Buying a Coalition

Buying a Coalition

Just as his father did, George W. Bush is offering generous packages of aid and arms to nations that join his drive for war against Iraq.


Just as his father did, George W. Bush is offering generous packages of aid and arms to nations that join his drive for war against Iraq. There is so much bargaining going on that arms analyst Ira Shorr has called the Administration’s ad hoc alliance for war the “coalition of the wanting.” According to former Secretary of State James Baker, winning support for the first Gulf War involved “cajoling, extracting, threatening and occasionally buying votes.” This time there is far more buying and threatening than cajoling going on, and recruiting allies has been far more costly.

Would-be allies are driving harder bargains because Gulf War II is a much shakier proposition. As John Chipman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies has observed, “Then it was straightforward. Eject Iraq from Kuwait. Now it’s ‘regime change,’ and that’s…hard for many to swallow.” Bush officials are hoping that massive doses of US aid will make unpopular anti-Iraq positions go down more easily. The Administration is weighing proposals for nearly $30 billion worth of grants and subsidized loans for allies concerned about the political and economic side-effects of a new Gulf conflict.

Recipients of Administration largesse fit into two categories: (1) countries in the region seeking to be reimbursed for the negative impacts of the war, and (2) countries whose support is sought as a way to legitimize the war in the eyes of a skeptical world. The biggest aid deal is being offered to one of the former–Turkey. As this went to press, the Turkish Parliament was considering a US offer of $15 billion in aid–$5 billion in grants and $10 billion in guaranteed loans–in exchange for Turkey’s agreement to host 62,000 US ground troops for an invasion of northern Iraq.

The Administration is also finalizing separate deals for Israel, Egypt and Jordan. Israel is seeking a multiyear deal involving $4 billion in new grants and $8 billion to $10 billion in US-government guaranteed loans. Jordan is slated to receive an additional $1 billion in aid, and Egypt is seeking new aid beyond its current $1.3 billion, plus a free-trade deal similar to the one Jordan already has with the United States. In exchange for the increased aid, Jordan is hosting US special forces and engaging in joint intelligence gathering. Israel has shared intelligence and helped train US forces for urban combat, but the biggest “contribution” sought by the Administration is for the Sharon government to refrain from retaliating in the event of an Iraqi attack, to avoid regionalizing the conflict. Sharon has so far refused to make any such pledge. From Egypt, a key Arab ally whose population is overwhelmingly against the war, Washington is seeking a statement of political support and the use of some air bases.

Outside the Middle East, the most important battleground is the fifteen-member UN Security Council, where the United States is seeking a resolution justifying the use of force to oust Saddam Hussein. So far, Washington can count on support from the United Kingdom, Bulgaria and Spain. Bulgaria’s support was secured by a US pledge to see to it that Iraq pays its outstanding debts to Bulgaria in the post-Saddam period. The Administration’s next objective is to win over “swing states” like Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Guinea, Mexico and Pakistan with a mix of promises and threats.

The United States is notorious for bullying nations over key Security Council votes. In 1990, when Yemen voted against authorizing war on Iraq, a US diplomat told the Yemeni ambassador, “That was the most expensive no vote you ever cast.” Three days later, all US aid to Yemen was canceled. Last November, Mauritius recalled its UN ambassador and gave him a public scolding for failing to speak out forcefully enough in support of US-sponsored Security Council Resolution 1441 against Iraq. UN expert Phyllis Bennis notes that Mauritius made this move to avoid falling afoul of a provision of the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which states that US aid recipients should not “engage in activities contrary to US national security or foreign policy interests.” The Administration will seek to exert similar leverage over Guinea and Cameroon, both of which are recipients of US aid under AGOA.

A new report from the Institute for Policy Studies provides a detailed accounting of the military and economic levers the Administration is likely to use to round up votes at the UN. For Mexico, a vote against the United States could spark a backlash that would undermine aid and trade, a daunting prospect for a country that sends 80 percent of its exports to the US market. A no vote by Chile could kill plans for granting it the same access to the US market that Canada and Mexico now enjoy. Pakistan will have to weigh the costs of voting with the United States and antagonizing its strongly antiwar population against the costs of voting against Washington and risking cutbacks in the hundreds of millions in US aid and loans it is receiving as a privileged ally in the “war on terrorism.” For Angola, future US loans for developing its critical oil industry may hang in the balance.

Leaders in Donald Rumsfeld’s so-called New Europe who have spoken out in favor of the Administration’s war policies are also hoping to receive increased US assistance. As the Pentagon considers cutbacks in its presence in Germany to punish the Schröder government for its antiwar stance, prowar governments in Eastern and Central Europe may be courted to host new US bases. In the process, they are likely to receive special favors like the recent $3.8 billion US-government-subsidized loan to Poland to finance the purchase of Lockheed Martin F-16 combat aircraft. Don’t be surprised if states like Hungary, which is hosting a US training mission for Iraqi exiles, receive sweet deals for US military equipment as a “thank you” for their support of the war in Iraq. These arms deals will no doubt be helped along by influential friends of the Administration like former Lockheed Martin vice president Bruce Jackson, who serves as chairman of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, a private, pro-intervention lobbying group launched last fall with the blessing of the White House. Jackson was involved in helping draft the widely publicized letter in support of Bush’s Iraq policy by leaders of Eastern and Central European states.

Given the military and economic leverage the Administration can bring to bear, it’s amazing that so many key governments have held out this long. If the global peace movement keeps the pressure on, there may be time to stop this war yet, despite the machinations of the President and his hard-line advisers.

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