U.S. Finds Gulf Friends Now Hard to Come by Some `Desert Storm' Allies Balk at New Operation

Article excerpt

IN THE CURRENT showdown in Iraq, the United States has spent almost as much energy - and arguably more clout - dealing with its friends as it has with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. But just how much Washington has to show for its efforts has become one of the most controversial aspects of the Persian Gulf crisis.

Kuwait finally agreed Monday to let a few thousand U.S. soldiers deploy in the sheikdom. But the four-day delay after the Pentagon announced the deployment was a far cry from the appeals six years ago to dispatch hundreds of thousands of troops and anything else the Americans were prepared to provide to confront Iraq.

Although President Bill Clinton's administration has secured broad support within the United States for its get-tough policy, the embarrassing episode in Kuwait is a microcosm of U.S. problems in dealing with key parties in the former 38-member coalition that fought the 1991 Persian Gulf War. It also reflects fundamental differences between "Operation Desert Storm" and this year's sequel launched with "Operation Desert Strike." For some allies, not enough is at stake this time. For others, the incentives have shifted over the last six years - sometimes in Iraq's favor. "The old coalition doesn't exist anymore," said James A. Placke, a former U.S. diplomat in Iraq now with Cambridge Energy Research Associates. "But it's somewhat misleading to look at it that way. In each adventure with Saddam, the national interests of each state and the circumstances of the crisis have varied, so it's not surprising that you can't marshal the same team each time." The gulf states still view Hussein as a menace. Yet for many of the emirates, the direct dangers are not high enough nor is the proposed U.S. response large enough to make the price of open endorsement of Clinton's efforts worth the risks, analysts said. "Neither Kuwaiti nor Saudi Arabian oil was threatened this time,' said Judith Kipper, co-director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. ` Get It Over With' After limited U.S. action, Saddam and the problem he represents also are still around. The core issue is unresolved. Meanwhile, the suffering of the Iraqi people grows - a plight now bound to worsen with postponement of a United Nations deal allowing Iraq to sell oil so that it can purchase humanitarian supplies. As frustration deepens over the U.S. inability to rid Iraq of Saddam, Persian Gulf regimes are ready for something decisive. Yet current American tactics just seem to be more of the same, with no end in sight, analysts said. "I'm hearing a lot of people say that U.S. policy is not working, and if we can't get rid of him then we should adopt a different strategy," said Richard Murphy, a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia who is now at the Council on Foreign Relations and in the region. Geoffrey Kemp, a former administration National Security Council staff member under Ronald Reagan, observed that, "In private, the gulf states wish we'd send B-52s for a week and get it over with. …