WORLD

A FRAGILE ALLIANCE

BUSH STRUGGLES TO MAINTAIN SUPPORT FOR HIS GULF POLICY AMID A WAVE OF BITTER U.S. RHETORIC

MARCI McDONALD September 24 1990
WORLD

A FRAGILE ALLIANCE

BUSH STRUGGLES TO MAINTAIN SUPPORT FOR HIS GULF POLICY AMID A WAVE OF BITTER U.S. RHETORIC

MARCI McDONALD September 24 1990

A FRAGILE ALLIANCE

WORLD

BUSH STRUGGLES TO MAINTAIN SUPPORT FOR HIS GULF POLICY AMID A WAVE OF BITTER U.S. RHETORIC

Two hours before delivering his 32-minute televised address to a joint session of Congress last week, President George Bush ran through a top secret dress rehearsal in an empty chamber on Capitol Hill. But after his practice reading from a TelePrompTer, a plump, bearded figure in the room convinced him that his speech needed more last-minute revisions. To some observers, the presence of that media coach was the most telling indicator of the stakes riding on the President’s prime-time pep talk. By calling in Roger Ailes, the New York City imagemaker who had choreographed his 1988 presidential campaign, Bush signalled that his Persian Gulf policy had entered a new and highly risky phase. After six weeks of soaring approval ratings for his deft handling of a crisis that has become the defining event of his presidency, he began the far more arduous, long-term campaign of trying to hold together the fragile consensus of support at home and abroad.

At week’s end, that consensus received a major boost when Britain committed an additional 120 tanks and 6,000 Desert Rat troops, named after the unit’s Second World War exploits against German Panzer divisions in North Africa. And in Ottawa, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney swiftly followed suit with an announcement that he was sending up to 18 CF18 jet fighters and 450 support troops to the Gulf (page 28). Then, French President François Mitterrand announced that he would send 4,000 more soldiers to the Persian Gulf. But that show of allied support came after a wave of bitter American rhetoric directed at other U.S. allies. In a series of provocative speeches, congressional Democrats and Republicans alike lambasted Japan and Germany, Washington’s two most prosperous allies, for not contributing more to the U.S. effort in the Gulf. Said Florida Republican Craig James: “The people of the United States are tired of being soaked by the rest of the world. We’re not going to take it anymore.”

In part, the diatribes reflected growing U.S. anxiety about the escalating price tag of Operation Desert Shield, now estimated at $2 billion a month, when lawmakers face a crucial end-of-the-month deadline to solve the country’s budget crisis. But the bitterness of the attacks sent shock waves through Bonn and Tokyo, which swiftly responded with pledges of increased financial and logistical aid. And such rhetoric risked alienating the very nations whose support Bush now most needs. Said Republican Senator Malcolm Wallop of Wyoming: “These people run the risk of eroding support for the President’s policy.” Still, that congressional anger summed up the frustrations and mixed feelings that many Americans have expressed about their complex role in a changing international order. “Now we’re mercenaries—that’s what it amounts to,” said Stephen Hess of Washington’s nonpartisan Brookings Institution. “In the post-Cold War age, if you’re going to have American troops as a shield, you’re going to have to pay for it.” The startling wave of ally-bashing came just as the U.S. administration confronted the most serious threat yet to the solidarity that has characterized the international embargo against Iraq. Late last week, after Iraq resumed diplomatic relations with Iran, its enemy of eight years, Arab oil industry executives confirmed that the Tehran government had agreed to accept 200,000 barrels a day of Iraqi crude in return for shipping food and medicine to its neighbor. That followed an even more unsettling threat from Iran’s supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who exhorted all Moslems to fight a holy war against American aggression and “greed.”

That inflammatory call sent shudders through Washington and Arab capitals, which braced for a new wave of Iranian or Iraqibacked terrorism. In response, the state department issued two terrorism alerts to its diplomats around the world. And the Iraqi news agency acknowledged that Baghdad had received notice that “in the event of an attack of that sort, President Saddam Hussein should know that the United States will hold him personally responsible.”

In fact, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, head of the U.S. Central Command in Saudi Arabia, confirmed reports that suspected terrorists had been sighted examining installations there, as well as the luxury hotels that currently house top U.S. military officials. And intelligence officials claimed that there has been a steady buildup in Baghdad recently of people linked to the international fraternity of terror.

Most Middle East experts predicted that, at the present, Hussein would not risk provoking Bush into a military strike with a direct attack on American facilities. But they agreed that he could target Egypt or Saudi Arabia in an effort to undermine Arab support. In fact, Khamenei ominously pointed out how quickly Ronald Reagan’s resolve to stand tall in the Middle East had collapsed after the 1983 Iranianbacked truck-bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, which left 241 dead. “Have they forgotten,” he asked, “how a bunch of pious Moslem youths swept them away and evicted them from Lebanon?”

That volatile warning underscored the tense war of nerves that both sides are waging. In Kuwait, Iraqi forces made pre-dawn raids on the French, Dutch, Belgian and Canadian ambassadors’ residences. And on the Canadian premises, they briefly detained four consuls, including an American, who were meeting to arrange freedom flights for Western hostages. Meanwhile, in Washington, Bush taped a 10minute video-cassette message to the Iraqi people aimed at undermining Hussein’s support at home.

In fact, the week had begun with another public-relations gesture: a historic show of superpower solidarity with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in Helsinki. In its wake, Secretary of State James Baker shuttled frantically between capitals in Europe and the Middle East, canvassing for increased commitments of support—“even if only symbolic,” as he told a NATO meeting in Brussels.

Still, Baker’s call on Syrian President Hafez Assad, whose nation remains at the top of those accused of state-sponsored terrorism, raised concerns among Middle East experts that Washington’s obsession with international backing for its Gulf policy was leading it to ignore longer-term alliances and considerations. That, they argue, is the same mistake that Washington made in backing Hussein against Iran. And the sudden frenzy of steppedup military commitments also fanned fears that U.S. troops may yet find themselves in a costly war. Those concerns left Bush’s media adviser Ailes with none of the worries about the President’s image that dogged him throughout his election campaign. If nothing else, Stephen Hess pointed out, Bush no longer has to worry about his so-called “wimp” image.

MARCI McDONALD in Washington with correspondents’ reports