- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 20, 2003

As the United States prepares for a war to rid the world of one of its most dangerous dictators, opinion polls suggest the American public understands that Saddam Hussein bears overwhelming responsibility for the current crisis, and that President Bush went the extra mile in an effort to give the diplomatic process a chance to work in the U.N. Security Council. But, judging from the bellicose tone of his column in yesterday's New York Times, Tom Friedman seems to think that Mr. Bush bears much of the blame for the collapse of diplomatic efforts to achieve the peaceful disarmament of Iraq or, failing that, the inability to mobilize a larger international coalition for war.
Without providing specifics, Mr. Friedman asserted that the Bush administration "has pursued a narrow, ideological and bullying foreign policy that has alienated so many people that by the time it wanted to rustle up a posse for an Iraq war, too many nations were suspicious of its motives." In fact, Mr. Friedman is apparently so angry with the Bush administration's behavior that he has lost his ability to count. He dismissed Mr. Bush's Sunday trip to the Azores for a meeting with the British and Spanish heads of state as an effort "to sell the war to the only two allies we had." Later, Mr. Friedman suggested that, thanks to Mr. Bush's supposed ineptitude, the United States finds itself going to war "basically alone."
The reality, however, is far different. On Tuesday, the State Department released a list of 45 countries that were supporting allied military action to eliminate Saddam's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs. Thirty countries have gone public in support of the U.S. position, and another 15 that do not want to go public are quietly supporting Washington. The 45 include: Australia and Poland, which will be sending troops; the Czech Republic and Slovakia, which will aid allied cleanup efforts if chemical, biological or nuclear weapons attacks take place; and Hungary, which is training emigres to serve as liaison officers following the liberation of Iraq, among others.
It should hardly come as a surprise that the United States, the world's only remaining superpower, will once again do the bulk of the military heavy lifting in Iraq and will be putting the lives of several hundred thousand troops on the line. But it is absurd to depict Washington as "isolated" or "alone" as it launches its campaign to rid the world of the threat from Saddam Hussein.
In Britain yesterday, antiwar MPs, many of them from Prime Minister Tony Blair's own Labor Party (which, before Mr. Blair's political accession in the 1990s, was one of the most left-wing of Europe's major political parties) showed once again that they are the ones who have become isolated and marginalized. In a referendum on Mr. Blair's political future, Parliament voted 412-149 in favor of Mr. Blair's decision to join the United States in disarming Saddam Hussein.
If anything, contrary to Mr. Friedman's argument, its the obstructionists like France who are on the defensive. On Tuesday, Paris offered to assist the allies if Iraq uses chemical or biological weapons against American forces.
Perhaps, Mr. Friedman's oddest criticism of Mr. Bush's diplomacy was his faulting the president for not emulating his father's secretary of state, James Baker, who met with Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz in the days leading up to the 1991 Gulf War. But Mr. Friedman neglected to tell his readers about the most important substantive event at that meeting: Mr. Baker let Aziz know that, if Iraq used chemical or biological weapons against U.S. troops, we would likely respond with nuclear weapons. Were the current Bush administration to make such a threat, of course, we rather doubt that Mr. Friedman would have approved.
To be sure, in the coming months and years, there will be plenty of opportunities for careful, serious evaluation of U.S. diplomatic efforts during the Iraq crisis. But respected commentators should be careful not to let their passions get in the way of objective facts.

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