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U.S. News
Bush, aides make point of talking up 'coalition'

Thursday, March 27, 2003

By Ann McFeatters, Post-Gazette National Bureau

WASHINGTON -- The "talking points" prepared by the White House for those in the administration who publicly discuss the war against Iraq carefully note that it's not "American forces" who are fighting but "coalition forces."

President Bush draws applause from troops stationed at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa during a speech yesterday morning. MacDill Air Force Base is the home to the United States Central Command. (Chris O'Meara, Associated Press)

With major past allies such as France, Germany, China and Russia sitting out, just who's in this "coalition of the willing," and exactly what are they willing to do?

In the past, President Bush has spoken in general terms about the "ever-growing coalition." He has said, "We are grateful for their determination, we appreciate their vision, and we welcome their support."

Yesterday, he was more specific as he aimed to boost military morale in a speech at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla.

To cheers and applause, Bush announced that 48 nations have now joined the U.S. effort to overthrow Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Then he elaborated:

"British ground forces have seized strategic towns and ports. The Royal Air Force is striking targets throughout Iraq. The Royal Navy is taking command of coastal waters.

"The Australian military is providing naval gunfire support and special forces and fighter aircraft on missions deep in Iraq."

Denmark has contributed a submarine that is "monitoring Iraqi intelligence, providing early warning," Bush said.

Polish forces, he said, "secured an Iraqi oil platform in the Persian Gulf."

And Poland as well as the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania have soldiers "forward-deployed in the region, prepared to respond in the event of any attack of weapons of mass destruction anywhere in the region." He said they would soon be joined by soldiers from Ukraine and Bulgaria.

It remained unclear yesterday the size of the troop contingents he was describing.

Spain, the most significant ally in Europe after the British, "is providing important logistical and humanitarian support," Bush said. Even so, there have been violent demonstrations in Spain against that country's participation, though it is largely non-military.

When White House spokesman Ari Fleischer was asked last week about the size and significance of the coalition, he whipped out a reference paper with the total population (1.18 billion) and the total GDP ($21.7 trillion) of the coalition.

The point, the administration maintains, is that the second Gulf War coalition is much larger than the first in 1991, when 34 allied countries supplied troops, logistical support and large sums of money to cover the war's cost.

In 1991, U.S. forces made up 70 percent of the 744,000 troops that fought Iraqi forces. But other nations -- principally Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Japan and Germany -- financed a large part of the cost. Altogether, allies chipped in to pay about two-thirds of the earlier war's $60 billion cost.

Nonetheless, of about 300,000 allied troops in this war, 250,000 are from the United States and 45,000 are British. It is doubtful that all the other assembled nations are supplying as many as 5,000.

Bush administration officials -- miffed that many commentators have noted that this White House's coalition in not as robust as the one the president's father organized in 1991 -- argue that they have received moral support from still more nations privately, if it is not publicly.

At a House Appropriations Committee hearing yesterday, Secretary of State Colin Powell said: "We have a lot of our traditional allies with us." Many of the rest are small countries, which, he admitted, "can't make a major military contribution. But they made a political contribution of enormous consequences."

There is a "willing coalition of 47 nations" ready to be counted, Powell said. Still others can't declare themselves publicly yet, he insisted, but they will when it's safe. It wasn't clear yesterday which country Bush was counting when he declared 48 nations' participation, or which one Powell wasn't including.

Many countries on the coalition list don't even have a military, White House aides concede, but they are nonetheless willing supporters. Such countries include Iceland, Micronesia, the Solomon Islands, Costa Rica and, everyone's favorite, Palau -- a tiny, unarmed paradise in the Pacific Ocean north of Australia. Basically, they have called or written to say they wish the United States well in its mission.

But many countries claim to be doing more. United Press International reported this week from Rabat, Morocco, that a newspaper there said Morocco has offered to send to Iraq 2,000 monkeys from its Atlas Mountains said to be trained in detonating land mines.

Qatar is highly supportive of the United States, letting the U.S. Central Command put its headquarters there. But it is not clear which Arab countries are in full support, or what they are doing to help, since some have asked that their support for the U.S. effort not be disclosed.

The administration this week announced that it is seeking $4 billion in emergency aid for Jordan, Turkey, Israel, Bahrain, Oman and key central and eastern European allies.

There continues to be widespread unhappiness in the Arab world over the U.S. invasion of Iraq. For example, Syria supported the United States last time; this time, it strongly opposes the war.

The United States is still worried about what Turkey is going to do. Turkey is counted in the coalition, even though it has refused to let American troops base on its land.

The United States has another problem on its hands with a 1991 coalition member, Russia, which it now accuses of selling critical war supplies to the Iraqis, including night-vision goggles, anti-tank missiles and electronic jamming equipment to counter precision-guided arms. The Russian response "so far has not been satisfactory," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher conceded.

Ann McFeatters can be reached at amcfeatters@nationalpress.com or 1-202-662-7071.

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