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The Nation | THE RACE TO THE WHITE HOUSE

Allies Not in Formation on Kerry's Troops Plan

Nations have a hard time supporting his proposal to use their soldiers to fill out the force in Iraq.

August 09, 2004|Paul Richter and Maria L. La Ganga | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry has staked much of his campaign on a proposal he hopes will convince voters that he can extricate the United States from Iraq more quickly and at less cost than President Bush.

But Kerry's plan, which promises to effectively shift much of the Iraq war burden from America to its allies, so far is failing to receive the international support the proposal must have to succeed.

Kerry in recent appearances and interviews has been intensifying his effort to spotlight what he sees as the Bush administration's mistakes in Iraq -- especially the failure to broaden international involvement -- as a fundamental difference between the two candidates. But Kerry's proposals depend on changing the minds of foreign leaders who do not want to defy their electorates by sending forces into what many consider to be a U.S.-made mess.

"I understand why John Kerry is making proposals of this kind, but there is a lack of realism in them," Menzies Campbell, a British lawmaker who is a spokesman on defense issues for the Liberal Democratic Party, said in a typical comment.

Many allied countries may welcome a new team in Washington after years of friction with the Bush administration. But foreign leaders are making it clear they don't want to add enough of their own troops to allow U.S. forces to scale back to a minority share in Iraq, as Kerry has proposed.

Allies say they are ready to consider further financial aid and other help for the fragile new Iraqi government. But some officials overseas already are fretting about Kerry's talk of burden-shifting.

"Some Europeans are rather concerned that Mr. Kerry might have expectations for relief [from abroad] that are going to be hard to meet," said one senior European diplomat in a statement echoed in several capitals.

In an interview with The Times last week, Kerry said that by building up international support, it would be a "reasonable goal" to replace most U.S. troops in Iraq with foreign forces within his first term. There are now about 140,000 U.S. troops stationed there, or 88% of a total international force of about 160,000.

In the last several days, Kerry has begun arguing that he could substantially reduce the number of U.S. troops within the first six months of a Kerry administration. In an interview with National Public Radio on Friday, Kerry said: "I believe that within a year from now, we could significantly reduce American forces in Iraq, and that's my plan."

The proposal could be accomplished by increasing the number of foreign troops and boosting the size of the Iraqi security force, Kerry aides say.

Yet some key countries have already ruled out providing troops, and others are badly strained from the deployments they have already made.

The French and German governments have made clear that sending troops is out of the question. British officials have made no such categorical statement, but they have expressed concern that their troops are overstretched.

Although Japan has supplied a 550-member noncombat force as a symbol of its international commitment, analysts there see little chance the nation would agree to send more.

Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, Andrei Denisov, ruled out a commitment of troops. "We are not going to send anybody there, and that's all there is to say," Denisov said.

"From the major European countries, there's simply not a lot of available troops out there, for both practical and political reasons," said Christopher Makins, president of the Atlantic Council of the United States, which supports U.S. engagement abroad.

Many allied countries have a limited number of troops suitable for the Iraq mission, and most of those are already deployed on other missions, including in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Africa, Makins said.

Dana Allin of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London said, "I think there's no question, in general, you'll find it easier to get cooperation from allies if there is a new [U.S.] administration." But Allin added that if new troops were to be sent to Iraq "it's unclear where they would come from."

Kerry has at times said he would particularly like to bring in troops from Arab countries. But diplomats, including those from Arab nations, say they consider the scenario unlikely. The Iraqi interim government has for months excluded the possibility of any peacekeeping troops coming from immediate neighbors, in part because the Iraqi people would be suspicious of neighbors' intentions.

The recent collapse of a Saudi proposal to bring in peacekeeping troops from other Arab and Muslim countries also indicates the long odds against the idea.

Senior Iraqi officials told U.S. officials this summer that they opposed the idea of bringing in additional troops from any foreign country.

Campbell, the British lawmaker, added that Kerry "has to overcome the very considerable barrier of the fact that he himself voted for military action in support of President Bush."

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