[A-List] US imperialism: Iraq & electoral prerogatives
michael.keaney at mbs.fi
Wed Dec 4 01:39:48 MST 2002
Why war is now on the back burner
Bush is waiting until the 2004 elections are nearer to attack Iraq
Wednesday December 4, 2002
President Bush may have put an invasion of Iraq on hold until it can best
help his 2004 re-election campaign. The administration would prefer to see
change in Iraq by subtler means than 300,000 troops and mass bombing. He
does not want to relive his father's experience of winning a war a year too
early and finding that come the election the victory was forgotten or,
worse, the post-war peace was turning sour.
Most observers focus on the perceived role of the Pentagon hawks versus
State Department doves in the battle for influence over Bush. But his
political advisers in the White House - especially Karl Rove - are far more
influential. It was Rove who, in June, gave a presentation explaining that
the war should be central to the Republicans' successful campaign to win
control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
But it was also Rove who saw that voters were as frightened by the
go-it-alone war talk as they were enthusiastic for a tough line on
terrorism. It was this reading of voter concern that provided the boost for
talks at the UN and produced much milder language from Bush. In Britain, we
were told that it was Blair's September meeting with Bush and Cheney that
changed things, however the need to win an election was far more influential
in persuading Bush to be patient.
In Washington there are still some close to the Pentagon who see an invasion
of Iraq coming soon. But a view shared by political strategists for the
Democrats, veteran reporters and long-time Republican insiders was that all
the signs are that the war is now on the back burner. Had the White House
really wanted to, it would have used the victory in the midterm elections to
force through a faster timeline on Iraq at the UN and would have increased
the pay-offs needed to ensure its 15-0 approval by the security council. As
it was, they agreed a process that can easily be spun out for a year.
Then, almost as soon as the resolution passed, Iraq again fired on US and
British planes. What happened? Nothing. There was no speeches declaring that
Iraq had once again flouted the will of the international community and that
we now had to go to war. Rather, we were reminded that our planes enforcing
the no-fly zones were not covered by these UN resolutions, something that
had strangely been left out of briefings these last 10 years.
If this was happening under Clinton, he would be under a howling attack from
the right for wimpishness, something the Bush administration need not fear.
Even if some in the government go to the media wanting a harder line, there
is little they can do if the president fears an early war will damage his
election chances. Delaying the invasion does not mean that Bush will not
keep up the pressure and how Saddam reacts may yet trigger US action. A lot
of the forces are in place but a major British force would need to be
mobilised now for action early next year.
The deadlines of an Iraqi declaration of its weapons and the first UN report
timed for February can all be spun on. Indeed that date in February is close
to the onset of the hot weather when, we are told, it is too hot to fight.
Conventional wisdom is that it is impossible to fight in the heat wearing a
full chemical and biological protection suit.
Officials believe it unlikely that Saddam will be caught red-handed with his
hands in a cauldron of toxins surrounded by missiles. The inspectors will
have to make a judgment on a host of fragmentary and circumstantial evidence
and it is likely that Britain and the US will have a different view from the
With a dispute over evidence and a call for more inspections there may be an
effort from Washington to apply more military pressure on Iraq through
inspections backed by force, or even by using troops to capture suspected
weapons sites. These troops would then be used to secure an airbase or two
inside Iraq so that we end up with a gradual occupation backed up by the
threat of air strikes if Saddam tries to move his forces.
Such an effort may be fitted into the next UN resolution. What will also be
interesting to watch is whether the real multilateralists at the UN are
better prepared to get concessions from the US on disarmament in exchange
for disarming Iraq. Now that disarmament is back on the agenda we must
ensure that it applies to not just to Bush's bad guys but to a global effort
to manage and eliminate weapons of mass destruction.
As we watch the saga of the inspectors unfold, remember Ronald Reagan's
motto: always have a bad guy and if you get in trouble change the subject.
Earlier this year Bush was in trouble for not catching the prime suspect in
the war on terrorism and changed the subject and the bad guy from Bin Laden
to Saddam. Any further massive attack from al-Qaida may trigger the mass
distraction of an invasion of Iraq.
· Dan Plesch is a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services
Institute for Defence Studies
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