There are now so many American friends and allies who are expressing opposition to a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq that military sources say it could limit American options in how to fight such a war — perhaps leading to higher U.S. casualties.
During the Persian Gulf War in 1991, 11 of the 23 air bases the United States used were in Saudi Arabia. Now the Saudi government is saying the United States cannot use the bases if there is another war. Unanswered is whether the Saudis would even allow the use of their airspace — considered crucial for any U.S. military option.
The most important U.S. naval facility in the region is in Bahrain. Now the ruler of Bahrain, Sheik Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, is saying he opposes war against Iraq. It's unclear what restrictions he might impose on using Bahrain's port.
Two other allies that share a border with Iraq are also considered doubtful. Jordan's King Abdullah II called the idea of a U.S. invasion "ludicrous." There is increasing pressure on Turkey from the European Union and domestic political parties not to cooperate with the United States.
"It restricts the kind of operations you can have, the kind of forces you can bring to bear and the kind of mass you will need to overwhelm the Iraqi capabilities," said Ivo Daalder of the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank.
Limited Options Could Mean Higher Death Rates
By limiting options, military officials say, a military campaign becomes more predictable, and easier for an enemy to counter. Military officers worry that could cause a sharp increase in American casualties.
The United States does have important allies who appear to be standing firm — Kuwait, Qatar and Oman — though none have expressed outright support. U.S. officials say those three countries are being counted on. And outside the region, Australia and Britain have been outspoken in their support.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, visiting U.S. troops at Fort Hood, Texas, today, reminded his audience, "The president has made no such decision to go to war with Iraq." Rumsfeld then paused, then added: "He is thinking about it."
One additional problem the president faces is in Europe, where the leaders of both Germany and France have expressed strong reservations.
"Many European governments and European publics, including my own, have not yet been convinced that the application of military force is really really required," the German ambassador to Washington, Wolfgang Ischinger, told ABCNEWS.
The United States must answer many questions, he said. "If military force is used, what kind of exit strategy would we have? How long would U.S. and possibly allied forces need to stay in the region? Would we get bogged down for the next decade with an unresolved question of instability in Iraq?"
What Would War Cost?
One concern all European governments face, in the event of war, is rapidly rising oil prices.
"We are even more dependent on stable oil prices than is the United States," Ischinger explained. "We are 100 percent dependent on foreign oil, so for the Germany economy, this is a huge issue."
Some of the president's own advisers argue the United States does not need the European allies for a war against Iraq. But during the war in Afghanistan, American bases in Germany, Britain and Turkey were crucial for moving troops, supplies and bombs into the theater. And many of the same allies have made major contributions to rebuilding Afghanistan with humanitarian programs and peacekeepers.
Would they do the same if there were a war with Iraq?
"It's shortsighted to say we don't need the Europeans in the war when you forget about the very important contribution they will have to make in the peace," said Daalder.
"The more countries that we have involved, the greater the international support we will have for the reconstruction of Iraq, which is likely to prove to be the longest and most difficult part of this whole process," said Kenneth Pollack of the Council on Foreign Relations.
In public, Pentagon and White House officials say they are confident most allies will back the United States when and if the president makes his case for war. In private, some concede the opposition is much stronger than expected and could cause major delays in making any decision.