With results like Iraq, who needs a coalition?

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Monday, October 22, 2001 - 12:00 a.m. Pacific

Charles Krauthammer / Syndicated columnist With results like Iraq, who needs a coalition?

WASHINGTON The great coalition debate rages.

On the one hand are those who argue that the key to winning this war is to establish as broad a coalition as possible. "To succeed in the present conflict, it is essential that we repeat the coalition-building of the Gulf conflict," writes former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft.

In the other camp are those who say that we should be making whatever bilateral deals we need with the most important countries neighboring the Afghan theater of war with Uzbekistan for air bases, with Pakistan for cutting off support to the Taliban but that the fetish of adding partners to our coalition list will simply paralyze decision-making and prevent us from doing what we have to do: defeat the enemy.

This is not just academic debate. It pits the State Department against the Defense Department. The diplomats at State want to make friends. That is their job. The commanders in the Pentagon want to win the war. That is their job. And too many "friends" can get in the way of getting it done.

Scowcroft's view, expressed in a Washington Post op-ed (Oct. 16: "Build a Coalition"), is important not just because of his distinguished service as soldier and adviser, but because he has just been appointed chairman of the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board and thus will be influential in shaping the conduct of the new war.

Scowcroft begins his advocacy of coalition-as-centerpiece by defending our decision in the last war, when he was national security adviser to President George H.W. Bush, to stop the Gulf War before going to Baghdad and toppling Saddam.

Why? Because of the coalition. "Our Arab allies," explains Scowcroft, "would have deserted us, creating an atmosphere of hostility to the United States in the region."

Creating? We did not go to Baghdad and yet, regardless, the hostility toward us is such that it inspired the worst massacre of Americans in our history.

Much of that hostility derives from that fateful decision to leave Saddam in power in Baghdad in deference to our coalition partners, because we then had to spend a decade containing him with sanctions that have clearly hurt the Iraqi people and inflamed anti-Americanism in the region. Bin Laden himself, in giving reasons for his jihad on America, never fails to cite the starving and bombing of Iraq.

Scowcroft goes on: "In addition, the situation of the United States' being in hostile occupation of an Arab land" i.e. Baghdad, had we kept going "might well have spawned scores of Osama bin Ladens."

Good grief. What spawned the real Osama bin Laden his oft-repeated, No. 1 reason for his war on America was the infidel's "occupation" of Saudi Arabia, home to Mecca and Medina, the holiest cities in Islam. And why are American soldiers still there 10 years after the Gulf War? It is precisely because we stopped short of Baghdad, allowing the very regime threatening Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to remain in power, that we need to retain an American garrison in the region.

Thus, if we wish to make a "why do they hate us" inventory, we have from bin Laden's oeuvre that the gravest U.S. offenses are the very policies the American military presence in Arabia and the sanctions on Iraq (his love of Palestine is a recent, post-Sept. 11 flourish) that are the direct consequences of our failure to finish off Saddam in 1991.

And why didn't we finish him off? In order to accommodate the opposition of the coalition. And yet, Scowcroft now offers "a coalition, a broad coalition" as the key, the model, for success in the current war.

Coalitions are a means and not an end. We did not go to Baghdad and, over time, the coalition fell apart anyway. In the end, we lost both the coalition and our ultimate objective a de-fanged Iraq.

Clear thinking on coalitions comes from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. He speaks of "shifting" and "floating" coalitions. You take friends where you find them and when you need them. But in the end, we decide.

In contrast, the wall-to-wall coalitions that Scowcroft is trumpeting lead to lowest-common-denominator decision-making. They hold us back, as in the Gulf War, from our ultimate objective: attacking not just the manifestation of evil (in 1990-91, the occupation of Kuwait; in 2001, the terrorists that murdered 5,000 Americans) but the root of the evil, the state sponsors behind it.

One can have sympathy and respect for those who, in the crucible of the moment in 1991, made the wrong decision. But 10 years later, how can one refuse to acknowledge that the decision was wrong? Indeed, how can one present what was ultimately a failure Saddam looms, sitting now on tons of anthrax as an example of success, demanding emulation today?

Charles Krauthammer's column appears Monday on editorial pages of The Times. He can be contacted via e-mail at writersgrp@washpost.com.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), October 23, 2001


How bad does it need to get to realize that we don't need any stinkin' coalition? It's already worse than Pearl Harbor! Wake up State Department!

-- Steve McClendon (ke6bjd@yahoo.com), October 23, 2001.

Hyperlink: http://argument.independent.co.uk/leading_articles/story.jsp? story=100901

Bringing lasting peace to Afghanistan will cost even more than this war

23 October 2001

Ever since the bombs started falling on Afghanistan, politicians on both sides of the Atlantic have warned that the "war on terrorism" could go on for months, if not years, and that we are in it "for the long haul". So it came as something of a surprise yesterday to hear Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, warn of something rather different: that the Taliban regime could collapse quite suddenly, and that the international coalition had better be ready for such an eventuality.

Mr Straw's purpose was to concentrate minds on the dangerous vacuum that could be left in the wake of the Taliban, and the real costs that the coalition will have to incur if it wants to see the establishment of a stable state where disorder now reigns. But his purpose was also to lay down markers to guide the diplomats who will negotiate any agreement on the reconstruction of Afghanistan and the national leaders who will endorse them not least the leaders of the chief combatant, the United States.

Mr Straw offered four principles, each of which sounds laudable by itself, but which, separately and together, could become a source of conflict. First, in a plea for self-determination by any other name, Mr Straw said that the future should be placed in the hands of the Afghan people. Past efforts to impose a solution on Afghanistan from outside, he rightly said, had failed. He passed to the Afghans responsibility for deciding whether to call a traditional tribal assembly (loya jirga) to institute more local consultations, or to restore the king.

Choosing among these possibilities could foster discord, even before there is consent on Mr Straw's second point the need for an international coalition to support the reconstruction of Afghanistan. The coalition, broad as it is, becomes more fractured as the days go by. For all our diplomatic efforts, it is too much to expect that Afghanistan's neighbours will all at once renounce their interests in the country, even to promote regional stability. The terms "broad- based" and "self-sustaining" to define a new government are simultaneously unimpeachable and open to many interpretations.

The third principle is that the United Nations should take the lead in any transition from the Taliban regime. Such a role for the UN now appears to have gained wide acceptance, including from the US, which has developed a hitherto unsuspected enthusiasm for this body to the point of rushing through its overdue financial contributions. While few would dispute Mr Straw's view that the UN is the only body with the experience to oversee the rebuilding of Afghanistan, the UN could rapidly find itself in competition with the principle that the Afghans should decide their future themselves.

Mr Straw's final point was that Britain, and other coalition members, should not flinch from the financial and other investment that would be needed to make Afghanistan a viable, responsible state. Bringing even an uneasy peace to Bosnia has so far cost $5bn (3.5bn), he said; Afghanistan is four times the size and he was perhaps too genteel to say in far more of a mess. It was all very well for Mr Straw to propose a special international reconstruction fund and warn that contributions should not divert money from existing aid donations, but national parliaments may not be quite so generous.

Until yesterday, the Foreign Secretary had been a somewhat shadowy figure padding along in the footsteps of the global ambassador, Tony Blair. So it was good to see him stick his head above the parapet a little way, and better still to know that the Government is thinking beyond the use of force. What Mr Straw's speech also shows is that a realistic consensus about what to do next is still some way off.

Copyright, Independent Digital (UK) Ltd., Fair Use for Educational and Research Purposes Only

-- Robert Riggs (rxr.999@worldnet.att.net), October 23, 2001.

I believe that old Scrowcroft was indicted for crimes in the Bush administration. The reason we did not invade Iraq is because we did not have the 3 to 1 advantage for an offensive.

-- David Williams (DAVIDWILL@prodigy.net), October 23, 2001.

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