Foreign 'Crises' Show Limits of US Power ; from Liberia to Iraq, US Is Seeking Global Help, Moving Away from Go- It-Alone Model

Article excerpt

After months of looking to its own resources for dealing with international challenges, the US this summer is turning more to the rest of the world - though perhaps out of pragmatism rather than conviction. From Iraq to Liberia to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the United States is confronting the limits of superpowerdom. And a world that just months ago was most fearful of a US "going it alone" is being called on increasingly to share in the burdens of intervention.

On Iraq, the US is stepping up efforts to enlist foreign-troop - and financial - contributions to help police and underwrite the country's costly reconstruction. With a major donors' conference set for October, US officials are seeking to warm the world toward participating in Iraq.

For Liberia, President Bush has dispatched three ships of about 2,500 marines to the Liberian coast, to arrive as soon as the end of this week. Although their exact assignment remains unclear, the troops are expected to give logistical support to West African peacekeepers, primarily from Nigeria.

As Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's White House visit Tuesday underscored, Mr. Bush is pursuing a deepening personal commitment to husband the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. But in meeting both Mr. Sharon and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, who called at the White House last week, Bush demonstrated that while the US can push the two sides toward compromise, it alone can do little to require a settlement.

Evolving approach

"This administration's approach to the world is 'unilateral if we can and multilateral if we must' and what's happening now is a situation where they're deciding we 'must,' " says Lawrence Korb, a Reagan administration official now with the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

In Iraq, "They would have liked to be able to handle it without worrying about the United Nations and the rest of the world, but when you need more troops and money to secure things than you planned on, you realize you're going to need help," adds Mr. Korb.

The return of a multilateral tilt signifies a correction after the Iraq war, according to some analysts. These observers also say it reveals how the US has lost ground in some central goals, and is now playing catch-up. One of those buffeted priorities is the international war on terrorism.

"A year ago, the administration had done a pretty good job especially on the foreign-policy side of the war on terrorism: There was a lot of international support and focus on Al Qaeda," says Stephen Walt, an international-relations expert at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. "But they took a sharp right turn towards Baghdad, and that has made it more difficult to get cooperation on terrorism. …