Rumsfeld's war coalition? Blink and you might miss it
WASHINGTON—It was no surprise yesterday that somebody finally asked U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld about the invisible coalition partners.
Coalition partners? What coalition partners? a reporter in effect asked at yesterday's Pentagon briefing.
For half an hour, Rumsfeld and U.S. Army Gen. Tommy Franks talked about waging war alongside Washington's military allies against Iraq's Saddam Hussein.
"The coalition forces will prevail," Rumsfeld said repeatedly.
Yes, Bulgaria committed 150 non-combat troops. Croatia is allowing U.S. warplanes en route to Iraq to refuel. And Lithuania has opened its airspace.
But, other than a hefty 28,000-strong British force already on site in Kuwait, limited co-operation from Washington's Gulf State allies and a decision by Australia to send 150 members of its Special Air Service unit and a squadron of F-18s ... what?"Yes," agreed Rumsfeld. "The coalition is difficult to perceive."
But he argued that, with the U.S. resolution calling for force against Saddam stalled at the Security Council, no decision has been taken to declare war.
Nations are waiting to "make their judgments" based on concrete decisions to launch an assault against the Iraqi regime, he said.
"A large and growing number of countries has said to us that they want to participate," Rumsfeld insisted.
It's clear that many countries want to wait and see if the U.N. Security Council sanctions an attack on Iraq, a move that will supposedly make it easier on everyone, including Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. Such authorization forged a strong coalition during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
For the time being, Canada has sent military planners to Qatar but refused to make a commitment of ground troops to an Iraq campaign.
However, Canadian troops are spelling Iraqi-bound U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.
"Having made the substantial commitment to Afghanistan, we will not be in a position to send substantial troops for a year or more to any other country," Defence Minister John McCallum recently told the House of Commons.
Retired general Lewis MacKenzie, former commander of U.N. peacekeepers in Bosnia, told the Star last night Rumsfeld's political problem might actually be a boon to Persian Gulf theatre-of-operations commander Franks.
"The political leadership wants to have as big a coalition as possible and that's what they are going for," said MacKenzie.
"But I think Tommy Franks would be quite happy with fewer (coalition) forces — he needs just enough troops to execute his plan," he said, adding that the more coalition troops are brought into the mix, the more complicated the command.
"(For the military) when you put together a coalition, you want it as small as possible," he said. "The political leadership wants as many people as they can enlist for the sake of international public opinion.
"It's not really a battle between the military and the politicians, but for the military, a big coalition is an irritant."
Interestingly, MacKenzie was to deliver a lecture this week at Alabama's Maxwell Air Base on the challenges of military coalition forces.
Scheduled to be delivered to the joint flying officers war-fighting course, it was cancelled at the last minute.
Sort of like Rumsfeld's coalition.