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Will Bush Attack Iraq?

by Alexander Cockburn

Is the Bush regime blustering itself into war?
Saddam Hussein's regime is ordering thousands of small generators, which tells us that, for one, Saddam Hussein reckons that a U.S. attack may indeed be in the offing. When the bombing starts and the central generating stations get blown up all over again, there'll at least be some micro-generating capacity to keep a few lights on.

But just what is the likelihood of Bush cashing out his bluster about the Axis of Evil with an effort to finish off Saddam?

Start with the diplomatic chessboard. Bush I put together a formidable coalition in 1990 after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. There's scant chance of Bush II matching that achievement. Among the European allies, only the U.K. has signified support, and it will be harder to enlist France, let alone Germany. In 1990, Arab nations mustered to the coalition, led by Saudi Arabia, which trembled at the prospect that after Kuwait, it might be next. The likelihood that Saudi Arabia or any other Arab territory would endorse an attack today, let alone allow its territory to be the springboard for a ground assault on Iraq is remote, as the visit of Vice President Richard Cheney has made abundantly clear.

What other springboards are available? Kuwait, no. Syria, no. Iran, no. What other nation would assume the role that Pakistan has in the assault on the Taliban? The obvious candidate is Turkey, in profound economic crisis and in desperate need of U.S. economic buttress. The United States has a huge military base there.

The Kurds have been satisfied with the present situation, but no doubt would be offered appropriate cash incentives to support the invasion. Internally, the Shi'a learned the hard way in 1991 the dangers of relying on U.S. pledges of support for a rising against Saddam. The Iraqi dictator has been making his usual stringent moves against the possibility of a coup, shifting generals constantly, deploying his party militia constantly on the streets to ensure that even the smallest demonstration will be instantly crushed.

Throughout the 1990s, the CIA's attempts at destabilization of Saddam met with total failure, and there is no particular reason to believe that this has changed. There is no obvious replacement for Saddam, and the United States' best known leader-in-waiting, Chalabi, lacks credibility.

But Saddam is an unpopular leader whose support is based on one section of Iraq's population, as was the Taliban's in Afghanistan. The United States can pound Iraq again from the air. Armies desert if they feel defeat to be inevitable. New puppet leaders can be found and installed, as was Hamid Karzai.

In terms of domestic politics, the opportune time for a U.S. attack would be at the time of the mid-term elections in the fall, with Congress up for grabs. The White House plainly feels it would win the battle for public opinion, with the flag waggers routing all dissidence in government except for the usual 30 or so holdouts among liberal Democrats and a handful of Republicans like Rep. Ron Paul of Texas. There have been a series of steady advances by the ultras, whose aim is to wipe out Saddam.

There's also the issue of face. How long can the Bush regime threaten Saddam Hussein without actually following through? Is the Bush regime blustering itself into war?

Many knowledgeable people with excellent experience of Iraq and of political currents in Washington feel that the United States will indeed launch a military attack on Iraq later this year.

I've heard one spirited dissent arguing that the net effect of the ranting about the Axis of Evil has been to redemonize Saddam Hussein and to diminish pressure to lift the sanctions. "The embargo has been under constant assault, but now, people will say, 'At least he's not carpet-bombing Iraq.' Remember, the whole strategy has always been to sabotage Iraq as a major oil supplier. In 1990, it worked brilliantly, sucking Saddam in to invade Kuwait. They wanted a heightened state of tension, a pretext for an embargo. Then Bush broke loose from the whole plan and pushed it to war. They walked into Iraq, the road to Baghdad was clear, and then they panicked again, realizing no Saddam, no embargo. It was the most mysterious end to a war we've ever had. U.S. troops were under orders not to shoot at Iraqi divisions, not to disarm them, just to let them go. That came out in Seymour Hersh's piece about McCaffery's massacre." So the United States kept Saddam and the embargo in place.

On some accounts it was Margaret Thatcher who pushed Bush I into war in 1991. We doubt Tony Blair has equivalent clout, but Bush II could stampede himself, just as his old man did. The antiwar movement had better be ready.

© Creators Syndicate

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Albion Monitor March 20, 2002 (

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