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War Gains Deepen Divisions Among Allies

By Jefferson Morley
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Friday, April 4, 2003; 9:32 AM

It all seems to be going so well for the U.S.-led attack on the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein. Iraqi forces have been pulverized. But in the countries allied with the United States – primarily Britain and Australia – the progress of the U.S. war effort is creating as much dispute as cheer.

The war effort gets the best reviews in Britain where the conservative press has rallied to former foe Prime Minister Tony Blair. "His finest hour," declares columnist Alice Thomson in the Daily Telegraph.(Registration Required)

Thomson writes that, at a recent appearance, "Mr. Blair appeared a leader in control: neither meek nor triumphalist, just quietly confident. Instead of getting bogged down in whether or not he'd always predicted a long war, he concentrated on getting his message across. Free postage for parcels for the boys at the front (not a nutty idea), no war with Syria or Iran (very sane), and a post-war settlement that includes the Iraqis in government. This is vital. He has carved out a role for himself, distinct from Washington, by focusing on what happens when the fighting is over."

The Financial Times focused on Secretary of State Colin Powell's "consultations" with European leaders about postwar Iraq. The FT editors hope that Blair can prevail on the United States to give the United Nations a significant role in postwar Iraq. The Pentagon's insistence that retired general Jay Garner administer the country, the centrist London daily says, is only fostering more division among traditional allies.

"If the U.S. were ready to let Gen. Garner act under U.N. authority, the problem would not arise. Nor would there be too much difficulty if an interim Iraqi body could be quickly established, under an Iraqi of the moral stature of a Nelson Mandela. But the Iraqi opposition has thrown up no such figure and the suspicion is that an Iraqi authority might be peopled with exiled cronies of the Pentagon."

Blair's proposal to bring Iraqis together in a U.N.-sponsored conference, as happened after the Afghan war is "sensible," said the paper, and "the U.S. should give it serious consideration."

Dream on, writes Polly Toynbee in The Guardian. She summarizes Blair's vision of what happens next:

"The regime will fall with fewer British and U.S. losses than in any conflict in history: civilian deaths will be proportionate. He promises to persuade the U.S. that it cannot rule Iraq alone. The U.S. needs the U.N. not just for humanitarian aid, but for reconstruction. The U.S. needs the U.N. for money, for legitimacy and to avoid inflaming the Arab world. 'Iraq for the Iraqis,' Blair promises. As for the French and Germans, they will see the error of their ways and hasten to rebuild good relations with the U.S.: it will start with a meeting like the U.N.-sponsored Bonn conference that determined Afghanistan's postwar settlement. Britain will prove it is again a strong bridge between the U.S. and EU. Then Bush will head off down the roadmap to peace in Palestine, while Iraq holds free elections, the Arab world sees a beacon of democracy in their midst and the world is a safer place."

"The only trouble with the Blair vision is that it is exceedingly difficult to find anyone anywhere who believes it will happen – certainly not the White House," Toynbee writes. "That is not their vision at all, as Powell made brutally clear yesterday. They have done the fighting, so why hand the peace over to the French and Russians on the Security Council?"

"The postwar landscape looks bleaker by the day, international law fractured, the U.N. bust. The only optimism comes from triumphalist White House hawks or from the Downing Street dream factory – though their visions are quite different. Elsewhere, it is hard to find observers who feel anything but alarm at what is yet to come. Look back at Afghanistan, controlled by warlords still, severely underfunded and under-policed, all reconstruction money still spent on basic feeding, a place forgotten as the world moves on. Will Iraq fare much better?"

Yes, says the biggest circulation paper in the country, The Sun. "The message from America is clear," thunder the editors of the racy tabloid, best known for pictures of topless girls.

"If there is a role for the U.N. and NATO, then only those who fight will decide what it is and how big it is."

"Quite right. Why should France get a look-in?.

"Did its men spill blood?"

"Why should Germany?"

"Did it pay for a single bullet?

"This victory will be for Britain, America – and the Iraqi people."

In Australia, the only other country to contribute a significant number of troops to the war, the media commentary was more sardonic than celebratory.

"America did get the public relations triumph it craved with the daring commando rescue of a pretty, blonde, brave and badly injured teenager from rural West Virginia called Jessica Lynch," write the editors of The Age, the daily newspaper of Melbourne. "Hollywood may well be measuring Meg Ryan for combat fatigues at this very moment, but Saving Private Lynch will play only to the converted."

"The White House is praying for a swift resolution – and that may still happen, if the elite Republican Guard crumbles quickly and guerrilla warfare can be avoided in Baghdad. On that rests the screenplay of Saving President Bush," the paper says.

Australians have two additional hopes," The Age concludes. "That Americans never forget their contribution, and Islamic extremists do."

The cartoon in today's Sydney Morning Herald was even more skeptical.

It shows an Australian "Reconstruction Squad" landing in Iraq with bombers flying overhead. The cigar-chomping troops wear helmets adorned with dollar signs and rush into action under the slogan "Business is business is business."

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