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Bush 2004?

Putting aside the spin coming from the U.S./British faction, the French-Russian-Chinese faction, undecided Security Council members, and, yes, the Iraqi side (and let's be clear that Hussein is clearly still looking to manipulate the situation, and insanely risking the infrastructure of his country, and the lives of innocent Iraqis, by trying to delay his inevitable and justly deserved demise), the key to resolving the current impasse at the United Nations remains one of time. Weather conditions in Iraq do mandate that any spring military campaign happen sooner rather than later. But, there is no credible reason why a campaign must begin in March or early April, rather than September or October 2003 – unless the Bush Administration has non-military, political reasons for pushing the earlier date.

Who Made Bush the Planetary Timekeeper?
Bush Administration defenders argue that Hussein has already had 12 years to disarm, while consistently overlooking the obvious fact that the current impasse is not about the Iraqi dictator at all, but about the bellicose and bullying way that the Bush Administration has gone about building support for its policy. While it is clear that the French and Russians do have economic interests at stake in Iraq (as did Dick Cheney's former company, Halliburton), it strikes this observer that those interests could easily be accommodated – and, hence, cannot be the true basis of the problem. What is much more likely is that a legitimate fear of American hegemony, and even an irrational fear of the United States itself becoming a “rogue superpower”, answerable to no one while pursuing Paul Wolfowitz and his Neo-Conservatives' agenda, remains a key element of French and Russian intractability on the issue of using force to disarm Hussein. It is also fair to say that France, a nation with a growing Muslim population, has credible reasons to fear an outbreak of fundamentalist terror that will rock its Republic, and consequently lead to electoral gains by the same xenophobic, extremist elements that did so well in the last election. I suspect that the Chinese also share this worry about United States dominance, but quite probably have their own agenda for resisting Blair's & Bush's current diplomatic efforts. For instance, if United States can be discredited, yet still not prevented from invading and occupying Iraq, then it will retain little credibility later were the U.S. to try and oppose any Chinese move against Taiwan. And with so many U.S. troops needed to occupy Iraq (with estimates ranging from 100,000 to 200,000 for the first few years), and simultaneous commitments continuing in Afghanistan, South Korea and the Balkans, the U.S. would clearly have some difficulty responding to any Chinese military actions.

Add to this scenario the perilous situation of Bush's one true ally, Tony Blair. There is ample evidence that any post-invasion complications resulting from an essentially unilateral U.S.-British military effort are likely to lead to the Labor Party leader's political demise. Hence, it is also in the interests of Tony Blair that every effort possible be made to build as wide a coalition as possible – which would necessitate the agreement of France and Russia, if not China, that military force was necessary. It is obvious that the appearance of true flexibility on the part of the current administration would go a long way towards dissuading France and Russia that the United States sees the entire European bloc as true partners, and not vassal states that should mindlessly endorse every geopolitical whim of the neo-conservative extremists in the Bush Administration.

Time, not Hussein, Is the Issue
Time remains the key issue. The French have suggested a much more muscular inspection regime. It is in the United States' long-term strategic interests to take them up on this offer, but also insist on a guarantee that any subsequent inspection regime be sufficiently muscular as to make Hussein extremely nervous, and ultimately force him to throw the inspectors out of Iraq – which should be set as the tripwire for an automatic approval for the use of military force, either in a United Nations based coalition or a much narrower “posse of the willing”. As part of this new effort, however, the U.N. would agree that any provisional government and nation-building effort would be conducted under its auspices, and not those of the United States or Britain – thus allowing both nations to steer clear of any charges of having imperialistic aims.

A New "Best and the Brightest"
So, why is the Administration refusing this obvious course of action, and instead continuing with plans to launch a military campaign that is as likely to lose the peace as oust Hussein? I can only come up with two possible explanations. The first is that the Bush team, with the exception of Secretary of State Colin Powell, is so congenitally arrogant and reckless that they truly feel that the "rightness" of their ideological aims are somehow a guarantee of their eventual triumph. There is ample evidence that these neo-conservatives are indeed worthy material for a sequel to David Halberstam's The Best and the Brightest. For instance, according to Bob Woodward's book, Bush at War, Dubya is quoted:

“I'm the commander — see, I don't need to explain. I do not need to explain why I say things. That's the interesting thing about being the president. Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don't feel like I owe anybody an explanation.”

Now, assuming Woodward's quote of Bush is accurate, there is every reason to believe that a similar degree of astounding arrogance underlies the thrust of current United States diplomatic efforts – and an accompanying belief that the sheer fact of American military superiority makes it ultimately unnecessary to build international support in the achievement of its national security aims.

Bush 2004?
The second explanation is much more cynical and politically driven. In light of the way the Bush Administration used the “War on Terror” as a partisan campaign issue in the recent mid-term elections, one has to ask if Bush and his handlers are absolutely intent on getting the war, and any nasty aftermath, out of the way before Duyba's 2004 re-election campaign begins in earnest. They must know that the aftermath, particularly one with the United States and Britain attempting to pacify a population with as many repressed ethnic and religious resentments as they are likely to find in a post-Hussein Iraq, is apt to be very messy, with ethnic violence and retaliatory terrorist acts directed at American and British soldiers and civilians, both in Iraq and throughout Europe and the United States. Hence, I strongly suspect that the Bush administration is calculating that if they stick to the current timetable, the worst of these outbursts will be over, and their policy vindicated, by the fall of 2004. While I think their policy is not politically, but ideologically, driven, I think the timing of this policy is clearly designed to facilitate what they hope will be Dubya's reelection in November of 2004. If this is indeed so, then their policy is not only fundamentally unsound but also wildly unpatriotic. They would be putting the long-term peace and security of this nation at risk for purely selfish, partisan purposes. They would have earned the strongest possible condemnation.

Matthew Carnicelli, © 2003. All rights reserved.