Are US rulers, Bush gov't locked into Iraq invasion?

Fred Feldman ffeldman at
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.
Fred Feldman

--- alert at 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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