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Counting our losses before war begins

Last week a member of the Canadian Parliament for the ruling party, Carolyn Parrish, was caught on television declaring: "Damn Americans. I hate those bastards."

Then the Toronto Globe and Mail newspaper conducted a (hopelessly unscientific) poll on its Web site, asking Canadians whether they agreed that "Americans are behaving like "bastards.' " As of Thursday, 51 percent were saying yes.

When even the Canadians, normally drearily polite, get colorfully steamed at us, we know the rest of the world is apoplectic. After all, the latest invective comes on top of the prime minister's spokesman calling President Bush a "moron" last fall.

Canada's incivility is a reminder that the United States and its allies are slugging one another to death while Iraq watches from the sidelines. If, as Bush suggested in a press conference Thursday night, the United States may lose a vote in the United Nations and then promptly go to war anyway, the internecine warfare within the West will grow far worse.

The U.S. debate on the antipathy toward us has been misleading, I think, in its focus on France. It's not just the prickly Gauls who are taking potshots at us _ it's even our buddies, like the Canadians and the Irish.

In a survey, the Sunday Independent newspaper of Ireland polled Dublin residents about whom they feared most, Saddam Hussein or George Bush. The result: 39 percent picked Hussein; 60 percent, Bush. Even in Britain, a poll by the Sunday Times of London found that equal numbers called Hussein and Bush the "greatest threat to world peace."

So let's take stock of how our invasion of Iraq is going. The Western alliance is ferociously strained, NATO is paralyzed, America is resented by millions, the United Nations is in crisis, U.S. pals like Tony Blair are being skewered at home, North Korea has exploited our distraction to crank up plutonium production, oil prices have surged, and the world financial markets have sagged, and the war hasn't even begun yet.

Of course, one school of thought holds it doesn't much matter that the United States is perceived as the world's newest Libya. If the Canadians don't like us, we can always exercise the military option and push our border up to 54-40.

But global attitudes do matter. Before the first Gulf War, Secretary of State James Baker made three visits to Turkey. This time around, Secretary of State Colin Powell hasn't visited once. So it's not surprising that Turkey refused to accept U.S. troops, impairing our plans for a northern offensive.

Bush is now making great progress in the war against al-Qaida. And that's happening because Bush was willing to work with the Pakistani leaders; what made the difference was not just our military power, but also our diplomacy.

The worry is that we're already taking such losses, in terms of our alliances, that one wonders what will happen when the hard part begins _ the day after Hussein has toppled, when we may see Shiites slaughtering Sunnis in southern Iraq; thousands of armed Iraqi exiles pouring in from Iran; Turks and Kurds fighting over the Kirkuk oil wells in northern Iraq; Iraqi military officers trying to peddle anthrax and VX gas; and radical Islamists trying to take control of nuclear-armed Pakistan.

As one savvy official observed, occupying Baghdad comes at an "unpardonable expense in terms of money, lives lost and ruined regional relationships." Another expert put it this way: "We should not march into Baghdad. To occupy Iraq would instantly shatter our coalition, turning the whole Arab world against us, and make a broken tyrant into a latter-day Arab hero . . . assigning young soldiers to a fruitless hunt for a securely entrenched dictator and condemning them to fight in what would be an unwinnable urban guerrilla war. It could only plunge that part of the world into even greater instability."

Those comments may overemphasize the risks, but they are from top-notch analysts whose judgments I respect. The first comment was made by Colin Powell in a Foreign Affairs essay in 1992; the second is in A World Transformed, a 1998 book by the first President Bush.

Nicholas D. Kristof is a New York Times columnist.

New York Times