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A. Is Washington going wobbly over its plans to unseat Saddam Hussein?, Independent, 27 May 2002 Letters: email@example.com [Letter writers: remember to include your address and telephone number!] A. Is Washington going wobbly over its plans to unseat Saddam Hussein? The Independent By Bruce Anderson May 27, 2002 Today is Memorial Day: the public holiday on which America commemorates its war dead. Not that a mood of national solemnity prevails. Except in New York, where 11 September still sears, people are enjoying the long weekend. With good weather forecast over much of the country, a lot of Americans are off to the beach or the barbecue. But one important group of persons will not be relaxing: those with a close interest in national security. On Friday, a long article appeared in The Washington Post claiming that senior generals reluctant to take military action against Iraq were in the ascendant. They believed that they had secured at least a postponement until next year – and possibly an indefinite delay. This caused alarm and despondency among those who are urging early action to remove Saddam. Bill Kristol, who edits The Weekly Standard, Washington's most important conservative magazine, ended his lunch early on Friday to write a stinging leader for the next issue. Its headline is "Going Wobbly". Mr Kristol's anxieties are not always justified. Apart from being a genial fellow, he is the stern and unbending conscience of the Republican right and inclined to be over-harsh about the Bush administration's inability to deliver an instant conservative utopia. Keynesian economists are often justly accused of predicting six of the last three recessions; Bill Kristol has predicted six of the last three Bush backslidings. Which is not to say that no problem exists. In December, when I was last in Washington, the mood was resolute. A momentum had built behind action against Saddam. The question was not whether, but when; the answer appeared to be "soon". All this was helping the Bush administration to pull together. Fewer stories ran about splits between Colin Powell and his colleagues: many more of a strong team operating in harmony under George Bush's leadership. That was before Christmas. Since then, some momentum has been lost. As a result, the strains between the Secretary of State and the other close advisors have re-emerged, partly because of disagreements over Israel. A new coalition has been formed with Colin Powell as its leader. It has brought together two groups who are opposed to an American invasion of Iraq: the risk-averse and the fantasists. It must always be remembered that back in 1990, when he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Powell argued against the invasion of Kuwait. His reluctance had to be over-ridden by the Defense Secretary, Dick Cheney. The general had served gallantly in Vietnam and had been wounded in combat. Since then, he has always taken the side of those who are reluctant to project American power because they fear American casualties. Other still-serving generals agree with him even though the current Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, does not. But problems have surfaced with the Rumsfeld leadership style. In December, his prestige was at its height, partly because he had rushed from his office in shirt sleeves to help pull the wounded out of the rubble of the Pentagon. But great man though he is, Don Rumsfeld does not rule by example only. He rules by fear. He obviously does not think much of a number of the senior officers whom he inherited – and Friday's article has not improved his opinion, or his temper. But instead of sacking the two or three worst offenders while trying to encourage the rest, he has merely bullied everybody. This is not good for morale. It also explains why some generals are briefing the press against their own boss. For no one has any doubt that Mr Rumsfeld is still a hawk on Iraq, as is the President. George Bush is a formidable man who combines a strong personality with considerable intelligence. But he faces two insuperable obstacles in conveying that message, especially to Europeans. The first is his linguistic infelicity. He may eventually complete George Bush Snr's unfinished war against Saddam. He will never succeed in avenging his father's defeat at the hands of the English language. President Bush's second problem is his directness. Animated by a strong Christian faith and a simple sense of duty, he believes in telling the truth. In that respect, the fractured, homespun language helps him, in America if not in Europe. It not only sounds sincere; it is sincere. Among senior politicians, George Bush is unique in his lack of guile. This does not help him to win over sophisticated audiences. But it should help any of his audiences to get the message. When he tells us that he intends to wrap up Afghanistan and then deal with Saddam, that is precisely what he plans to do. At least as regards the President's intentions, Bill Kristol and other critics are playing for a spin which is not there. The critics still have a point. The strike against Saddam does not have to wait upon the completion of the Afghan mission, whatever that means. An undoubted threat is still posed by al- Qa'ida. That organisation has neither lost its malice nor all of its capabilities. Only the vigilance of American and European intelligence services has prevented further atrocities. On Friday, Mr Cheney addressed naval cadets at Annapolis, Maryland, in sombre terms, warning them that further outrages were inevitable. We have, alas, no reason to believe that he is exaggerating. That said, America has the resources to impose peace in Afghanistan and pursue al-Qa'ida without compromising its ability to invade Iraq. Any general who argues to the contrary is trying to pervert strategy to confound policy. Unfortunately, however, these reluctant generals have allies. Some right-wingers delude themselves that America need not invade Iraq in order to overthrow Saddam; that the US could use local surrogates such as the Kurds in the north and the Shia in the south. This is the fantasy which is compounding the error that the Allies made in 1991, when they ended the Gulf War at the Iraqi border (Colin Powell and Norman Schwarzkopf were so keen to do this that some observers wondered whether they were competing to use "The Hundred Hours War" as the title of their memoirs). All those miscalculations stem from a single source: they underrate Saddam Hussein. America can get Saddam, but in order to do so, it will have to go in and get him. The dissident generals are trying to alarm everyone with talk of an invasion force of 200,000. But there is no need for alarm. America has the men, though 250,000 would be safer. Despite Mr Kristol's doubts, the President seems determined to order those men into action some time over the next few months. In that case, new names will need to be added to the war memorials before next Memorial Day; new heroes to join the long muster-roll of American greatness. But if those who fear backsliding are proved right, and no action ensues, it will be increasingly likely that Saddam Hussein will outlast a second Bush. _______________________________________________ Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To unsubscribe, visit http://lists.casi.org.uk/mailman/listinfo/casi-discuss To contact the list manager, email firstname.lastname@example.org All postings are archived on CASI's website: http://www.casi.org.uk