DOHA, Qatar — Amid a flurry of offers of aid, the Clinton administration declared Tuesday that a coalition of nations is finally lining up behind the United States to strike Iraqi President Saddam Hussein if diplomacy fails to force him to allow unrestricted U.N. inspections of suspected weapons sites in Iraq.
After offers of military assistance over the previous three days from Australia, Canada, Germany and Oman, and with others expected soon, Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen asserted on a swing through the Persian Gulf that "there is a real coalition of countries building." And at the White House, President Clinton, citing the Canadian and Australian offers, said: "We must be prepared to act, and I am very grateful that others are standing with America."
The allied offers have been modest and have appeared late in the U.S. effort to drum up support--reflecting the deep ambivalence of even America's friends about another round of military action against Iraq. But the administration seized on them as proof that Hussein, far from splitting the outside world, has unified it via the threat of his suspected chemical and biological weapons programs.
"This isn't something we solicited," said Cohen aboard his plane as it hopped between Gulf states on his support-building mission. "It is more or less spontaneous," prompted by nations' recognition that the best way to force a diplomatic solution on Hussein is to "rally round." He said he expected offers of equipment, personnel or support from other countries and said they would be accepted depending on the U.S. military's needs.
U.S. officials have said they have the forces and materiel necessary for what is expected to be an air campaign of a few days to a week. They have said the U.S. will be ready to go within 10 days, when aircraft, ships and troops now en route reach the Gulf. But even modest contributions from allies will permit the United States to assert that the present expedition was not launched unilaterally.
Canada's support came in the House of Commons from Prime Minister Jean Chretien. Canadian defense officials have offered to send the frigate Toronto, two C-130 Hercules transport planes and 300 to 400 troops.
The Toronto, which will serve on escort duty in an aircraft carrier battle group, was ordered to the Gulf from the Mediterranean; the aircraft can be used for transport and for midair refueling.
The Australians are talking about contributing the services of 250 personnel, mostly for intelligence-gathering and medical care. They have offered two Boeing 707 aircraft refueling planes.
In Washington, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright--who listed Argentina and the Netherlands as other nations willing to use force against Hussein--dismissed suggestions from Capitol Hill and elsewhere that the administration should make toppling the Iraqi regime the primary objective if military force is used.
Albright told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the only way to ensure Hussein's ouster would be to commit massive ground forces--probably at least as large as the 500,000-strong international army that fought the 1991 Persian Gulf War. The troops would have to occupy Iraq all the way to Baghdad and stay in the country for an indefinite period, she said.
Although she did not spell out the reasons, officials say that a long occupation probably would be required so that a post-Hussein Iraq did not dissolve into chaos.
It is unlikely, Albright said, that Congress or the public would support such an invasion and open-ended war.
Sen. Rod Grams (R-Minn.), referring to concerns that a bombing campaign might make matters worse, noted that Gulf War commander Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf has warned that air action alone might do no more than toughen the resolve of Iraq's leaders.
Albright responded: "Now, I think that there are those who would like us to topple Saddam Hussein. And I have said that that would take huge ground forces. They had those ground forces when Gen. Schwarzkopf was in charge."
She refrained from reminding the committee that the forces Schwarzkopf led in 1991 routed Iraqi troops and had a clear path to Baghdad but that the Bush administration chose to stop the offensive rather than push on and try to seize Hussein.
Britain was the first nation to pledge military support for such an assault. It has dispatched the carrier Invincible, 2,500 personnel and eight Tornado ground-attack planes. U.S. officials have also cited an offer from Oman to help out by allowing five KC-10 tanker aircraft to be sent to the country. The planes could help refuel B-52 bombers flying from the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean en route to Iraq.
On Saturday, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl made a broad pledge of support, including the use of German air bases; this was largely a symbolic move, since German bases are too far from Iraq to be of much help.