Building a coalition in modern diplomacy is a time consuming task, requiring a time commitment not easily made by officials whose schedules are planned weeks and months in advance.
The events of Sept. 11, however, were so sudden and traumatic in their execution and impact that the administration of President Bush has been able to unite virtually the entire world in support of Mr. Bush's declared war on terrorism.
First, America's NATO allies jumped on board, invoking for the first time Chapter Five of its charter, saying, in effect, an attack against one is an attack against all. NATO pledged military assistance if requested. The European Union joined quickly, its members' banks freezing perhaps $100 million in Afghanistan's assets. The Organization of American States took action similar to NATO.
In a reversal of the coalition-building effort by Mr. Bush's father in advance of the Persian Gulf War, which saw then-Secretary of State James Baker hopscotch from capital to capital garnering support, individual nations began sending their most senior officials to Washington so fast it was difficult to keep an accurate count.
So far, 11 world leaders-from France, Indonesia, Russia, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Great Britain, China, Canada, Egypt, Belgium and Jordan have held talks with Mr. Bush. British Prime Minister Tony Blair was asked to attend the President's speech to a joint session of Congress.
Several dozen leaders from these and other countries have met with Secretary of State Colin Powell. One day the flags from Jordan, Turkey and Australia are singled out, the next day it's the turn of Kazakhstan, Spain and Senegal. A large proportion of Middle Eastern and Persian Gulf nations have been obvious with their presence.
Then there are the phone calls. Powell has spoken with international leaders some on a number of occasions more than 125 times since September 11, according to senior aides. Most of the calls are related to coalition-building and a significant number have been with the U.N.'s Secretary General, Kofi Annan and with NATO's chief, Lord Robertson.
Also getting a lot of the Secretary's time have been Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his foreign minister, Shimon Peres, and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. In part because of the prodding of Powell and others, including the president, Israelis and Palestinians have restarted a dialogue which has been largely absent for the past year during the fighting between them.
It all looks good and it's surely better to have others with you than not, but it would be best not to get too carried away with these initial expressions of support. For instance, many Arab nations will be with the U.S. as long as the fight is contained to Osaa Bin Laden and the Taliban leaders in Afghanistan. If and when the Bush administration carries that fight to Hamas or Hezbollah or Islamic Jihad in Syria or the Palestinian territories, for instance, many analysts say support will evaporate for the coalition.
The Bush administration is wisely preparing the American people for a sustained effort, but it has a far better chance of keeping Americans united over the long haul than it does of keeping the international coalition together for the same period, no matter how sustained its diplomatic effort.
By Charles Wolfson
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