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U.S.: Analysts Say War In Iraq Could Complicate War On Terrorism

  • Andrew Tully

The United States is continuing its campaign against terrorism, even as it prepares for war with Iraq. But as recent diplomatic activities at the United Nations show, such conflicts cannot be mounted without the help of other countries. RFE/RL reports that, although the United States appears confident in continued foreign assistance against Al-Qaeda, some analysts say a war with Iraq may complicate these alliances.

Washington, 19 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- A senior U.S. diplomat says Washington expects more cooperation in the international war against terrorism, as long as the looming conflict in Iraq is quick and successful.

That assessment emerged yesterday during a hearing of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The panel was exploring the state of U.S. diplomatic efforts to enlist other countries to help round up members of the Al-Qaeda terrorist network.

Senator Chuck Hagel, a member of President George W. Bush's Republican Party, asked a particularly pointed question of Marc Grossman, the State Department's undersecretary for political affairs. Hagel, who has publicly expressed doubts about Bush's Iraq policy, asked, "What effect do you believe that a war without a United Nations resolution, without the legitimacy of the Security Council, might have on our efforts to continue to coordinate antiterrorism efforts within Muslim and Arab countries?"

Grossman began his response by saying he believes that a war against Iraq would be legitimate and that the United States would have help in such a conflict from many countries. As for its impact on the war against terrorism, Grossman replied: "I believe that success is going to be the most important determining factor here. And I believe that our men and women in uniform, if they have to go into combat, will be successful. They'll be successful quickly, and I believe that that success will actually bring us more cooperation rather than less cooperation over time."

This may be an overly optimistic assessment, according to foreign-policy analysts interviewed by RFE/RL. One is Charles Pena, a defense-policy analyst at the Cato Institute, a private policy-research institute in Washington.

Pena said there are a lot of "hard feelings" in the aftermath of the failed U.S. attempt to win the support of the UN Security Council to support President George W. Bush's Iraq strategy.

Indeed, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov spoke about this issue yesterday in Moscow. "The unity of the antiterrorism coalition is under threat. The majority of the world community rejects, does not accept, the use of military force [in Iraq]. They understand that the task of disarming Iraq could still and should be achieved by peaceful means based on the UN Security Council resolutions," Ivanov said.

In this light, Pena argued that the United States probably can count on less, not more, cooperation from other countries in the war on terrorism. "Clearly, the United States needs an unprecedented amount of international cooperation in its war on terrorism. The fact that things did not go smoothly at the United Nations for a whole variety of reasons, and regardless of who is to blame, there might be some negative effect on that cooperation," Pena said.

In fact, Pena said, it will not be the war itself but its aftermath that will affect how other countries cooperate in tracking down Al-Qaeda members. He said that if the United States must go to war, it should conclude the campaign rapidly, then withdraw immediately, to show the world that it is not interested in being an occupying force in an Arab land. "A clean, fast war may vindicate the people who are saying that, 'See, this is not another Vietnam.' Is that the ultimate litmus test of success? In my opinion, no. The real litmus test here is whether the United States has enough common sense to get out of Iraq as quickly as it got in and not find itself engaged in some Herculean nation-building task," Pena said.

But Pena said all indications are that U.S. forces will maintain a presence in Iraq for quite some time after the fighting stops, if only because Bush appears to have no coherent exit strategy. A long occupation, he said, would only turn "hard feelings" into outright resentment, leaving the United States with fewer allies to count on in the effort to break up Al-Qaeda.

Nathan Brown agrees with this conclusion -- to a point. Brown is a professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University in Washington. He said perception is paramount in international diplomacy, just as it is in local politics.

Brown argued that the Bush administration has to overcome negative perceptions of its policy overseas, particularly in Arab and Muslim countries, both at the popular level and at the governmental level. "On a popular level, the widespread perception is the United States is a new imperial power that is acting to seize Iraqi oil fields. At a government level, the Bush administration has thrown off conflicting signals on whether or not any action against Iraq will be confined solely to Iraq, or whether there might be a much broader agenda of political change in the air. That's something that, of course, existing Arab governments don't want to have to contemplate," Brown said.

Brown told RFE/RL that it is difficult to imagine any country cooperating with another if it sees that other country in such a bad light. This would be especially true if, as Pena suggested, the United States becomes involved in a long occupation or exercise in imposing its concept of democracy on a Muslim country.

However, Brown said there is more to the war on terrorism than merely helping the United States, especially for the leaders of some Middle Eastern countries. Certainly, he said, countries have cooperated with Washington in the war against terrorism under intense pressure.

But Brown said he suspects that these governments have, at least privately, welcomed the opportunity to do so. "What international support that we've received in the war against terrorism -- meaning the war against Al-Qaeda -- is based on the self-interest of a lot of countries. Al-Qaeda is made up of organizations that have sought to overthrow governments in the Middle East, and those governments are very much hostile to its [Al-Qaeda's] aims and very much willing to work with the United States, at least behind the scenes, in suppressing it. And my guess is that that's going to continue," Brown said.

Ultimately, both Pena and Brown agree that for the foreseeable future, Washington can rely on other countries to be allies in the war on international terrorism only if they benefit from it as much as the United States does.