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[casi] from today's papers: 11-03-02

A. Bush in new warning to Iraq, Guardian, 11 March
B. Short would back ousting of Saddam, Guardian, 11 March
C. Short's anti-war stand reveals split on Iraq, Telegraph, 11 March
D. Tensions rise as Iraq rejects the return of UN inspectors, Independent,
11 March
E. Blair urges US to seek allies' help on Iraq, The Times, 11 March
F. Bush faces agonising choices in bid to oust Iraq leader, The Times, 11
G. Blair caught in a minefield between Bush and the Left, The Times, 11
March [opinion piece by Peter Riddell]
H. The Cheney Challenge, The Times, 11 March [leading article]

The Times:

Letter writers: remember to include your address and telephone number. The
Times require all letters to be exclusive to them.

A. Bush in new warning to Iraq

New strategy outlined today as US broadens nuclear arsenal

Julian Borger in Washington and Richard Norton-Taylor
Monday March 11, 2002
The Guardian

President Bush is today expected to issue a new warning to Iraq in a speech
mapping out US strategy for the next phase of Washington's "war on terror"
six months after the September 11 attack.
The speech is likely to further raise tensions at a time of escalating
violence in the Middle East and following the leak of a Pentagon strategic
plan which would significantly broaden the use of nuclear weapons in the US

In a briefing intended to prepare the ground for today's speech, the
national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, made it clear that Washington
would demand total compliance from Iraq in continuing talks at the United
Nations about the potential return of weapons inspectors.

Ms Rice told the New York Times: "The Iraqis didn't just agree in '91 to
have inspections, they agreed not to have weapons of mass destruction ... So
anything that is done with them would have to make sure they don't have
weapons of mass destruction. And with three years of no inspections that's
very tough, very hard."

Iraq's vice-president, Taha Yassin Ramadan, last night said his country
would not allow UN weapons inspectors to return.

"Iraq's rejection of the teams of spies to return back to Iraq is firm and
won't change," Mr Ramadan was quoted as saying by the official Iraqi News
Agency INA. "Iraq is fully convinced that there is no need for them to
return. They had carried out vicious spying activities in Iraq for more than
eight years."

UN weapons inspectors withdrew at the end of 1998 after confrontations with
the Iraqi regime over access to Saddam Hussein's palaces and other
restricted sites. A high-level Iraqi delegation held its first talks in a
year last week with the UN about the possible deployment of weapons
inspectors, and both sides agreed to talk again next month.

The New York Times reported that Ms Rice's comments, together with those of
another, unnamed senior administration official, "strongly suggest that the
Bush administration is moving rapidly toward an inspection crisis with Iraq
by late spring", as US officials expect that "by May or June it will become
clear that Iraq will refuse the kind of invasive inspections that Mr Bush is

The international development secretary, Clare Short, yesterday made clear
she would not support a US-led military attack on the Iraqi people, but made
clear she does favour legal steps to overthrow Saddam.

Today's speech is unlikely to dwell on Iraq by name, but point to the threat
posed by the possible combination of stateless terrorist groups and rogue
regimes, particularly the "axis of evil" trio of Iraq, Iran and North Korea,
who are suspected of developing weapons of mass destruction.

However, the administration's briefings in the run-up to the speech make it
clear that Iraq is the next major concern.

By contrast, an administration official said imminent action was not
expected in Somalia, but Indonesia was "a place of interest", he told the
New York Times.

After today's stop in Britain, Vice-President Dick Cheney will embark on a
major tour of the Middle East, intended to amass support for eventual
military action against Iraq.

Mr Cheney is likely to face anxiety and deep scepticism among Arab leaders.
King Abdullah of Jordan warned yesterday that "striking Iraq represents a
catastrophe to Iraq and the region in general and threatens the security and
stability of the region".

Turkey's prime minister, Bulent Ecevit, yesterday called the threat of a US
attack on Iraq a "nightmare".

Mr Cheney is also likely to face charges of hypocrisy in both Europe and the
Middle East for pursuing a campaign against weapons of mass destruction
abroad while the Pentagon is developing new types of nuclear arms and new
targets for them.

The US Nuclear Posture Review, leaked to the Los Angeles Times at the
weekend, includes contingency plans for the use of nuclear weapons against
China, Russia, Iraq, North Korea, Iran, Libya and Syria in retaliation for
an attack with nuclear, chemical or biological weapons or "in the event of
surprising military developments".

The review, signed by the defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, also proposes
using tactical nuclear weapons against deep and hardened bunkers.

B. Short would back ousting of Saddam

Michael White and Richard Norton-Taylor
Monday March 11, 2002
The Guardian

Clare Short, the international development secretary, made it clear
yesterday that she could not support an all-out US-led military attack on
the people of Iraq, but favoured lawful steps to overthrow Saddam Hussein's
Ms Short sought to lower the political temperature that has seen predictions
of cabinet splits and resignations.

"Military action covers a multitude of sins. I would not support any mass
attacks on the poor old Iraqi people that would not do any harm to Saddam
Hussein. There is a million things in between," she told Radio 4's World
This Weekend.

Pressed on what action she might endorse, she replied: "I would absolutely
support, if it is possible legally, Saddam Hussein's regime being brought
down and the people of Iraq being freed from the suffering he has

She spoke on the eve of a visit to Britain by the US vice-president, Dick
Cheney, as defence officials insisted that they have not yet received any
request from America for the deployment of 25,000 British troops if
Washington decides to launch a land invasion of Iraq.

With Labour opposition to the military option mounting - led by the MPs Tam
Dalyell and Alice Mahon, who are due to take a letter to Downing Street
today - jitters about political and public opinion have added to Tony
Blair's fears that he is being seen as George Bush's European poodle.

Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrats' leader, yesterday called for EU
action to revive the peace process.

Cabinet ministers have been provided with an intelligence report on Iraq
compiled by MI6. It says that Saddam is continuing to develop chemical and
biological weapons as well as long-range missiles capable of striking Israel
and the Gulf states, and is trying to procure nuclear weapons technology.

C. Short's anti-war stand reveals split on Iraq

Daily Telegraph
By Andy McSmith Chief Political Correspondent
(Filed: 11/03/2002)

CLARE SHORT issued a warning yesterday that all-out war against Iraq was not
the way to handle the threat posed by Saddam Hussein.

The International Secretary was speaking as Dick Cheney, the American
vice-president, flew to Britain to seek Tony Blair's support for military
action in Iraq. Her remarks will add to suspicions of a deep division in the
Cabinet over the prospect of war in the Gulf.

Mr Cheney was expected to bring new evidence of an Iraqi build-up of weapons
of mass destruction. America is considering several options to unseat
Saddam, including a land war.

In that case, it would ask for 25,000 British troops to go into action
alongside an American force 10 times that size. Reports in Washington this
weekend suggested that the military campaign would begin next year.

Dozens of back bench Labour MPs have expressed opposition to military action
in Iraq, an unease shared by several ministers. But Miss Short is possibly
alone among ministers in feeling secure enough in her position to say so

She told Radio 4's The World This Weekend: "I would not support any mass
attacks on the poor old Iraqi people that would not harm Saddam."

Miss Short, who resigned from the front bench in protest at the bombing of
Iraq 10 years ago, said she would "absolutely support" the overthrow of
Saddam's government if it could be achieved without heavy Iraqi casualties.

"There are two questions here," she said. "The first is: is Saddam
determined to develop weapons of mass destruction, including chemical and
biological weapons? The answer is yes. Is he resisting UN inspection for
that purpose? The answer is yes."

"But the assumption that some sort of all-out military attack is the answer
to that is of course not at all sensible. We need to deal with the problem
of Saddam. We do not need to inflict further suffering on the people of

"The best possible thing is to let the UN inspectors back in; that is where
we should exert all our pressure."

Miss Short added: "I would absolutely support, if it is possible legally,
Saddam Hussein's regime being brought down and the people of Iraq being
freed from the suffering he has inflicted."

The prospect of war with Iraq is threatening to split the Labour Party. Two
leading backbench MPs, Alice Mahon and Tam Dalyell, will call at Downing
Street with a motion signed by more than 70 MPs, including four former Blair
ministers, expressing "deep unease" at the prospect of US-British military

Donald Anderson, the Labour chairman of the Commons foreign affairs select
committee, who was not one of the 70 signatories, also urged caution

"I think that there are fairly reckless elements in the Pentagon who are on
a roll because of Afghanistan and I would hope that part of the task of our
Government is to influence those who take a contrary view and want to work
within the UN Security Council and get the weapons inspectors back."

Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat leader, warned the Government that it
could not expect automatic support.

"We would not issue blank cheques to the Government and the Government
should not give blank cheques to President Bush," he told his party's spring
conference in Manchester.

Miss Short was abroad last week during a tense Cabinet discussion of the
Iraqi crisis, when Robin Cook, the Leader of the Commons, is believed to
have expressed anxiety about a military campaign.

But John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, speaking on BBC1's Breakfast
with Frost, said "press prattle" about a rift was "nonsense".

D. Tensions rise as Iraq rejects the return of UN inspectors
By Kim Sengupta and Marie Woolf

11 March 2002

Iraq has rejected the return of United Nations weapons inspectors in a step
widely seen as bringing forward the possibility of another Gulf war.

The development yesterday came amid signs of discord within Tony Blair's
Cabinet, with Clare Short, the Secretary of State for International
Development, stressing that Britain should not be part of any "mass attack"
on Iraq. Amid rising international tension and anxiety, Dick Cheney, the US
Vice-President, will meet Mr Blair in Downing Street today. He will ask for
clear British backing for military action against President Saddam Hussein's

Mr Cheney is expected to present fresh "evidence" showing that Baghdad is
stepping up its production of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, as
well as strengthening its conventional forces. President George Bush and
other administration officials have repeatedly declared that military action
is inevitable if President Saddam refuses to allow the inspectors to return.

Mr Cheney will travel from London to Egypt, Israel, Yemen, Saudi Arabia,
Kuwait, Oman and Turkey in an attempt to build a coalition and secure
agreements on the use of bases in the region.

As Mr Cheney agenda set off from America, details emerged of US plans to
expand its range of potential nuclear targets. After a leak to the Los
Angeles Times, the Pentagon confirmed that the Bush administration had asked
it to prepare an assessment of potential threats to US security that might
warrant a nuclear response. The countries identified in the report are
China, Russia, Iraq, North Korea, Iran, Libya and Syria. The plan would
breach a long-standing principle of American policy: that it would not
launch a nuclear attack on a non-nuclear state unless that state attacked
the US in alliance with an established nuclear power.

There had been recent signs that President Saddam, faced with a determined
American drive to depose him, might allow weapons inspectors to come back.

But yesterday Taha Yassin Ramadan, the Iraqi Vice-President, said: "Iraq is
fully convinced there is no need for the inspectors to return. They had
carried out vicious spying activities in Iraq for more than eight years."

Naji Sabri, the Iraqi Foreign Minister, held talks with Kofi Annan, the UN
secretary general, last week on the possible return of inspectors. But Tariq
Aziz, Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister, said the UN and US were not interested
in arms inspections, only in overthrowing Saddam Hussein. Mr Aziz said: "The
American President has made it clear that the case of Iraq is not about the
fight against terrorism and not about arms control. In disregard for our
sovereignty, he wants to eliminate the regime of President Saddam Hussein
and create an armed opposition to fan a civil war."

Military action against Iraq is strongly opposed by Britain's European
allies and Mr Blair is under intense and public pressure from his
backbenchers not to join an American-led assault. An early-day motion
expressing "deep unease" at possible British involvement has been signed by
more than 70 MPs, including several former Labour ministers.

Robin Cook, the Leader of the House, is said to be among those opposed to
British military action, and senior ministers are said to have privately
warned that resignations up to ministerial level would follow if Mr Blair
were to advocate it.

Yesterday, Ms Short became the most senior cabinet figure to voice her
misgivings about the slide towards war. "I would not support any mass
attacks on the poor Iraqi people that would not do any harm to Saddam
Hussein," she said.

E. Blair urges US to seek allies' help on Iraq
By Philip Webster, Political Editor, and Damian Whitworth in Washington

The Times
March 11, 2002

 TONY BLAIR will tell the US Vice-President today that America must do all
it can to keep the international coalition on board for future military
action against Iraq.
Six months after the terrorist attacks on America, he will advise Dick
Cheney that ending the continuing bloodshed in the Middle East is vital to
the ultimate success of the war on terrorism.

He will support America’s mediation efforts, including putting pressure on
Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister, to soften his stance on a
political solution after a week in which 170 Palestinians and Israelis have
been killed.

Today’s Downing Street meeting comes amid rising opposition in the Labour
Party to an early strike against Baghdad. Clare Short, the International
Development Secretary, exposed Cabinet worries when she said yesterday that
all-out military attack, as the press seemed to be suggesting, was “not at
all sensible”.

“We need to deal with the problem of Saddam Hussein, we don’t need to
inflict further suffering on the people of Iraq,” she said. “The best
possible thing is to let the UN inspectors back in. That is where we should
exert all our pressure.”

However, Vice-President Taha Yassin Ramadan of Iraq said yesterday that his
country would not allow weapons inspectors to return. “Iraq’s rejection of
the teams of spies to return to Iraq is firm and won’t change,” he was
quoted by the official Iraqi News Agency INA as saying.

Mr Cheney is on his way to the Middle East. Mr Blair’s call for action to
resolve the conflict comes after last Thursday’s Cabinet meeting when
ministers, apart from raising doubts about an early assault on Iraq, also
said that tackling the Middle East problem was essential to winning support
for action against Iraq and other countries. Both issues will top today’s
agenda and that for Mr Blair’s meeting with President Bush in Texas next

The link was underlined by King Abdullah of Jordan yesterday when he said
that any US attack on Iraq would have catastrophic repercussions on the
Middle East as a whole. The monarch held talks with a senior envoy of
Saddam. “His Majesty . . . stressed Jordan’s rejection of using force
against Iraq,” Jordan’s state Petra news agency quoted the King as saying.

As Mr Cheney arrived in London last night, Downing Street went out of its
way to emphasise the role of the coalition in the Afghanistan conflict. It
published a 35-page document, produced by the Coalition Information Centre,
setting out the contributions to the war of countries ranging from Europe to
Cambodia and the Philippines, including military, financial and legislative
help, as well as assistance to Afghanistan.

Mr Blair has told close associates that he is ready to back military action
against Iraq when the time comes and is prepared to shoulder the
unpopularity that would accompany such a decision.

But he is expected to tell Mr Cheney today that keeping the international
community together is the best way of tackling the terrorist threat and that
diplomatic avenues to a solution should be followed first, including the
maximum pressure on Saddam to allow arms inspectors back into the country.

A minister said yesterday: “He supports America on this. He understands the
threat is very real. He is on side with them. But he believes that the more
people who back the course they are taking, the better it is for them and
us.” Britain’s military contribution to an American-led ground offensive to
topple Saddam could involve the dispatch of two full armoured brigades at a
cost of hundreds of millions of pounds.

Although no formal request has yet come from Washington, senior Defence
Ministry officials, headed by Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, the Chief of
Defence Staff, have begun to examine what Britain could offer in the way of
troops, fighter aircraft, warships and support units if President Bush asks
for British help.

Admiral Boyce and the most senior policy experts at the MoD are looking at
the military, human, and financial implications of pledging a substantial
force, defence sources said yesterday.

If the contribution were to be on the scale of the Gulf War deployment, it
would mean committing two full armoured brigades, a divisional headquarters
and a huge logistics chain, involving about 25,000 military personnel.

President Bush will use the opportunity today, six months after the
September 11 attacks, to make the case for expanding the war on terrorism.
While he may leave specific references to Iraq out of his address, officials
made clear that Saddam is in his sights.

In a speech from the White House, Mr Bush will seek to bring to a wider
audience his theme that America will not sit back and await events but is
prepared to take pre-emptive action against so-called rogue states, or
countries that harbour terrorists. He is expected to outline the case for
entering countries even when uninvited by the governing regimes.

Mr Bush will sketch a strategy that involves taking action against
countries, such as Iraq, that are illegally pursuing programmes to develop
weapons of mass destruction. “President Bush has not made a decision about
the use of force against Iraq. What he has done is put the world on notice
that the status quo is not acceptable,” Condoleezza Rice, Mr Bush’s National
Security Adviser, said yesterday.

Colin Powell, the Secretary of State, said nuclear weapons would be among
“the full range of options” available to Mr Bush should he decide to attack
Saddam. But he said such an event, which is among the scenarios contained in
a classified Pentagon planning report, was highly unlikely.

F. Bush faces agonising choices in bid to oust Iraq leader
By Richard Beeston, Diplomatic Editor

The Times
March 11, 2002

WASHINGTON’s determination to take action against Iraq leaves President Bush
with three unenviable options in his attempt to remove President Saddam
Hussein from power.
The most obvious choice would be to reassemble a large armoured force in
Kuwait and take the decision that his father stopped short of at the end of
the Gulf War 11 years ago. American ground forces with air supremacy would
make quick work of the Iraqi Army and could, in theory, reach Baghdad in a
matter of days to oversee the capture or killing of Saddam.

This plan is fraught with political problems, not least because any
unilateral US action would be strongly opposed by the Arab world, most of
America’s Western allies and key members of the United Nations Security
Council, such as Russia and China.

In the long months that would be required for America to assemble an
invasion force, Saddam would have the opportunity to plan his counterattack.
During the Gulf War he sent ground forces into Saudi Arabia and launched
missile strikes against Israel. This time he might use chemical or
biological warheads against Israel, which would provoke a retaliation. In
that case, a war between America and Iraq would become a part of the
Arab-Israeli conflict overnight.

The Iraqi leader could also undermine vulnerable pro-Western Arab states
such as Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf kingdoms, where public opinion is
strongly anti-American. By the time that the US invasion force was ready,
the region could already be embroiled in a furious conflict.

Some Washington strategists believe that rather than repeating Operation
Desert Storm, the US should replicate its recent success in Afghanistan
against the Taleban. This would mean arming and training Iraqi rebels,
mainly Kurds and Shia Muslims. Operating from the north and south, they
would launch an offensive against Iraqi troops and be supported by US
special forces and bombers. With the help of a propaganda campaign, Iraqi
Army officers could be encouraged to defect or stay in their barracks.

There are, however, serious doubts about the opposition’s fighting ability.
In every previous engagement they have been roundly defeated by Saddam’s
ruthless forces. If they failed this time, Saddam would emerge stronger than
ever and Mr Bush would lose all the advantages gained from his war in

The final option would be for the CIA to increase its efforts in encouraging
a coup d’état. There are known to be many disgruntled officers in the
military and security forces, not to mention members of Saddam’s clan. If
they could be encouraged to revolt, the Iraqi leader could be overthrown
without the need to go war.

This option relies more on hope than reality. Saddam has survived repeated
attempts to overthrow him and once boasted that he knew who the traitors in
his Government were even before they did.

Nevertheless, Washington knows that it will eventually have to make a
decision. Iraq is still in violation of its obligations to allow UN
inspectors to search for weapons of mass destruction, which it is again
producing in secret.

The Iraqi regime remains a threat to its neighbours, most of which would
love to see Saddam deposed but fear that he will simply emerge with renewed
strength from another failed American attempt to get rid of him.

Even if he is removed, Washington must also make careful provision for his
replacement and remain heavily engaged in a country that has the
second-largest oil reserves in the Middle East. A victory by opposition
forces, such as the Kurds and Shias, could also lead to a bloody factional
civil war and even the break-up of Iraq. Alternatively a proTehran
government could be installed, but this would be just as threatening to
regional stability as the present regime.

For those reasons Mr Bush will have to move with great care. President
Clinton launched repeated airstrikes against Iraq that were aimed at
weakening the regime but which had no real effect on Saddam’s ability to
rule. Mr Clinton discovered to his cost that gesture politics did not work
in the region.

The worst possible outcome would be a failed or ineffective operation, which
could negate all the successes of the American military operation in
Afghanistan. If Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network were able to launch
an attack while American forces were engaged in Iraq, many Americans would
want to know why the War on Terror had been diverted to Baghdad.

G. Blair caught in a minefield between Bush and the Left
by Peter Riddell

We will support the US over Iraq, but only after the war on the home front

The Times
March 11, 2002

The British Government will back, and almost certainly join, any American
military-led action against Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. No decisions
have been taken and there are several options short of a full-scale
invasion: but senior officials in London all assume that if, or as most
expect, when, the moment comes later this year, Britain will be involved.
This is not just about following Washington’s lead. Tony Blair thinks that
action must be taken. But getting from here to there presents him with one
of the trickiest political problems of his premiership.

Mr Blair is manoeuvring between two diverse, and at times conflicting,
interests: first, his own Cabinet and the Labour Party, anxious about the
prospect of war, as shown by Clare Short’s warnings yesterday; and, second,
the hawks in Washington. The message needed to reassure domestic opinion may
weaken his influence with President George Bush, while his increasingly
tough line over Iraq has increased domestic criticism. The Bush
Administration is now determined to oust Saddam Hussein and is preparing
military options.

The question is not whether, but when and how.

For many Pentagon hawks, as much as their left-wing critics in Britain, that
is the whole story. But the rhetoric about war is way ahead of the reality.
Detailed discussions are starting only now with today’s visit to Downing
Street by Vice-President Dick Cheney and the trip early next month by Mr
Blair to the President’s ranch in Texas.

Managing his own party over Iraq is as much of a challenge as managing the
Atlantic alliance. The significant point about the hour-long discussion at
last Thursday’s Cabinet meeting is that the issue was so extensively
discussed at all, a sign perhaps of a revival of Cabinet government. The
exchanges were less heated than some feverish reports on Friday implied.
Worries among many Labour MPs are real enough, but one or two Cabinet
ministers have been playing the familiar internal party game of exaggerating
their own dissent.

The Cabinet discussed the threat from Iraq, the coming negotiations at the
United Nations on sanctions, the links with the Middle East peace process
(where Washington has become more active again in the past few days) and the
need to ensure that any operation replaces Saddam with a stable regime,
rather than further destabilising the region — not least given the confusion
now in Afghanistan.

Six months on from September 11, earlier doubts about the Bush
Administration’s unilateralism have reappeared — reinforced not just by the
“axis of evil” speech and by Washington’s dislike of multilateral treaties
but also by last week’s imposition of tariffs on imported steel. Public
suspicions will be fuelled by weekend reports that Pentagon plans include
the possible use of nuclear weapons.

The size of any revolt by Labour MPs against military action, and, in
particular, whether any ministers resign, depends entirely on the context.
Building a domestic coalition of support will involve convincing people that
Saddam Hussein represents, in the classic phrase, “a clear and present

There is no evidence to link Iraq with the September 11 attacks. But the US
believes, and Britain agrees, that Iraq has repaired the damage inflicted in
late 1998 on its facilities for producing chemical and biological weapons.

Moreover, the regime is developing ballistic missiles with a range of more
than 150 kilometres (thus including Israel), while also seeking nuclear
materials. This threat from Saddam-led Iraq is growing and needs to be
tackled soon.

Negotiations at the United Nations are due to be completed over the next
couple of months about a new framework of “smart”, or targeted sanctions.
This will be linked with an attempt to resume inspection for the first time
since 1998.

Some Washington hawks dismiss these UN discussions as irrelevant and merely
an opportunity for Saddam to delay and obfuscate. But the British Government
believes that the UN negotiations are crucial, not least to show that every
non-military option is being explored. Ministers here have not completely
given up hope that the threat of action will persuade Saddam to accept

Mr Blair is keen to ensure that Washington does not act alone, and seeks to
build an international coalition, while considering the longer-term
stability of the region, rather than just getting rid of Saddam. The almost
gleeful unilateralism of some Pentagon hawks and their allies — “we neither
need Europe militarily nor really care about its support” — worries Downing

Mr Blair knows he has to play his hand carefully. Talk by ministers of the
Prime Minister acting as a “cautionary” or “restraining” influence is both
crass and counterproductive. But, just as it would be wrong to exaggerate
Britain’s role in the decisions, Mr Blair has since September 11 ensured
that he has a voice in the Washington discussions, just as Margaret Thatcher
had during the Reagan years.

Yet Mr Blair also faces a bigger question. Ever since May 1997 he has prided
himself on acting as a bridge between Europe and the United States, both the
President’s closest ally on this side of the Atlantic and at the heart of
the EU.

But this balancing act will now be severely tested in view of increasing
vocal criticism in Europe of American unilateralism. Mr Blair is wary of
calls from the Left to distance himself publicly from Washington and to ally
himself more with other European leaders. He still believes “yes, but” is
best said in private. For all his professed pro-Europeanism, he remains as
much of an Atlanticist as most of his postwar predecessors in Downing

H. The Cheney Challenge
Blair is destined for a turbulent few months on Iraq

The Times
March 11, 2002

The visit of Vice-President Richard Cheney first to Britain, and then
several countries in the Middle East, is of enormous significance. While
most American Vice-Presidents engage in overseas tours because they have
little else to do, or are en route to or from funerals, the same cannot be
said for Mr Cheney. He acts for and speaks for the President in a fashion
that has no recent precedent. While not, as some have sought to pretend, the
“real President”, he is an exceptionally important political actor. Tony
Blair will have realised this and appreciates that his talks today are in
effect the opening round of a conversation that will be extended when he
flies to the Bush ranch in Texas next month.
Mr Cheney’s tour has two objectives. The first concerns the continuing War
on Terror in Afghanistan and elsewhere, and the second relates to future
action against Iraq. Mr Blair distinguished himself during “Phase One” of
the campaign after September 11 and has reason to be pleased with, and
confident of, future progress. The need to isolate Iraq and move to counter
its aggressive pursuit of weapons of mass destruction is a more awkward
matter. The Prime Minister has rightly shifted his own rhetoric and is
preparing the ground for what he must now view as probable, rather than
possible, military involvement. His willingness to participate, while not of
huge military importance to the United States, is of considerable political
value. For that reason, Mr Cheney will listen and not lecture.

Any Anglo-American entente against Iraq will be immensely controversial, not
merely inside the Labour Party but with a wide section of public opinion.
The strategy which the Prime Minister appears to have adopted is to
acknowledge that dissent exists and to attempt to deal with it now rather
than allow it to fester and become an open sore only when actual conflict
has been triggered. This is a sensible way of proceeding. The intelligence
information on Iraq’s renewed efforts to acquire biological, chemical and
nuclear material, alluded to by Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, in The
Times last week, needs to be offered to a wider audience. This is not simply
a matter of soothing the feelings of a few Cabinet dissidents, such as Clare
Short, or defusing awkward Labour backbenchers but reminding the electorate
at large why Saddam is such a menace.

That task will not, in truth, be assisted by the leak — courtesy of the Los
Angeles Times — of a Pentagon planning document and the somewhat hysterical
coverage it has received in this country. The report is part of a periodic
exercise in which the United States attempts to envisage circumstances in
which, theoretically, a war could break out in which the use of nuclear
weapons might have to be contemplated. This is less Dr Strangelove than the
territory that comes with superpower status. But those hostile to the US
will doubtless seize upon this paper to argue that the United States is
plotting nuclear attacks against several nations.

This is immensely irritating for Mr Blair, but there is not much that he can
do about it. He will shortly be better appraised of American intentions than
any other foreign leader and on that basis can develop his own political
strategy. He already knows that the Administration is serious in its
intentions and is responding to a real international crisis. He will at
least be spared the vacillation of the Clinton era. This is a theatre for
genuine statesmanship which will rightly makes the various sagas concerning
errant spin-doctors and embarrassing party donors appear irrelevant. It is
an arena in which the Prime Minister has thrived before, and one in which he
must again rise to the challenge.

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