Bush sets course that points toward attack
By John Donnelly, Globe Staff, 9/13/2002
ASHINGTON -- By laying out an array of impossible conditions for Saddam Hussein, President Bush yesterday all but eliminated every course of action in the US campaign against Iraq but war.
Bush called on the UN Security Council to tell the Iraqi leader that his government must destroy or remove all weapons of mass destruction; stop persecuting its citizens; end illicit trade; end support for terrorism; release or account for all Gulf War prisoners; and finish paying Gulf War reparations.
After that's done, Bush said, the UN would help "build a government that represents all Iraqis" -- one that obviously would not include Hussein.
No one on Bush's national security team believes that Hussein will agree to such a set of conditions. One senior Defense Department official said the president's motivation for going to the UN was not to set in motion a new weapons inspection process, but to garner international support for an attack on Iraq.
"It's an open-and-shut case," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "By going to the United Nations, we're trying to make people more comfortable with what we are trying to do, and that is to move toward a military engagement. We're doing things just to make people in the international community feel better."
Several former government officials said yesterday that Bush was masterful in shifting the focus away from his administration and toward the United Nations, which now must grapple with crafting a new resolution that presumably would call on Iraq to fulfill all the old resolutions as well as Bush's new stipulations.
Bush's tone, said Alexander Haig, the former White House chief of staff during the Nixon administration and still a prominent Republican in Washington, "was humble and cooperative, and at the same time there is a steel frame" regarding options ahead.
"It's up to the UN now," Haig said in an interview. "If the UN is dismissive of this, then the president would proceed and the world would be very understanding of that. What the president said was this man shouldn't go simply because of weapons of mass destruction, which is enough on its own right, but because of many other heinous things. How do you cure that? You don't cure it with an inspection team."
For some, Bush's speech laid out a course that could be scripted today.
"I think you could get a UN agreement, you could even get initial Iraqi ageement, but that's where it all starts to fall apart," said Jay C. Farrar, a former senior Pentagon official who is now a military analyst at Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank. "Then Iraq throws up roadblocks, and once that starts, the Bush administration will say, `That's it.' "
A State Department official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said that for American diplomats the message of pending war has been clear for more than two weeks, following Vice President Dick Cheney's two addresses in which he played down the chances of success from UN inspection teams going into Iraq.
Cheney advocates regime change. Bush didn't use those words yesterday, but he also gave no indication the administration has changed its policy of wanting to oust Hussein.
"The feeling for several weeks is that it's a done deal -- going to war," said the State Department official. "The president didn't really want to consult Congress, so do you really think he wanted to go to the UN? Plus, moving military assets means something."
The US military presence has rapidly expanded at Camp Doha in Kuwait and at Al Udeid Air Base near the city of Doha, the capital of Qatar, which has a 15,000-foot runway, long enough for the heaviest US bombers. Defense officials said two days ago that 600 operational personnel from the US military command overseeing operations in the Persian Gulf will move from Florida to the Qatar base.
Qatar's foreign minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr Al-Thani, speaking yesterday at a Washington think tank, said that US officials have not asked his government for permission to use the base for a war against Iraq. Other Arab leaders have said the same. US officials caution that it is likely that the US military will need to pre-position much more equipment and thousands more troops, as well as establish support units, before the start of any attack.
Another tipoff to a military strike would be the evacuation of diplomats and their dependents. Before a four-day attack against Iraq in 1998, the State Department ordered the departure of diplomats from posts in Israel, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia.
Qatar's Sheikh Hamad, who met with Hussein about three weeks ago in Baghdad, said he believed the Iraqi leader might accept weapons inspectors -- with conditions.
"I will not be surprised if he will accept the inspectors to be in Baghdad," he said. "I think he's looking for a guarantee that if he allows them in, that he will not be hurt militarily until the inspectors say what they have to say. . . . He is just worried that if he allows the inspectors in, the military action will be done. So he says why should I do it if the military action will be done with or without inspectors?"
A report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington think tank, calls for "coercive inspections," in which a multinational military force created by the UN Security Council would enable inspection teams to operate inside Iraq. Carnegie analysts presented the report recently to several members of Bush's national security team. They plan to brief UN Secretary General Kofi Annan today in New York on their proposal.
But in a briefing yesterday just prior to Bush's speech, Jessica T. Mathews, the president of the organization, said the only way for the Carnegie proposal to happen would be for the United States to reject a policy of regime change.
"The US has to forswear action on regime change for as long as this policy is working," she said. "They must tread a very fine line here . . . and say if Iraq does not comply, it will use force, but equally important, say if Iraq does comply, it will not" use force.
Few expect that to happen. One who opposes such a scenario strongly is former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who appeared before a US House committee yesterday to argue in favor of preemptive action against Iraq.
Netanyahu, who is a favorite among many hawks in the Bush administration, said that international support for an attack was "always desirable" but shouldn't in this case constitute a precaution.
"If you can get it, fine," he said. ". . . If you can't get it, just do it."
This story ran in the Boston Globe on 9/13/2002.
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