President Bush’s plan to send more than 20,000 additional combat troops to Iraq got a chilly reception in key European countries Thursday, and many commentators said they do not believe it will succeed.
Several allies in Asia, however, lined up behind the strategy, and Britain gave a cautious endorsement — although it stressed it had no plans to match the U.S. commitment by sending any new troops of its own.
British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said the troop increase demonstrates the U.S. and Iraqi governments’ determination to deal with the deteriorating security situation. Scores of Iraqis die daily in civil strife and insurgent attacks, and the U.S. death toll now tops 3,000.
But Beckett was also quick to distance the British government from the new U.S. move.
“It is not our intention at the present time to send more troops,” she told reporters at Downing Street. She said Britain was continuing to work “progressively” toward transferring security responsibility to authorities in Basra, southern Iraq, where it has about 7,000 troops.
On Thursday, The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported that 3,000 British soldiers will be withdrawn from the region in May, which would mesh with previous strategy announcements made by government officials in London.
The left-leaning Guardian newspaper described Bush’s plan as a “last throw of the dice” in Iraq. An editorial, with the headline “Defiance and delusion,” called Bush’s Iraq policy a “misconceived enterprise that has dragged his country, this country and the Middle East into a nightmare.”
Britain’s official response, while lukewarm, was among the more positive European reactions.
In Turkey, the pro-government Yeni Safak newspaper summed up the U.S. troop surge with the headline: “New plan: More blood will be shed.”
In Russia, senior Defense Ministry official Vladimir Shamanov said the additional troops “won’t be able to radically change the situation with ensuring peace and security in this country.”
Shamanov said the main weakness of the U.S. plan is that it sends most of the additional troops to Baghdad: “Without firm authority in the provinces, it’s not possible to establish law and order in the country,” he told the ITAR-Tass news agency.
In Sweden, Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said Bush’s speech lacked any new political ideas, and in Denmark, a key opposition politician put blame for the Iraq quagmire squarely at the feet of the U.S. president.
“George W. Bush lives in his own world,” said Helle Thorning-Schmidt, leader of Denmark’s Social Democrats. “We are dealing with a stubborn president who continues with an uncertain strategy for Iraq’s future.”
French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said the solution for Iraq, beyond Bush’s troop increase, is “the participation of all civilian, political and religious elements in Iraqi society.
“It is through a comprehensive approach, through a political strategy, that Iraq and the whole region will regain their stability,” Douste-Blazy said in a carefully worded statement.
France was one of the main critics of Bush’s push to invade Iraq in 2003.
Retired French general Jean Salvan, who commanded troops in the first U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon, said he believed Bush was paving the way for an honorable pullout in an effort to avoid the shame suffered when U.S. forces left Vietnam.
“What Bush is apparently trying to do is to depart from Iraq honorably, without leaving behind catastrophic images like when the Americans left Saigon,” he said.
The first European reaction to the plan was decidedly more negative than it received in Asia, where key allies South Korea, Australia and Japan all pledged continued support for the U.S. war effort
“If America retreats in Iraq, then that has enormous consequences for the stability of the Middle East and it will also be an enormous boost to terrorism in our part of the world,” Australian Prime Minister John Howard said in Sydney. Howard, whose country has 1,300 troops in and around Iraq, called Bush’s plan “very clear, calm and above all, realistic.”
Reaction in Japan
Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso said Tokyo would continue its humanitarian air support and loans to Baghdad for reconstruction.
“I strongly hope that the U.S. efforts toward the stability in Iraq and reconstruction will proceed effectively and bring good results,” Aso said in a statement. “Japan will continue to closely communicate and cooperate with the U.S.”
There was little official response from U.S. allies in the Middle East, though America’s opponents were fast to condemn the new plan.
Salem al-Falahat, head of Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood Movement, said the U.S. plan “aims to plunge the region into more destruction and bloodshed and leave Iraq with sectarian hatred for many decades to come.”
In Tehran, Iran’s Foreign Ministry denounced the troop buildup as a “continuation of occupation.”