While U.S. President George W. Bush insists that many countries are eager to join what he calls a ''coalition of the willing'', a more apt name may be ''coalition of the coerced'', according to a report released Wednesday by the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive Washington think tank.
While some European leaders appear genuinely committed to Washington's drive to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein despite massive public opposition, most of the 34 governments that Bush may be counting as coalition members appear less than enthusiastic at best, says the report.
''Almost all, by our count, join only through coercion, bullying, bribery, or the implied threat of U.S. action that would directly damage the interests of the country,'' adds the 13-page report. ''This 'coalition of the coerced' stands in direct conflict with democracy.''
In most nations, including those most closely allied to the United States, over 70 percent of the public opposes U.S. military action against Iraq, according to the report, 'Coalition of the Willing or Coalition of the Coerced: How the Bush Administration Influences Allies in its War on Iraq'.
The degree to which other countries and the United Nations are perceived as supporting U.S. policy toward Iraq is considered crucial to the administration's efforts to rally support at home. A solid majority of U.S. public opinion has consistently told pollsters over the past year that while they support military action against Baghdad, they do so on the condition that Washington has international support.
Earlier this week a TIME/CNN poll found that 57 percent of the public said the final decision on invading Iraq should be in the hands of the U.N. Security Council, not up to Bush.
The administration also hopes for U.N. authorization to enhance its chances of getting other nations to help cover the huge financial and peacekeeping costs resulting from a U.S. invasion and occupation.
That is one reason why the United States, Britain and Spain - all Security Council members that support war - submitted a draft resolution earlier this week that declares that Iraq has missed its ''final opportunity'' to disarm peacefully, remains in ''material breach'' of its obligations to the Council, and thus faces ''serious consequences'', which implies an authorization for military force.
To take effect, any draft resolution must be approved by at least nine members of the 15-member Council. At the same time, it cannot be vetoed by any of the permanent members - Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States.
Most analysts believe that Washington currently has four supporting votes, the three co-sponsors plus Bulgaria, while France, Germany, Russia, China and Syria will either abstain or vote no.
As a result, U.S. pressure - in the form of both carrots and sticks - is now being brought to bear on the six undecided countries: Mexico and Chile from Latin America; Angola, Cameroon and Guinea from Africa; and Pakistan, the lone Islamic country.
While U.S. officials insist publicly that they are not bargaining over members' votes, this has evoked widespread skepticism - not to say derision - even from the generally credulous White House press corps, which broke out in laughter Tuesday after White House spokesman Ari Fleischer rejected a question that suggested that ''the leaders of other nations are buyable''.
Indeed, portents indicate that the six undecided members have a great deal to gain if they throw in with Washington. Turkey, where public opinion is running 95 percent against co-operating with Washington, has been offered some 15 billion dollars in immediate aid and loan guarantees in exchange for providing a northern launching pad for the invasion, while Israel, Egypt, and Jordan are expected to ask and get billions more of their own.
But the report points out that dollars and guarantees are not the only way that Washington can exercise leverage over undecided members of the Security Council or the broader ''coalition'' it is counting on for support.
On the military side, it said, the Washington maintains an effective veto over nations wishing to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a major aspiration of most of Eastern and Central Europe, which helps explain why Bulgaria has lined itself up behind the United States so early in the game.
Washington also provides military aid or other forms of military support or subsidized military sales to well over 150 countries worldwide. Although French aid programs to Cameroon and Guinea are substantially greater than what Washington offers, the United States has recently offered a substantial military training program to Conakry - which assumes the presidency of the Security Council in March - to help it fight a Liberia-backed insurgency.
Pakistan has been counting on buying substantial amounts of subsidized U.S. military equipment since Washington lifted its 10-year ban on weapons sales to Islamabad after the Sep. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
On the economic front, U.S. bilateral aid is rarely as significant as Washington's status as the world's largest economy and export market and as its influence in major international financial institutions, including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
U.S. trade officials have substantial discretion in deciding which countries receive trade benefits under the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) for example, which requires as one of its conditions for eligibility that a recipient country does ''not engage in activities that undermine United States national security interests''.
The United States represents a huge market for Mexico, Pakistan, and Chile, in particular, and reports of pressure by Mexican businessmen on President Vicente Fox to back Bush have already surfaced.
Similarly, the administration enjoys wide latitude in deciding what countries it should buy oil from in stocking its strategic reserves. As oil exporters, Cameroon, Angola, and Mexico all stand to benefit.
Given the U.S. Treasury's influence on the World Bank and the IMF, U.S. officials are particularly confident about bringing the three African countries around, despite the tight historic relations that exist between France and francophone Africa, of which Cameroon and Guinea are a part. U.S. opposition can delay, if not defeat, loans on which both countries depend. And the government of Angolan President Eduardo dos Santos, which is in a major fight with the IMF management over corruption, could gain some protection from a sympathetic Washington.
The administration is taking few chances, engaging in both direct and indirect diplomacy. It sent Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Walter Kansteiner to all three African states just last week, while Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have been working the phones.
It has also asked for lobbying help from other allies, including Japan - which has a large aid program in Africa - and Portugal's Prime Minister Jose Durao Barroso, a friend of dos Santos.
Copyright © 2003 IPS-Inter Press Service