Bush's Bomb Saddam Brigade

Is it possible that the United States will wind up going it alone if it invades Iraq? In light of the president's less-than-sterling performance during his recent trip to Europe, the answer to that question is still up for grabs.

Recently, much of the media's attention has been focused on the "What did he know and when did he know it?" questions prompted by: competence doubts vis-a-vis the FBI and CIA; the ongoing crisis in the Middle East; the threat of nuclear conflict over Kashmir; and the near-daily warnings of terrorist attacks flowing out of the Bush Administration. The invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein appear to be on the back burner. While in Europe, the president acknowledged that there were no plans for an invasion on his desk. (Maybe in one of the desk drawers, but not on his desk!)

Despite the supposed lack of a fully-developed invasion plan, there have been a number of significant developments on the "invade or not invade" Iraq front during the past several weeks. On May 24 the Washington Post reported that the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- the chairman, Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers; the vice chairman, Marine Gen. Peter Pace; and the chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps -- are less than enthusiastic about a possible invasion. They worry that it could involve more than 200,000 troops and that the losses could be devastating, especially if Saddam Hussein uses biological and chemical weapons. According to Washington Post reporter Thomas Ricks, the Joint Chiefs have tried "to persuade the Bush administration to reconsider [its] aggressive posture toward Iraq." As part of this effort, "Army Gen. Tommy R. Franks, who as head of the Central Command would oversee any U.S. military campaign against Iraq, met with President Bush. "

The editors at the New Republic find the downplaying of an invasion of Iraq "disappointing." They reminded the president that the risks of not invading "pale beside the risk of allowing his regime to remain in power." This bit of advice seems well within the bounds of editorializing, but it is followed by a call to "fire some of his generals. Not because they oppose going to war with Iraq, but because they have been advertising their opposition in the nation's newspapers."

William Kristol, the editor of Rupert Murdoch's Weekly Standard, is a loud voice for the neoconservative's "invade Iraq as soon as possible" position. He stopped by the Fox News Channel on the Friday before Memorial Day and spoke forcefully in favor of taking out Hussein. It must totally annoy the Generals at the Pentagon to be lectured to by the likes of Kristol, a well-known "chicken hawk."
(For those who need a quick refresher course: Chicken Hawks are those who stand on the sidelines cheering on the troops but who, when faced with the opportunity, decided not to serve in the military.)

Is Bush, as Kristol worries, backing away from tough talk on Hussein because he's changed his mind on an invasion or is it just a matter of timing -- that he didn't want to stir up any more European animosity while on his recent trip? The Post's Ricks reports that during his appearance in Berlin, the president "offered more tough rhetoric about Iraq and other countries he has labeled part of an 'axis of evil.' But at a news conference... he also said that he had told German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder: 'I have no war plans on my desk, which is the truth, and that we've got to use all means at our disposal to deal with Saddam Hussein.'"

Neoconservatives in the Driver's Seat

In the June issue of The Washington Monthly, Joshua Micah Marshall takes a close look at the opposing points of view on invading Iraq -- at both the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who are raising questions about it, and the "few dozen neoconservative think tank scholars and defense policy intellectuals "that have been pushing Bush to invade Iraq as soon as possible." Of the neocons, Marshall writes: "Few of them have any serious knowledge of the Arab world, the Middle East, or Islam. Fewer still have served in the armed forces." Despite these comments, Marshall believes that this "bunch of hot-headed ideologues... have turned out to been right" the last few times.

Who are the most influential neoconservatives? Marshall: "Their eminence grise is Richard Perle, who serves simultaneously as a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and chairman of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board, a heretofore somnolent committee of foreign policy old-timers that Perle has refashioned into a key advisory group. Of all the hawks, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz probably has the most powerful job inside the Bush administration. A dozen others hold key posts at the State Department and the White House. Most are acolytes of Perle, and also Jewish, passionately pro-Israel, and pro-Likud. And all are united by a shared idea: that America should be unafraid to use its military power early and often to advance its interests and values." (For more on TeamBush's neoconservative wing, see, "Bomb Saddam?: How the obsession of a few neocon hawks became the central goal of U.S. foreign policy.")

Bush's Plan For 'Preemptive Action'

The neoconservative position, which Marshall says "infuriates most members of the national security establishment at the Pentagon, State, and the CIA, who believe that America's military force should be used rarely and only as a last resort, preferably in concert with allies," appeared to be echoed by the president in a June 1 speech at West Point. According to Reuters, Bush told the 2002 graduating class of cadets that "If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long. We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans and confront the worst threats before they emerge."

"In the world we have entered the only path to safety is the path of action and this nation will act," he said. He added that all Americans must be "ready for preemptive action when necessary to defend our liberty and to defend our lives."

Responding to critics of U.S. unilateralism, Bush said: "Some may worry that it is somehow undiplomatic or impolite to speak the language of right and wrong. I disagree," he added. "By confronting evil and lawless regimes, we do not create a problem, we reveal a problem. And we will lead the world in opposing it."

Another front on the invade-Iraq landscape -- connecting Iraq to the anthrax attacks -- was reopened on June 3 by Robert Bartley, editor of the Wall Street Journal. His piece claims a connection between the anthrax mailings and Iraq. Bartley argues that the idea that the perpetrator was "a single adult male, and probably an American" is "counterintuitive." In his zeal to connect the dots of the anthrax investigation, Bartley argues that the Iraq/al-Qaeda connection should be the lead the FBI pursues.

Last week, William Kristol rattled the invade-Iraq saber in Italy before an audience of diplomats, Cabinet officials, academics and business leaders from across Italy and America. According to the Washington Post's Richard Cohen, Kristol laid out his vision for the future course of America's foreign policy, which Cohen describes as consisting of "ridding the world of regimes that are either developing scary weapons or, even inadvertently, supporting terrorism -- first Iraq, then Iran and North Korea and even the House of Saud in Saudi Arabia." Kristol's speech, writes Cohen, "was yet another 'axis of evil' speech, somewhat similar in style and reach to Bushian rhetoric, moralistic and America-Israel centered -- and it does not travel well."

The arrest of alleged "dirty bomber" Abdullah al Muhajir (formerly Jose Padilla) has initiated another round of connect-the-dots to Iraq-sponsored terrorism. Several media sources, including the online magazine Slate and the Village Voice, have recently turned their attention to the identity of a John Doe #2, Timothy McVeigh's supposed partner in the April 1995 bombing of the Alfred J. Murrah Federal Office Building in Oklahoma City.

Will these efforts unlock whatever mysteries might remain from the Oklahoma City bombing? If a connection to Iraq can be substantiated, many of the voices opposed to invading Iraq will undoubtedly fall silent. You can bet that the neocon bomb-Baghdad crowd is buzzing with anticipation. Mark January on your calendars!

Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His WorkingForChange column Conservative Watch documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right.

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