OVER THE ATLANTIC – After a historic divide within NATO (search) over U.S. invasion plans for Iraq (search), alliance leaders are warming to the idea of committing their troops to help stabilize the country, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Wednesday.
"Although there is not a NATO mission in Iraq yet, I think there is building an enthusiasm for involvement," Gen. Richard Myers (search) said in an interview aboard a C-17 cargo plane. He was returning to Washington from Brussels, Belgium, where he held two days of talks at NATO headquarters with his counterparts from the other 18 member countries.
Myers noted that the alliance as a whole has not decided to take any role in Iraq, but some member countries have offered to send soldiers to help keep the peace while civilian agencies and nongovernmental groups try to pave the way for a new Iraqi government.
"I think the overall attitude toward Iraq in NATO is positive and on an uptick," the Air Force general added.
Two prominent NATO members and traditional U.S. allies -- Germany and France -- openly opposed the Bush administration's Iraq policy and worked against it in the U.N. Security Council. Despite that opposition, the U.S.-led military campaign got under way March 20.
Germany and France also joined Belgium in fighting Washington's efforts to provide NATO air defenses for alliance member Turkey. The Iraqi neighbor felt it could be a target of a pre-emptive strike by Baghdad.
"I think a lot of the disagreements we had before are fading, giving way to nations wanting to do the right thing," Myers said. "There are more who are willing to do that, sort of looking forward, not backward at what happened before" the U.S.-led attacks.
"There is a growing recognition within NATO that it's important to be involved in stability operations in Iraq and a growing enthusiasm for participating in that."
Myers stressed that no decisions about a NATO role in postwar Iraq were made during his talks in Brussels. He declined to say whether the disagreements over Iraq that created a painful rift before the war were discussed directly.
The Joint Chiefs chairman left the impression that while some tensions remain, the focus has shifted to repairing the damage done to alliance unity.
Myers spoke from inside an Airstream trailer anchored to the floor of the cavernous C-17 that carried him first to Qatar, then Kuwait and Iraq before Belgium.
In Qatar, he visited U.S. troops at three air bases to thank them for their contributions to the campaign in Iraq. He also meet with senior Qatari military officials.
Myers spent time with U.S. troops in Kuwait before stopping in Basra in southern Iraq. In Baghdad, the Iraqi capital, Myers dropped off the new U.S. civilian administrator for Iraq, L. Paul Bremer.
Wearing a desert tan flight suit and sitting in a leather swivel chair inside the wood-paneled trailer, Myers fingered a pen as he spoke on a wide range of topics, including his admiration for the efficiency with which U.S. forces toppled Saddam Hussein's government.
Myers also injected a note of caution that the American public not misinterpret the swift military successes in Iraq, and in Afghanistan two years ago, as evidence that war is easy and without terrible costs.
"We shouldn't get the idea that this is antiseptic. War is not surgery, and bombs are not scalpels," he said.
One of the major issues to be determined now that combat in Iraq is over is how to change the size and disposition of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf.
Myers said no final decisions have been made, other than to withdraw nearly all troops from Saudi Arabia. He said Qatar would play an important role, but it was not clear whether sizable numbers of U.S. troops would be based there permanently.
He said there is a "good chance" that U.S. Central Command, which is responsible for U.S. military operations in the Gulf region, will keep a forward headquarters at Camp As Sayliyah, a base near Doha, Qatar's capital. Gen. Tommy Franks used that facility as his command post during the Iraq war.
Central Command's main headquarters is in Tampa, Fla.