Published on Tuesday, November 5, 2002 by the Baltimore Sun
Why Our Friends Are Turning Against Us On Iraq
by Steve Chapman
CHICAGO -- Every nation has to cope with adversaries, and the United States has always had its share. But as the Bush administration prepares to go to war against Saddam Hussein, we're finding an entirely new set of enemies: our friends.
In the 1991 Persian Gulf war, which followed Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, we had more friends than a lottery winner at happy hour.
This time, the rest of the world is divided -- between those countries that are opposed and those that are unenthusiastic.
For weeks, the administration has been pressing the U.N. Security Council to approve a resolution authorizing immediate, automatic military action if Mr. Hussein doesn't comply with a strict new inspection regime. But two members of the Security Council, France and Russia, have been lobbying strenuously against the U.S. proposal.
France is a longtime military ally and member of NATO whose forces took part in the war in Afghanistan. President Vladimir Putin surprised both Russians and the Bush administration with his willingness to help us destroy the Taliban. But they got off our antiterrorism bus when it suddenly veered toward Baghdad.
They're not the only friends who are shunning us. The German people recently re-elected Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, mainly because of his unequivocal rejection of a U.S. attack on Iraq. Turkey was a crucial partner in the gulf war, but Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit has strongly urged Mr. Bush to "abandon the idea" of invading Iraq, and public sentiment is overwhelmingly against us. Iran, the only country to be attacked with Mr. Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, has vehemently denounced Mr. Bush's war plans.
At least we've got the backing of our faithful North American neighbors. Don't we? Actually, no. A Canadian newspaper reports that "not since the Vietnam War has an American administration's handling of a foreign policy issue triggered such an outpouring of outspoken criticism from so many Canadian parliamentarians." More than half of Canadians think that if a war comes, Saddam Hussein and George W. Bush would be equally to blame.
South of the border, the story is similar. Vicente Fox, probably the most pro-American president in Mexico's history, parted ways with his old friend George W. Bush by siding with France in the Security Council fight.
Maybe all the leaders we thought were good guys have gone bad. The hawkish editorialists at The Wall Street Journal were so infuriated that they accused President Fox -- a free-market conservative whose election they applauded -- of a "reversion to Mexico's previous 70 years of solidarity with the global left."
Of course that's possible -- just as it's possible that Osama bin Laden has been given refuge at Al Gore's family farm. But it's not likely. The rest of the world has several good reasons to question our entire policy toward Iraq.
The first is that even Mr. Hussein's closest neighbors no longer regard him as a military threat. If he's so bent on conquest and destruction, why isn't anyone nervous in Riyadh or Tehran or Ankara?
Most of our fellow inhabitants of planet Earth think Mr. Hussein can be kept in check. What they fear is that the United States can't be. To a lot of people, President Bush brings to mind Titanic director James Cameron after he won an Oscar: "I'm king of the world!"
Recently, the administration issued a new policy statement baldly asserting its readiness to use military force, unilaterally and pre-emptively, whenever it sniffs danger. That document only sharpened the image of America as a hyperactive bully. Many people abroad don't understand why the mightiest country in history is so prone to feelings of vulnerability -- feelings it can banish only by going to war.
The idea that we're entitled to overthrow unfriendly governments also sticks in the craw of many foreigners. The Saudis, the Iranians, the Egyptians and others doubtless wonder who will wind up in our cross hairs once we've disposed of Mr. Hussein. It's clear from our recent history that after we've finished one military mission, we start looking for a new one.
Getting rid of Mr. Hussein won't make the Bush administration feel that we're finally secure. It will merely transfer U.S. anxiety from Iraq to Iran or North Korea or some other troublesome nation.
It's a dangerous delusion to think, as many conservatives do, that our Iraq policy is unpopular abroad only because everyone else in the world is cowardly, knavish or blind. The Bush administration ought to realize that if even your friends disapprove of what you're doing, maybe you're doing something wrong.
Steve Chapman is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune Publishing newspaper. His column appears Tuesdays in The Sun.
Copyright © 2002, The Baltimore Sun