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'Coalition of willing' masks U.S. attempts to legitimize conflict

March 28, 2003

By Amethyst

Hensley

The more the Bush administration talks about the 'coalition of the willing,' the more obvious it becomes how desperate it is to feign international support for the war in Iraq.

Thursday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld contended that the coalition against Iraq 'is large and growing. This is not a unilateral action, as is being characterized in the media. Indeed, the coalition in this activity is larger than the coalition that existed during the Gulf War in 1991.'

Unfortunately, Rumsfeld did not choose to mention that in 1991, the entire NATO-backed 34-member group provided troops, aircraft, ships or medics. Newsday pointed out that in 1991 foreign contributions amounted to $54 billion, leaving the United States to cover only $7 billion of the war's costs. Compare that figure to the $74.7 billion Bush asked Congress to allocate for the first six months of the war.

But, back to the coalition. Now, we can proudly say we have countries like the Marshall Islands, Costa Rica, Micronesia, Iceland and Palau backing us. The Solomon Islands had been on the list, but Prime Minister Allan Kemakeza denied publicly Wednesday that his country had anything to do with the coalition. According to The Irish Times, Ireland also has clarified that it is providing air space for the troops, but does not want to be part of the coalition. Fifteen nations have provided overflight facilities but would like to remain anonymous.

Most of the coalition's countries are giving symbolic support, but will not commit any troops for the effort. Indeed, Iceland's ambassador Helgi Agustsson laughed at the notion that his country would fight. He said, 'We laid down weapons sometime in the 14th century.' I doubt they will dust off their viking helmets for this conflict.

However, the list is most notable for what it lacks. No Arab states have publicly joined the coalition, including ones where the United States has military outposts, such as Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain. Countries that usually support the United States, like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel, have declined to sign up.

Even our neighbors have shied away from U.S. support. Canada and Mexico declined to back us, and very few Latin American countries rushed to our aid. As the BBC noted, 'Only El Salvador, Nicaragua and Colombia -- where the U.S. is funding a huge anti-drugs war ä were prepared to be identified with the U.S. coalition.'

However, a more dangerous problem exists. The U.S. public image has plummeted across the globe, even in the more substantial coalition countries.

According to a Pew Research Center poll, only 34 percent of Italians view the United States positively, down from 70 percent in 2002. In Spain, 14 percent have a favorable image of our country. In Poland, which is supplying troops in Iraq, support for U.S. actions has dropped from 80 percent to 50 percent. Turkey has given Washington its permission to use its air space, in exchange for a large economic aid package, but has refused to allow U.S. troops in its territory and threatens to move its own armed forces into Northern Iraq.

President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair's decision to circumvent established international forums, such as the United Nations and NATO, has deeply divided the global community. A fabricated 'coalition of the willing' will not distract the public from that fact.

I am not saying that this war is wrong or that Saddam Hussein should stay in power. I am proud of our outstanding troops and I wish them a quick and safe victory.

However, now that we have committed ourselves to war, we must live with the consequences. The United States has the formidable task of repairing its good reputation with the world. No amount of spin can make that go away.