Now that the Jan. 15 deadline has passed, the eyes of the world are on President Bush. But their focus should be broadened.
That's because the question is not only how expeditiously and vigorously the United States will follow through on the mandate to get tough with Iraq for ravaging Kuwait.Rather, the question is also whether or not America's allies will bear their full share of the crisis in the Persian Gulf.
The question is much easier to raise than to answer because of the enormous complexities of the situation. Fifty-four nations are arrayed against Iraq. Some have sent troops. Others are providing supplies or financial aid to the United States. Still others are simply helping nations hurt by the economic embargo against Iraq.
But the basic fact remains that it's the United States that is providing the great bulk of the military forces in the desert of Saudi Arabia. Consequently, it's Americans who can be expected to shed most of the blood when shooting starts even though the United States gets less oil from the Persian Gulf than some of our allies.
Up to a point, a case can be made for such a seemingly unfair division of responsibility. Japan and Germany, after all, are under constitutional restrictions when it comes to deploying troops - restrictions written by victorious Americans after World War II. Though Egypt seems to be poised and ready to help with 35,000 well-trained troops, forces from some other Arab nations may be understandably reluctant to fight fellow Muslims. So the Arab forces are being given defensive assignments behind the front lines, where they still could sustain some casualties.
But what's the rationale, if any, for giving similar defensive assignments to French troops, too, particularly when the British are to help bear the brunt of an offensive operation?
How reliable are other European allies? Belgium has been talking about withdrawing its naval forces and warplanes at the first sound of gunfire. Diplomats also doubt U.S. forces can count on much support from Denmark, Italy, Portugal or Spain for any military action even though Europe depends heavily on oil from the Persian Gulf.
What about financial support? Though America's major allies have pledged $6.7 billion to defray the costs of Operation Desert Shield, only $4.2 billion has been provided so far. Much more is needed in view of the report from the General Accounting Office that Desert Shield will cost $30 billion this year, a figure that assumes no shot is fired.
Clearly, the allies must be prodded to provide considerably more funds. Clearly, the unwieldy coalition of nations allied against Iraq could easily unravel.
But even if our allies do much more, Operation Desert Shield is bound to remain largely an American undertaking. Part of the price of leadership is that the leader must bear the greatest burden. Besides, how many Americans want to live in a world where no single power is willing or able to resist a ruthless aggressor?