- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 9, 2003

WASHINGTON, March 9 (UPI) — President George W. Bush is starting to face the nightmare that has eventually brought down every overwhelming power in history. A hostile coalition of the jealous and the frightened, the resentful and the hostile, is slowly taking shape on the U.N. Security Council.

Inspired initially by Germany, and now led by France and backed by Russia and China, this coalition seems to be forcing upon the United States the grim choice of defying and perhaps destroying the United Nations or surrendering to its uncertain moral authority.

There are a few remaining before Tuesday's crucial vote, time to be used by both sides of the debate to rally support among the anguished and undecided. The mathematics of the 15 votes on the Security Council are simple. The United States is backed by Britain, Spain and Bulgaria. In opposition, rallying behind the hopeful judgment of the U.N. inspectors that Saddam Hussein is buckling and they deserve more time, are France, Russia, China, Germany and Syria.

That leaves the votes of Pakistan, Mexico, Chile, Guinea, Angola and Cameroon to be fought and bargained for. Unlike the five permanent members of the Security Council, none of these has veto powers. But they have votes that could prove to be decisive, because if the British and Americans can rally a majority of nine votes to their side, then China and Russia might just be persuaded to abstain.

This would leave France isolated, and three former French prime ministers — all from President Jacques Chirac's own political party — have warned that a lonely veto on behalf of Saddam would not be in France's best interest. France, too, needs the cover that other votes could provide.

Hence, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin has flown from New York to Africa this weekend to lobby the leaders of Guinea and Cameroon — former French colonies where France remains influential — and Angola. But American and British diplomats have also been active. And they have some serious diplomatic weapons to deploy to persuade the undecided countries to see things America's way.

Chile's top economic priority is its free trade agreement with the United States — which has yet to be ratified by a watchful and possibly vengeful U.S. Congress. Pakistan, where Islamic fundamentalists may well erupt in the streets, would like dearly to abstain. But the government of Gen. Pervez Musharraf is heavily dependent on U.S. aid and above all needs Washington's restraining hand on its neighbor, India.

Angola depends on the $5 billion a year it earns from oil exports — of which 63 percent go to the United States. The United States and Portugal (which broadly supports the Bush administration) between them account for 40 percent of Angola's imports. President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos knows where his country's economic interests lie.

Many U.N. diplomats assume that Cameroon is a reliable vote for France, the former colonial power. Not so. The top three customers for its annual $2.3 billion oil exports are Italy, France and Spain — in that order. And Italy and Spain back Bush. Moreover, Cameroon's oil is running out, and the key to its future prosperity is a proposed 670-mile pipeline through Cameroon from land-locked Chad. That pipeline is being built by ExxonMobil and ChevronTaxaco. Cameroon's economic interests are also with the United States.

Guinea is a police state and disaster zone, where electric power cuts mean the TV works only one day in four. The United States is its biggest trade partner, and President Lantana Conte's biggest concern is the security threat from neighboring Liberia. Guinea is also in default on loans from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Even though Conte is terminally ill from liver disease, Guinea's economic and strategic interests could steer him America's way.

Finally there is Mexico, which sells 80 percent of its exports to the United States, its partner in the North American Free Trade Association, and whose President Vicente Fox once looked to Bush as his closest international friend. But relations have cooled since the post-9/11 clampdown on U.S. immigration, and Mexico's media are outraged at what they see as American bullying over Iraq.

Unnamed U.S. diplomats have been quoted warning that a "No" vote could "stir up feelings" against Mexicans in the United States — like those that saw Japanese-Americans interned during World War II. In an on-the-record with Copley News Service last week, Bush warned "there will be a certain sense of discipline" in the way the U.S. judges unhelpful countries in the future.

The United States is prepared to play hardball to get those nine votes at the United Nations, and break the opposing coalition. Ironically, even though its pressure of muscle and menaces may just win Tuesday's vote, American tactics could provoke deeper resentments — and a far more dangerous mood of resentful anti-Americanism for the future.

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