remotest of lands, Washington's case has clearly been crippled by suspicions over the president's motives.

Was President Clinton's target really Iraq's military capabilities, many outside the United States were wondering, or the impending vote in the House of Representatives on impeaching him?

With the onset of military operations, the vote in the House was delayed, but only for a day.

"To create a diversion," said La Charente Libre, a provincial French newspaper, Clinton "wouldn't hesitate to create himself a little war."

"For Monica Lewinsky, they hit Afghanistan and Sudan," asserted a commentator on a satellite channel based in Qatar in the Persian Gulf, referring to U.S. attacks on alleged terrorist bases in those countries Aug. 20. "And now, for Monica's eyes, they hit Baghdad."

For Clinton's Republican predecessor, George Bush, the proudest foreign policy achievement of his four years in the White House was assembling a motley, globe-girdling coalition of nations to fight, under U.N. mandate, for the liberation of Kuwait from Iraqi occupation in 1991.

Troops from 15 other countries, including some Arab neighbors of Iraq, joined the U.S.-led operation.

Thirteen other nations provided other types of assistance, including allowing the use of military bases on their territory.

In retrospect, it was the high-water mark of Bush's "new world order."

In Operation Desert Fox, as the latest series of attacks on Iraq has been code-named, the United States and Britain have been forced to go it alone. And some other countries are complaining vociferously that there is no explicit U.N. authorization for what Washington and London are doing.

"There is absolutely no excuse or pretext for utilizing force against Iraq," charged Qin Huasun, China's ambassador to the United Nations.

"Whatever the faults of Iraq may have been--and they are numerous--the bombardments unleashed Wednesday evening by the Americans and the British are condemnable," said Paul Quiles, a Socialist who chairs the Defense Committee of France's parliament. "The Americans don't seem to realize that in wanting to find a solution all alone to the Iraqi problem, they are causing problems both for the system of collective security of the United Nations and for the transatlantic alliance."

On Dec. 8 in Brussels, the United States had asked the Europeans to back the Clinton administration's blueprint for a new North Atlantic Treaty Organization that, among other things, would empower it to combat the spread of the same weapons of mass destruction--chemical, biological or nuclear--that President Clinton said are being targeted in Iraq.

Some European members of NATO expressed reservations in Brussels; it seems probable that the attacks on Iraq will only reinforce their doubts.

What's more, among some U.S. allies, skepticism was immediate about how effective the tactics used so far in Desert Fox--attacks from missiles fired from ships or B-52 bombers--will be in destroying weapons that most likely have been dispersed and hidden by Hussein's forces throughout a country larger than California.

The awe widely elicited by the "smart weapons" employed in the Persian Gulf War's Desert Storm, and which turned out to be overdone, seems wholly absent now.

"The American idea of bombing Iraq is useless, even if it certainly has a legal basis," Italian Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema said.

He called on the United States and Britain to call off the attacks and to take the matter to the United Nations.

French officials, who deplored Hussein's refusal to cooperate fully with U.N. arms inspectors, neither endorsed nor condemned Operation Desert Fox. They worried out loud Thursday about possible long-term consequences: Iraqi hostility to any more investigations into its weaponry, civilian casualties, heightened instability in the Persian Gulf and elsewhere in the Mideast.

"And what about the day after?" Anne Gazeau-Secret, spokeswoman for the French Foreign Ministry, answered when asked why France, unlike in Desert Storm, had not contributed warplanes and military personnel to the U.S.-British operation.

Although Germany issued one of the firmest statements of support for the United States, Udo Steinbach, director of the Hamburg-based German Institute for Asian Studies, contended that the timing--the coinciding of Desert Fox and the scheduled House vote on impeachment--"diminishes the credibility of the action."

Ghassan Salame, a Lebanese-born professor at the prestigious Institute of Political Sciences in Paris, said he believes that one explanation for the mixed reception given the latest U.S. action is beyond Clinton's control. It's the changes in Iraq.

In 1990-91, the international community faced a strongman who had invaded and occupied a neighbor. Iraqi troops have been driven out of Kuwait, the opposition to Hussein is fragmented, and to many Arabs, the real injustice these days seems not the dictatorship in Baghdad but the 8-year-old U.N. sanctions that punish millions of ordinary Iraqis.

"Today the American case is 10 times weaker. That's a euphemism. Make it 100 times," Salame said.

Times staff writer Carol J. Williams in Berlin contributed to this report.

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