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Two Men — Or Two Nations — Deep?

Just how much support does the “Transatlantic Alliance” have?

March 18, 2003

Just how much support does the "Transatlantic Alliance" have?

Ideally, coalitions for a major undertaking such as regime change, nation building and democratization in a country the size of Iraq should be broad — as well as deep.

In other words, not only should a considerable number of countries sign up. There should also be plenty of domestic support in each one of them.

That was the case for the Entente Cordiale, the World War I coalition that included the powerful nations of the day, such as Great Britain, France and the Russian Empire.

Eventually, as that war progressed and the United States entered the fighting, even such far-away countries as Brazil, Cuba and Thailand declared war on Germany.

During World War II, the anti-Hitler coalition was still broader — and had deep popular support among participating countries.

Even former German satellites, such as Romania and Hungary, once knocked out of the war, hastened to declare war on Germany on the side of the Allies.

This mode of operations was also why President Bush's father and his advisors invested much time and effort to craft a broad coalition to expel Saddam Hussein from Kuwait in the 1991 Gulf War.

But as the United States prepares to attack Iraq yet again, George W. Bush has managed to assemble at best a weak imitation of the broad support his father had garnered.

In Europe, the United States is counting on a number of allies who support the Bush Administration. The nations in question are primarily the United Kingdom and Spain.

However, opinion polls in those two countries — as well as all other "willing" allies — have consistently shown that it is their leaders, and not the population, who support Washington.

In the United Kingdom, around two-thirds of the population are against a war if the weapons inspectors do not find proof of illegal arms.

No wonder then that Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair has been trying to navigate a tricky course between the Scylla of his country's 'special relationship' with the United States — and the Charybdis of European public opinion.

Personally, Mr. Blair has been one of George W. Bush's staunchest supporters, of course. But under the surface, his role has been essentially a balancing act.

He now has to deal with the resignation of Robin Cook, his government's leader in the House of Commons. Clare Short, the UK Secretary of State for International Development, has threatened to quit her post in case of an attack as well.

In Spain, Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar's support for the United States likewise braves widespread domestic opposition. A recent opinion poll indicated that almost 93% of Spaniards are opposed to U.S. military action against Iraq — and 70% want to give the UN weapons inspectors more time.

Meanwhile, a curious thing has happened to Italy's support for military action. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is generally considered to be the most conservative leader currently in power anywhere in Western Europe — and for a while was also the most gung-ho about a military campaign against Iraq.

In the last few weeks, though, it has gotten strangely quiet in Rome when it comes to strong and unequivocal support for Washington.

While Italy is not a member of the Security Council, it still could have provided much-needed official support for the Bush Administration — which in turn surely would have done its best to communicate this support to the rest of the world.

Maybe Mr. Berlusconi, always the shrewd billionaire businessman, has recognized that an Iraq war is not an endeavor in which he wants to invest his sparse political capital.

After all, opposition in Italy to a war runs at 85%. For whatever reason, Mr. Berlusconi has quietly slipped — or fallen — off Mr. Bush's bandwagon.

So, in all fairness, support for the near-unilateral U.S. attack — even if dressed up as a "coalition of the willing" — on Saddam Hussein is for the most part two-man deep — despite the luring references to various European "allies" supporting Mr. Bush.

With a coalition backing its war in Iraq literally skin-deep, the Bush Administration's margin for error is very small.

If anything at all in U.S. action against Iraq goes awry, a regime change may indeed take place. Except it could affect not just Baghdad, but Madrid and London as well.

It is astounding to see how self-righteous the leaders of the United States, Britain and Spain go about their pursuit of war — in the latter two cases clearly against the expressed wishes of their own ill-fated populations.

Their proposed course of action, unless it's a bluff, is not only questionable under international law. Believe it or not, it also smacks of the machoism of the European leaders of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.