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U.N. Charade: Timing of Iraq War in Bush's Hands from Start

Despite media attention to U.N. resolutions and weapons inspections, it's the Bush blueprint for war -- fiercely debated for months among administration hawks -- that runs the show.
 
 
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Despite all the U.N. Security Council resolutions and weapons inspections reports, the pace and timing of the coming showdown with Iraq will not be determined by the dynamics of diplomatic debate. From the very beginning, the timing of the war has been set by the evolving character of the American war plan.

It is now apparent that the White House gave its initial approval for a war with Iraq some time ago, well before President Bush uttered his "axis of evil" statement in February 2002.

By the spring of 2002, the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), Gen. Tommy R. Franks, was well advanced in early preparations for a war and was meeting regularly with senior Pentagon officials in Washington to develop the basic plan of attack.

An internal Pentagon struggle over timing and tactics arose. Many senior officials in Washington, led by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, favored an innovative plan of attack that would require a relatively small invasion force of approximately 50,000 to 75,000 U.S. combat troops. This plan, modeled on the war in Afghanistan, would have relied on the heavy use of American air power combined with the extensive use of U.S. special forces and "proxy" armies made up of anti-Hussein Kurds and Shiites.

This plan was particularly attractive to many administration officials because it could be implemented quickly, by the early fall of 2002, thus reducing the risk that international diplomacy and domestic protest would be able to erect any barriers to a U.S. attack.

The "Afghanistan Redux" plan was opposed, however, by many senior military officers. A small American invasion force would be chewed up by Iraqi armored divisions, they argued. They lobbied instead for a more conservative plan: the deployment of about 200,000 American combat troops, backed up by powerful armada of ships and planes.

This plan, sometimes called "Desert Storm Lite," would have required an additional several months to put into motion, pushing the theoretical starting date for a war into February 2003.

Senior administration officials fought over which of these plans (or variations on them) should be adopted. On one side were administration "chicken hawks" (so-called because they had largely avoided military duty over the course of their careers) such as Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz; on the other side were career military officers led by Gen. Franks of CENTCOM.

According to some reports, Franks was repeatedly sent back to his headquarters in Florida to redesign the attack plan because his proposals were considered too conservative (i.e., too slow) by the chicken hawks in Washington.

It appears that President Bush finally made a decision on which of these invasion plans to follow in late August or very early in September. Possibly fearing the political fallout of a battlefield disaster should a lightly equipped U.S. invasion force confront heavily armed Iraqi forces, Bush selected the more conservative plan favored by Tommy Franks.

At that point, the countdown to war began in earnest, as preparations got underway for the deployment of some 200,000 U.S. combat troops to the Middle East.

But it is not possible to move 200,000 troops and all their equipment to a battlefield 8,000 miles away overnight. It takes time: six months at a minimum. When President Bush gave the go ahead in late August, the earliest starting time for the initial attack automatically became late February or early March of 2003.

It was only after these decisions had been taken that President Bush went to the United Nations in New York and pleaded for one last effort to disarm Saddam Hussein through vigorous U.N. action. Since his forces would not be ready to strike for another six months, Bush evidently concluded that he had nothing to lose by giving the United Nations more time to act. Going to New York and asking for U.N. action allowed him to quiet those domestic critics (including some senior Republicans) who felt that a veneer of international support was necessary to lend a degree of legitimacy to the planned U.S. invasion.

All last fall, Powell never seemed very anxious about the pace of events because he knew that the fighting could not begin until February 2003, at the earliest. With the onset of battle mere weeks ahead, however, Powell seems truly concerned about the tempo of diplomatic action as he is hoping to obtain a second U.N. resolution authorizing the use of force before the troops commence their attack.

Clearly, it has been the pacing of U.S. war preparations and not the political environment at the United Nations that has shaped administration strategy over the past few months. Until now, the White House has been able to conceal this underlying reality because so many eyes were focused on developments in New York. Once the fighting begins, however, the outright cynicism and deceitfulness of the U.S. strategy will quickly become apparent, further turning world opinion against the United States.

Michael Klare ( mklare@hampshire.edu) is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., and the author of "Resource Wars: The New Landscape of Global Conflict." A version of this article appears on www.tomdispatch.com, a weblog by Tom Engelhardt hosted by the Nation Institute.