Are US rulers, Bush gov't locked into Iraq invasion?
ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Wed Feb 26 06:22:25 MST 2003
Stratfor weekly is published by a prominent conservative thinktank -- but
one with a considerably less triumphalist view of U.S. prospects than those
most favored by the Bush administration. There are a couple of weaknesses
in this analysis, in my opinion, although its conclusion -- that the
administration presently considers itself locked into attacking Iraq with no
acceptable exit strategy -- certainly seems consistent with the Bush team's
diplomatic posture and with the relentless construction of an overwhelming
attack force in Turkey and elsewhere.
First, the analysis (perhaps as part of propaganda cover for the war) gives
far too much weight to Al Qaeda as a factor in the administration's
calculations. While the government would certainly like to avoid new
9/11-type events, this is far from its top priority. Al Qaeda today serves
as a highly mobile piece on the propaganda chessboard. I would not be
surprised if , in the wake of an successful (in the short term) war in Iraq,
the propaganda machinery started linking Hugo Chavez or Kim Jong Il to
Osama bin Laden and the attack on the World Trade Center, as aggressively
and fictionally as they have done with Saddam Hussein.
Given the massive exaggeration implicit in Stratfor's suggestion that Al
Qaeda is in a position to topple governments across the Middle East if
Washington retreats, I assume the name is being used as code for all forms
of opposition to imperialist economic, political, and military dominance in
the region -- including the forces opposed to Washington's strategic
military ally and dependency, Israel.
Secondly, Stratfor assumes that the administration's problems cannot become
unmanageable IF -- Stratfor recognizes the big if here -- there is a quick
military victory with very low U.S. casualties in Iraq. This underestimates
the likelihood of increased blows to U.S. imperialist interests in other
parts of the world -- such as the possible fall of the Bolivian government,
for example, or further erosion of the U.S. positions in Korea or
Afghanistan and Pakistan, or even destabilization of US imperialist allies
such as Italy and Britain -- that can take place if the "total war"
projected against Iraq inspires wider outraged opposition instead of
intimidated "shock and awe" among the people of the world.
I think Stratfor also somewhat misreads the depth of the popular opposition
to war in the United States. Unlike Stratfor and unlike some leftists who
view this as a basically prowar position, I think the widespread popular
insistence on Washington going to war without the United Nations tends to
serve as a form of protective coloration for a much deeper popular
opposition -- although this position certainly can leave its advocates
subject to potential manipulation in the event that Washington bullies and
bribes its competitors, foes, and semicolonies on the United Nations
Security Council into accepting the supposedly inevitable.
The current mass protests in the United States also seem to me to be at
least as much inspired by feelings of human solidarity with the people of
Iraq in the face of the criminal attack confronting them as by fear of high
casualties to U.S. troops in a prolonged war.
--- alert at stratfor.com wrote:
Iraq: Is Peace an Option?
For nearly a year, Iraq has been the centerpiece of U.S.
President George W. Bush's foreign policy. There were multiple
reasons for this obsession, but in the end, Bush
created a situation in which Iraq became the measure of his
However, over the extraordinarily long run-up to a decisive
confrontation with Baghdad, massive, global opposition to U.S.
policy on Iraq has emerged on both the public and state levels.
Creating the sort of coalition that the United States enjoyed in
1991 has become impossible. This war, if it comes,
will be fought in the face of broad opposition.
The question now has arisen as
to whether the United States would back away from
war in the face of this opposition. Our analysis is that, at this
point in history, the United States has few choices left: The
constraints that now surround U.S. policy indicate that
Washington will have to choose war.
Over the past few weeks, the pressure against a U.S. attack on
Iraq has mounted intensely. Massive demonstrations were launched,
and nations that oppose war have not shifted their positions. But
the opposition is not decisive, in the sense that the United
States does not need the material assistance of anti-war nations
to invade Iraq, nor does the public barrage of
opposition create a material challenge to war. What these factors do
is create is a psychological barrier in which the sense of
isolation has the potential to undermine U.S. determination.
U.S. polls give some indication that this psychological dimension
is having some effect on Washington. The majority of Americans
continue to support a war, but the number is declining somewhat.
Moreover, the number of Americans who want to go to war only if
there military action is sanctioned by a U.N. resolution is quite
large. The essential position of the American public seems to be
that citizens favor war but would much prefer that military
action be internationally sanctioned.
Now, polls are volatile: At the beginning of a war, the numbers have
historically shifted toward overwhelming support for the president. For
long years during the Vietnam War, public opinion continued to
support the military action. Therefore, the Bush administration
knows that the poll numbers being seen now are sufficient to
support a war.
However, two problems emerge. First, the political configuration
in Britain has deteriorated substantially over the last two
months, and Prime Minister Tony Blair is clearly signaling
intense political problems. Unlike other countries, Britain
provides substantial material support to the war
effort, and loss of that support would directly affect U.S war-fighting
The second problem is military: A quick U.S. victory in Iraq would change
the political equation
domestically and have a substantial effect globally, particularly
if casualties were minimal and occupation forces were to discover
stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. However, there is no
way to guarantee any of these things. This war - like all wars -
potentially could be more difficult and costly than either side
expects or hopes.
Therefore, the United States must make a calculated risk. It is
possible that massive U.S. pressure might produce a shift within
the U.N. Security Council, but the basic configuration of global
opinion will remain intensely opposed to war. There is a high
probability of victory, but no commander can afford to begin a
war that he not only must win, but win quickly, cheaply and with
no nasty surprises. Therefore, the United States could find
itself in a more extended war than it seeks, with the
psychological pressure of global opposition reverberating through
the media. That is the last thing Washington wants.
It would seem to follow that the logical course for the United
States would be to find a basis for not going to war with Iraq.
Enough solutions are floating around in the world that Washington
could craft a suitably plausible justification for the decision
not to go to war, and perhaps even claim a victory of sorts.
Since the Bush administration appears to have lost the diplomatic
and psychological initiative gained after the Sept. 11 attacks,
this would seem the rational outcome.
In our view, this is not what the Bush administration is going to
do -- because it cannot afford to do so from either a strategic
or a political standpoint. There is no doubt within the Bush
administration that the protracted run-up to war has allowed
opposition to solidify, and that the international political
process leading up to war has become unmanageable.
The decision to use the threat of weapons of mass destruction,
rather than the deeper strategic issues we have been discussing to
justify a war has created unexpected problems. It was assumed that
the presence of WMD in Iraq would be generally recognized and
regarded as a problem that must be solved -- even if there was
war. Instead, it has turned the discussion of war into a detectives'
game in which some of the judges will not admit that a violation
exists, even when photos of a missile are distributed.
At root, France, Russia and the rest are not particularly concerned about
Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. They are deeply concerned,
however, about the strategic consequences of a U.S. victory in
Iraq, which would leave the United States the defining power in the
region. These countries oppose the strategic outcome of the war
and are using the publicly stated justification for military
action -- WMD -- as their reason to oppose war. Allowing the WMD issue
to become the touchstone was clearly a fundamental miscalculation
by the Washington.
Put another way, the opponents of war recognized the U.S. gambit
and, for reasons of grand strategy -- as well as some
idiosyncratic realities -- refuse to play.
Nevertheless, retreating from the commitment to war would
represent a serious challenge to the Bush administration in three
areas: strategy, psychological warfare and domestic politics. As
in a game of chess, many options appear to be available -- but
when the board is studied in detail, the constraints are much
more substantial and the options much more limited.
The strategic challenge is tremendous. After Sept. 11, the United
States did not have a war-fighting strategy. The strategy that
was first adopted -- a combination of defending the homeland and
attacking al Qaeda directly -- has proven difficult, if not
ineffective. Al Qaeda is a sparse, global network operating in a
target-rich environment. A defense of the homeland is simply
impractical; there are just too many potential targets and too
many ways to attack them. Attacking al Qaeda on an operative-by-
operative basis is possible but extremely inefficient. The
inability to capture -- or actually to locate -- Osama bin Laden
is emblematic of the challenges posed to the United States in any
dynamic, global conflict with a small, mobile group.
Washington's decision to redefine the conflict was driven by the
ineffectiveness of this response. The goal has been to compel
nations to crack down on citizens are enabling al Qaeda --
financially, through supplying infrastructure, intelligence and
so on. Many governments, like that of Saudi Arabia, had no
inclination to do so because the internal political consequences
were too dangerous and the threat from the United
States too distant and abstract. The U.S. strategy, therefore,
was to position itself in such a way that Washington could
readjust these calculations -- increasing cooperation and
decreasing al Qaeda's ability to operate.
Invading Iraq was a piece of this strategy. Iraq, the most
strategic country in the region, would provide a base of
operations from which to pressure countries like Syria, Iran and
Saudi Arabia. Iraq was a piece of the solution, but far from the
solution as a whole. Nevertheless, the conquest and occupation of
Iraq would be at once a critical stepping-stone, a campaign in a
much longer war and a proof of concept for dealing
with al Qaeda.
If the United States does not invade Iraq, it will have to
generate a new war-fighting strategy against al Qaeda. The
problem for Washington is that it doesn't have another strategy,
except the homeland defense/global covert war strategy, which has
not proved clearly effective by itself since Sept. 11. If the
United States abandons the operation in Iraq, follow-on
operations against enabler of al Qaeda will be enormously more difficult.
First, the key base of operations would not exist.
It should be noted here that the United States has deployed the
bulk of its mobile strike forces to the region. They cannot be
kept there indefinitely, due to threats elsewhere in the world.
Therefore, as they withdrew, profound political concerns would
emerge in countries such as Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman,
which have taken political and strategic risks to align
themselves with the United States. As Washington withdraws its forces and
Saddam Hussein continues to dominate
Iraq, the willingness of other nations to stand with the
United States will decline. The effect on U.S. allies in the region who
have agreed to participate in the war against Iraq will be
substantial and will reverberate for an extended period of time.
This is the second point: Coalition warfare relies heavily on
perceptions of reliability. During the Cold War, this was called
"credibility." Credibility is a two-edged sword: It can create
coalitions, and it also can cause nations to do things they don't
want to do in order to retain their credibility. Credibility must
be managed, but it is indispensable. A precipitous capitulation
would damage credibility seriously.
This leads to the second dimension: psychology. The
credibility of the threat posed by the United States will
decline substantially if there is no war. The calculation
within the Islamic world of whether al Qaeda or the United
States is more to be feared will solidify rapidly: Al Qaeda is a real
threat to regimes in the region; the United States is not. If
Washington abandons its war plans and Hussein is left in place,
the perception of the Islamic world will be that the
United States had neither the will nor the power to destroy its
enemy. One of the arguments that al Qaeda has made consistently is
that the United States is weak and that its troops will not
endure hardship and danger. It is this argument that has
made bin Laden's recruitment effective.
If the United States abandons war under the current
conditions, Hussein not only would be perceived as victorious,
but also seen as victorious because of a bodyguard of great powers
that protect him. It would be argued that these great powers
oppose the United States just as much as the Islamic world did. The
United States would be seen as having been strategically paralyzed
by a global alliance.
Thus, at a time when the United States is trying to reverse the
perception within the Islamic world that it is a militarily
ineffective power, mobilizing forces, deploying them to the
region, threatening war and then refraining from action would
have the opposite effect. Moreover, at a time when
the United States is less dependent on allies for war-fighting
than at other points in its history, the perception that would
result would be exactly the opposite.
The net result would be increased credibility both for Hussein
and Islamic radicals, who might have very different ideologies
but share common interests. There have been those who have argued
that recruitment for radical Islamic groups would grow in the
event of war against Iraq. That might be true. However, one of
the major bars to recruitment has been a sense that the radical
cause is hopeless. A U.S. abandonment of war at this point would
increase hope and therefore increase both ferment and
recruitment. Things that have appeared impossible now would
appear manageable, and risks that wouldn't be taken before could
be taken now.
An abandonment of war, in our view, actually would
increase the probability of strikes by Islamic militants against
U.S. interests over the long run.
Finally, there is a domestic political
consideration. All U.S. presidents take these considerations into account
when mulling whether to fight -- or not to fight -- wars. All
presidents keep their eyes on the polls when making their decisions
on war and peace, and George W. Bush is no different. Bush is
almost exactly one year away from the Republican primaries. He is
facing a Democratic Party that thus far is still sorting
itself out from its mid-term election losses and a quiescent Republic
If the president abandons his plans on Iraq and the Hussein
regime survives intact, Bush would lose a good portion of his
party, of which about 83 percent support the war option. There is
not much anti-war sentiment among Republicans, and the anti-war
movement is not going to endorse Bush -- but rather would make the
argument that it blocked Bush from making war. The net result
would be a challenge to Bush within the Republican Party,
probably from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who simply would argue
that Bush is too indecisive to be president. Even if he turned
back the challenge from McCain -- or someone else -- Bush would
be badly weakened in 2004. He cannot afford to be weak after his marginal
and disputed victory in 2000.
Therefore, for Bush, the domestic consequences of not going to war
would be devastating: His opponents would get the credit for
stopping the war and his supporters would feel betrayed.
Bush's problem is that, for nearly a year, he has
been talking about the importance of the Iraq issue. He has made
it the centerpiece of his public diplomacy and of his
domestic political base. Iraq also represents the only coherent
strategy that has emerged from a politico-military standpoint since
Sept. 11. It is not a great strategy against al Qaeda, but it is the
only coherent strategic option on the table -- aside from
waiting and hoping that the next attack is foiled. It does not
have an immediate application, but it has a long-term
application. It is the best hand Bush has in a series of pretty bad
Therefore, it is extremely difficult to imagine Bush
simply abandoning his policy on Iraq, or adopting a
transparent pretense of having achieved his goals. There was certainly a
time when he could have chosen to abandon the Iraq issue; there
also was a time when he could have attacked with much less
public outcry. Those times are past. He cannot walk away now, and
he cannot attack without an international uproar. The logic of
his situation is that he will attack, endure the uproar
and let what he badly hopes is a quick victory carry him over the
Bush may wish at this point that he had not embarked
on his campaign against Iraq. Alternatively, he might wish that he had
acted sooner. However, given his strategic premises, diplomatic
realities and political interests, we continue to believe that
Bush will order an invasion of Iraq -- regardless of the
evolution of diplomatic events -- and that this attack will come
sooner rather than later.
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