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[casi] from today's papers: 09-07-02

A. The Iraqi mutiny, Guardian, 9 July [comment piece by Matthew Engel]

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A. The Iraqi mutiny

Matthew Engel
Tuesday July 9, 2002
The Guardian

Iraq is back in the news again: last Friday the New York Times published a
story purporting to show how the Americans were planning to conduct their
invasion. This may not have been the Times's greatest ever journalistic
revelation, given that the scheme was months old, and had not been even
looked at by the military brass, the defence secretary or the president, let
alone the eight or so countries near Iraq who were regarded as essential to
the plot.
I am not decrying the plan itself, which appeared to be pretty similar to
the one I would draw up on the back of a packet of Woodbines given two or
three minutes for strategic planning. Clausewitz himself would probably
concur that it would be best to invade Iraq from the other countries in the
region rather than, say, Bolivia. Unfortunately, the story has to be what
you might call a self-denying prophecy, since it would be very bold
double-bluff indeed to launch any invasion once the plans for it had
appeared in the New York Times.

So, ruling out this particular option, let's try to consider where things
really might be going. What has happened in the past few months is that
President Bush has succeeded in assembling a coalition on this subject
comparable to the one that his father assembled after the invasion of Kuwait
a dozen years ago. Unfortunately for Bush junior, this coalition is arrayed
against him.

Two weeks ago, there was another story in the American press, but this
appeared in USA Today, which the elite doesn't bother with much, so it
hardly got noticed. It listed the views of various members of Congress: not
any old hobbledehoys either, but the party leaders, mostly Republican, whose
support would be crucial to the political viability of any Pentagon plan.
Their response to the idea of invading Iraq was tepid to the point of

"You hit the other guy first, but only if you know he's going to hit you" -
Henry Hyde, chairman of the House international relations committee. "Our
focus should be Israel" - Dennis Hastert, Speaker of the House. "US forces
are already stretched to the limit" - Senate Republican leader Trent Lott.
Republicans, all of them. There was a further outburst of scepticism on CNN
just two days ago, from senior Democrats and one of the Senate's most
respected foreign affairs experts, Chuck Hagel, another Republican. "We need
friendships," he said. "We can't arbitrarily go after Saddam Hussein."

There is hardly a country on earth that the president can bank on to support
an invasion of Iraq. Even the Israelis, ever enthusiastic for a bit of
smiting under Ariel Sharon ("man of peace" - G Bush), may have the odd
qualm. There are certainly signs of queasiness coming from Turkey and
Kuwait, not to mention Britain, all of whom are presumed by Washington to be
in the vanguard. And then there is the US military itself, willing to bite
its lip and do its duty, but desperately anxious, like the senators, about
overstretch, unnecessary wars and a viable strategy. The word is that the
joint chiefs of staff are split.

But the president has a rhetorical commitment which is hard to ditch. If
Saddam is still in business in 2004, Bush is going to look rather silly,
having shot his mouth off to the extent that he has. He might hope that the
CIA or the Iraqi opposition might find a way of quietly bumping him off, but
you would not bet your political life on either bunch.

Curiously enough, as things stand, Bush's Iraq policy is doing fine. We have
not had a cheep out of Saddam since September 11. Having specifically
rejected a policy of containment, the president is actually executing a
remarkably successful one. But he has talked too much to continue on that
path, so he has to do something, which is the most likely way to ensure that
Saddam does fling down whatever last cards he might have: missiles,
chemicals, smallpox, whatever.

If the decision to invade or not has to be taken, let me give you the names
of those whose views might matter, to the point of possible veto. The first
is Tony Blair: the US is banking on his acquiescence, if not his support.
The second is Karl Rove, Bush's political consultant. The third is George
W's father, the first President Bush.

The fourth and fifth are Colin Powell, the secretary of state, and his
deputy, Richard Armitage. In contrast to the armchair warriors who run the
Pentagon, both happen to be genuine soldiers. When it comes to diplomacy,
they get overridden time and again. Paradoxically, if push really comes to
shove, the general might suddenly become the man whose counsel matters most.

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