December 12, 2002

December 12, 2002 | Commentary on Middle East

ed121202: The Right Side of History

Still believe the conventional wisdom regarding a possible war with Iraq -- that the United States will be forced to "go it alone"? Then consider the case of France, who may well turn around and join America in removing Saddam Hussein from power.

Yes, France. To be sure, Paris officials have made a near cottage industry out of criticizing Washington's approach toward Iraq. Most notably, French President Jacques Chirac attacked the doctrine of pre-emptive action as "extraordinarily dangerous."

But as the Bush administration's overtures to the United Nations bore fruit, the tune changed. Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie declared that "the French armed forces are always ready" should Saddam Hussein defy the will of the Security Council. Many senior French strategists consider a war inevitable and admit privately that they want to keep their options open. If anything, the trouble won't be getting the French into Iraq but getting them back out after the fighting's over.

France, like many other European countries, sees the writing on the wall for Saddam. Indeed, the United States can expect to liberate the people of Iraq with one of the biggest strategic and diplomatic coalitions the world has seen in modern times.

Some nations, such as Britain, will join for the purest of motives -- to end brutal repression and to remove the danger posed by Baghdad's weapons of mass destruction. Financial interests will coax others, such as France and Russia, into the coalition. Russia has $7 billion worth of oil leases and loans tied up in Iraq and recently unveiled a 10-year trade deal worth $60 billion. Moscow is owed at least $10 billion in unpaid debts by the Iraqi regime. Its cooperation depends on it being allowed to pursue these claims with a post-war government. France also has extensive trade interests in Iraq.

Whatever the reason, it's become clear -- from the warm welcome President Bush received on his recent visits to newly inducted members of NATO to his success at convincing Moscow and Paris to sign on to the new U.N. resolution -- that the world wants to be seen standing alongside Washington.

Not surprisingly, the United States and Britain would do nearly all the fighting. The United States began moving troops and equipment into the area months ago, and Britain is gearing up to send more than 30,000 military personnel. Australian troops are also likely to see combat.

NATO allies Spain and Italy would provide valuable logistical and strategic support, along with younger members of the alliance, such as Poland and the Czech Republic. Madrid and Rome can contribute air bases, overflight rights and occupation forces for use after the war, and they could help rally European support for the war effort. Some of NATO's newly inducted members, such as Romania and Estonia, will seize the chance to prove their military and peacekeeping potential.

Key ally Turkey has agreed, with certain conditions, to allow the United States and Britain to use certain air bases for offensive operations against Iraq. These include the crucial base at Incirlik, the Allies' only forward-operating base in the region.

Several Arab nations, such as Kuwait, Jordan, Qatar and possibly Saudi Arabia, also are likely to co-operate in the event of war. Saudi Arabia has indicated that it may allow America to use the Prince Sultan Air Base near Riyadh to launch strikes against Iraq.

It's important not to overestimate the significance of Arab public opposition to a regime change in Baghdad. Saddam Hussein remains a deeply unpopular figure in much of the Arab world, and few tears would be shed in the Gulf over his demise.

Arab nations will also want to join in rebuilding post-war Iraq. The commitment of the United States and Britain can't end with the fall of Saddam Hussein. The British expect to have 15,000 of their troops remain in the country for up to five years after Saddam goes. The United States may have to make a similar commitment to ensure long-term peace and stability in the region.

Who's likely to be AWOL? Germany. That's because Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder used shortsighted anti-American, anti-war rhetoric to revive his moribund campaign and win re-election this past fall.

But electoral expediency is no excuse for moral cowardice, and as the Germans should well know, appeasement doesn't bring down dictators. They can either isolate themselves on the world stage, or they can join what may be one of the biggest international coalitions ever assembled to remove a menacing dictatorship from power. The choice is theirs.

Dr. Nile Gardiner is visiting fellow in Anglo-American security policy at The Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org), a Washington-based public policy research institute.

About the Author

Nile Gardiner, Ph.D. Director, Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom
The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom

Distributed nationally on the Knight Ridder wire