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[casi] from today's papers: 27-05-02

A. Is Washington going wobbly over its plans to unseat Saddam Hussein?,
Independent, 27 May 2002

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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

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

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.

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