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President Bush risks alienating war allies



Published: Fri, February 15, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



No one can deny that the United States of America has a very big stick when it comes to its military prowess, but the Bush administration must recognize that making threats about overthrowing the government of a nation, as it has done in the case of Iraq, carries major risks.

For one thing, America's allies in the Middle East in the war on terrorism would be hard-pressed to keep supporting President Bush in one campaign while he embarked on another that could result in the political destabilization of the region.

Also, this country's credibility would be called into question if the war on terrorism were viewed around the world as nothing more than an excuse by the Bush administration to push its military weight around.

There's no doubt that Saddam Hussein personifies political evil and that many of his neighbors would like to see him toppled, but the United States should not attempt to go it alone. Indeed, President Bush needs to turn the volume down on his rhe toric about Iraq -- and also Iran and North Korea. Bush called those three nations "an axis of evil" and this week issued a warning to Iraqi strongman Hussein that pre-emptive strikes were an option if the United States concluded that Iraq is sponsoring terrorism and is seeking nuclear weapons.

What the administration should do is follow Theodore Roosevelt's advice: "Speak softly and carry a big stick." The president and his secretary of state, Colin Powell, should practice quiet diplomacy, meaning they should first build support among our allies for a military strike or covert action to help opposition groups within Iraq overthrow Saddam, and then they should determine what effect, if any, such a move would have on Bush's war on global terrorism.

Taliban: Ever since Sept. 11, the president has made it clear that the United States intends to rid the world of international terrorists and their sponsors, whether individuals, groups or governments. The successful destruction of Afghanistan's Taliban rulers, who had played host to Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaida terrorist organization, proved Bush's determination to the world. It also showed that America's military power is unmatched.

The United States had the support of many nations, including some from the Middle East, in its campaign against the Taliban, but the initial reaction to Bush's "axis of evil" speech and his threat against Iraq has been quite different. European and Arab leaders warn that trying to overthrow Saddam Hussein would be a much greater challenge than the United States faced in Afghanistan and that Iraq's oil is a factor that cannot be ignored.

The Washington Post reported this week that the Bush administration has shied away from criticizing Syria, an ally in the war on terrorism, for buying almost $1 billion worth of Iraqi oil. According to the Post, the purchase makes Syria the single largest source of money for Baghdad outside the United Nations' oil-for-food sanctions program. The program restricts how Iraq can spend the revenue it receives from the sale of oil.

While Bush's tough talk and his threats against Iraq are receiving widespread support within the United States, the concerns voiced in many foreign capitals must be taken seriously.




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