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Iraq Journals

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Friday, March 7

U.S. working without a net as war approaches

By Jon Frandsen

WASHINGTON — The United States is on the brink of going to war with Iraq with no clear outcome in sight, few allies at its side and world opinion mounting against it.

It’s a turnabout of dizzying proportions.

“In the immediate aftermath of September 11, we had hundreds of thousands of Germans in Berlin marching for the United States. We had them all in France declaring, ‘We're all Americans,’ ” Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., recalled at a recent Capitol Hill hearing.

Now, there are serious ruptures with U.S. friends in the United Nations and even within the NATO alliance.

"How'd we get here?” Leahy asked Secretary of State Colin Powell.

The Bush administration generally has two answers: Many in the world want to turn a blind eye toward the deadly peril posed by Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction, and things may not be as bleak as they look.

In a news conference Thursday, Bush warned observers not to draw too many conclusions yet about where the world stands as the U.N. Security Council approaches a new vote on Iraq.

Bush said reporters asked before the Nov. 8 vote on the last U.N. resolution, `` `How come you can't get anybody to support your resolution.’ If I remember correctly, there was a lot of doubt as to whether or not we were even going to get any votes.”

All 15 council members ended up voting with the United States, he reminded a global audience, “and I think you'll see when it's all said and done, if we have to use force, a lot of nations will be with us.”

On Friday, the United States and Britain launched a new diplomatic gambit at the Security Council that could win more support.

They backed away from their insistence on a vote declaring Iraq in “material breech” of the Nov. 8 resolution and suggested instead giving Iraq one last chance — to disarm by March 17 or face a military attack.

The council will debate its next step over the next few days and the outcome is not clear.

But critics say even a good outcome will leave some damaged alliances behind the United States, and that in the worst case, America could find itself isolated as it occupies Iraq and opens the Middle East up to a new universe of woes and instability.

Criticism, including from some who have been strong supporters of Bush’s goal to disarm Saddam, blame America’s isolation on two key elements.

— A series of foreign policy decisions early in the administration, such as backing out of a global warming accord and other treaties, married to what they regard as a series of outright diplomatic blunders throughout the current conflict that alienated allies and opened America’s motives to suspicion.

— Hewing to a narrow, and perhaps, risky strategy that put its emphasis on military planning and not enough, in their view, on how to deal with what is likely to be a long occupation and reconstruction of a post-Saddam Iraq.

It is this last worry that most concerns critics as war becomes more of a certainty. That is because the broader a coalition, the less likely anti-American sentiment could inflame Islamic fundamentalists in friendly neighboring states.

“The problem I have is that it is a lot of banking on scenarios that are favorable and that everything is going to fall into place in a favorable way,” said Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, the only Republican senator to vote against the use of force resolution Congress passed last year. “And the dynamics of the worst case scenario, that moderate Arab states become inflamed” is set aside.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said the administration seems to be “assuming other nations will be flocking to Iraq” after the war to help shoulder the burden — even those who had been opponents.

Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the situation has been made worse by a persistent rift in the administration, which undercut diplomatic efforts by Powell.

Biden senses an “almost religious certainty” in the administration that says, “ ‘Don’t worry. None of the details are going to be the problem. This is going to go boom-boom-boom and everything will be fine.

“This all can work,” Biden said, “if it works perfectly.”