by Jim Lobe
(IPS) WASHINGTON --
the United States ends its second full week of bombing in Afghanistan, the Bush administration remains deeply divided about whether Washington should target Iraq in its "war" against terrorism.
All sectors within the administration agree that the replacement of the Taliban regime in Kabul and the destruction of the basic infrastructure of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network in Afghanistan -- both works in uncertain progress -- constitute the minimal goals of Phase I of the "war."
But a significant group of officials -- notably, virtually all of the top political appointees in the Pentagon -- strongly favor a Phase II directed at ousting Iraqi President Saddam Hussein more than decade after U.S. military power forced his army to withdraw from Kuwait.
This group has strong backing from columnists and prominent advisers outside the administration, many of whom are long-time admirers of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. They include the chairman of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board, Richard Perle; former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Jeane Kirkpatrick; the Wall Street Journal editorial page; New York Times columnist William Safire; Weekly Standard editor William Kristol; and nationally syndicated columnists Charles Krauthammer, Michael Kelly, and George Will.
They are opposed, above all, by Secretary of State Colin Powell, whose role as chairman of the joint chiefs of staff of the armed forces in ending the 1991 Gulf War with Saddam Hussein still in power, has long been assailed by right-wing and neo-conservative elements, including many who now serve in the Pentagon.
As he did a decade ago, Powell has warned that waging a new war against Baghdad -- in the absence of solid evidence tying Saddam Hussein to the Sep. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon -- would shatter the coalition against al-Qaeda he has tried so hard to build over the past month and possibly destabilize key Arab allies.
Retired Gen. Brent Scowcroft, the first President Bush's national security adviser who mentored the current national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, also has mocked the anti-Iraq chorus as "the same siren songs of delusion and defeat that we heard in 1990." If anything, he argued, Washington needs Arab support in this conflict more than it did in the Gulf War.
Powell also has a particularly strong ally in British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose diplomatic cheerleading for the administration appears designed as much to keep Washington as narrowly focused as possible on the challenge of Afghanistan and al-Qaeda as it reflects his own enthusiasm for the task at hand.
The British, the only government to make public Washington's case against bin Laden, have been particularly outspoken about the lack of evidence tying Iraq to last month's attacks.
U.S. intelligence agencies reportedly agree with London's conclusions about Baghdad's non-involvement. But this has not deterred the Pentagon's anti-Iraq forces. These, according to a Times account last week, sent former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) chief James Woolsey to Europe on a mission to gather evidence of Iraq's possible complicity without even informing the State Department.
bureaucratic maneuvering is part of a pattern of excluding or circumventing Powell, the target of a number of recent attacks by hawks' supporters outside the administration who have claimed that the secretary's focus on Afghanistan is at odds with Bush's vow to take on terrorists and all states which shelter or support them.
Thus, on Sept. 19 and 20, Perle reportedly convened the 180-member Defense Policy Board, a quasi-government group, whose members reportedly agreed in principle that Washington should attack Iraq after the initial Afghanistan stage of the war is concluded.
The bipartisan Board, which is appointed by the president, includes Woolsey, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former Vice President Dan Quayle, and former Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, among others.
Although both Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, participated in the group's discussions, the State Department was neither invited to nor briefed on the meeting.
Powell reportedly was "quite distressed" when a letter delivered to the UN Security Council by U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte on the first day of the bombing in Afghanistan noted that Washington reserved the right to strike out against "other organizations and other states" besides Afghanistan. Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, widely considered an ally of the Pentagon hawks, reportedly inserted this phrase.
The strongest case for Saddam Hussein's involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks is based primarily on intelligence reports that Mohammed Atta -- believed to be the key figure in the hijackings -- met early this year in Prague with a known Iraqi spy who was later expelled by the Czech government, and, more recently, with the Iraqi ambassador to Turkey, who was subsequently recalled to Baghdad.
The case also rests on the work of Iraq specialist Laurie Mylroie, who has argued that Iraqi intelligence played a role in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center towers and in another plan to bomb the UN headquarters building and two tunnels in New York, in which Sudanese agents also had a hand.
Despite ideological and political differences, according to Mylroie, bin Laden and Saddam Hussein have consulted through key aides over the years and, just before the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, issued threats with "an eerily similar refrain."
While admitting that the case against Baghdad was circumstantial, Woolsey told the National Journal last week that the complexity and scope of the Sept. 11 attacks suggested the involvement of a "state intelligence service."
Perle, one of Washington's more powerful behind-the-scenes players and widely seen as a mentor for Wolfowitz and many political appointees at the Pentagon and on Vice President Dick Cheney's staff, has been one of the most outspoken proponents of the view that a state sponsor was involved in the attacks.
"We're going to have to go after the state sponsors, who find it more difficult to hide," Perle, who has close links to Israel's right-wing Likud Party, said. "And Iraq tops the list."
Even if Iraq was not involved in the Sept. 11 attacks, say Perle and the hawks, the administration should try to oust Saddam Hussein. In a letter sent to Bush on Sept. 20, he and 37 other mainly neo-conservative figures argued that the failure "to undertake such an effort will constitute an early and perhaps decisive surrender in the war on international terrorism."
The letter was sponsored by a new organization, called the Project for a New American Century.
October 22, 2001 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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