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Iraq: Bush Team Begins To Formulate Policy

  • Charles Recknagel

George W. Bush took a tough line on Iraq during his U.S. presidential campaign. Now, as his administration begins to take shape, the task of determining in detail how to contain Baghdad will fall to the president's top advisors. But as RFE/RL correspondent Charles Recknagel reports, there are wide differences among them over how to proceed.

Washington, 24 January 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Observers of U.S. presidential campaigns may be forgiven if they have the impression that candidates first find the answers to the nation's problems then wait only to be elected to put them into effect.

As a candidate, George W. Bush left no doubt he believes the way to solve the Iraq crisis is to take a tougher line toward Baghdad than did the Clinton administration. He said he would "re-energize" the UN sanctions on Baghdad and "take out" any Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Many of his principal advisors said the same.

But if those general solutions were enough to address the Iraq issue whenever it came up in campaign debates, Washington's policy-making community knows that the real work of deciding what the Bush administration will do still lies ahead. And that decision process is now beginning, with the Senate approving the president's national security team. These top advisors will now assemble their teams of regional experts.

Jon Alterman of the United States Institute for Peace in Washington, D.C., says that there is a wide spectrum of opinion within the Bush team over Iraq and that the next months will see a protracted internal debate to find a unified strategy.

That debate will come as policy teams in the State Department and in the Department of Defense, as well as the National Security Council (NSC), make policy reviews of the Iraq crisis and propose scenarios which will differ widely over how to get tough with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Alterman says the Bush team's range of opinions on Iraq includes -- at one end -- a relatively cautious camp led by Secretary of State Colin Powell and chief national security adviser Condoleezza Rice. On the other is a relatively hard-line camp including Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his designate for deputy, Paul Wolfowitz.

"We have a national security advisor, Condoleezza Rice, and a secretary of state, Colin Powell, who have expressed a lot of reservations about any commitment of U.S. forces to operations other than war. That is, they say armies are to fight conventional wars and if you want to do something other than fight a conventional war you should use something other than an army."

Alterman continues:

"On the other hand we have the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, and the deputy secretary of defense-designate, Paul Wolfowitz, who have spoken sometimes explicitly about the advantages of carving off an enclave in southern Iraq and of supporting the [Iraqi opposition] as a keystone of American policy. How those differing forces will resolve their differences is something we will have to wait and watch in the coming months of the Bush administration."

Analysts say that the various camps among Bush's advisors will consider -- and jostle over -- a whole host of ideas about how to re-energize sanctions, how to get UN arms inspectors back into Iraq, when to use air strikes against suspected weapons facilities, and how much support to give the Iraqi opposition.

Anthony Cordesman, a regional expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., says that many of the advisors agree that re-energizing international support for sanctions means concentrating on measures which exclude weapons-related technology while relaxing measures perceived to hurt ordinary Iraqis.

But he says the question of arming the Iraqi opposition is far more divisive. Anthony Cordesman says:

"There is a broad consensus that the sanctions need to be narrowed but deepened. But there is going to be division over how much support the opposition should get and what kind of support it should get. And that is a division which is going to take some time to really work out in the course of the administration."

Cordesman says that the process of internal debate within the new administration could take up to nine months.

"Usually a [U.S.] administration that comes to power takes about six to nine months to work out the nuances and to go from sort of generalizations about policy to the actual execution."

Analysts say that long gestation period for formulating strategy toward Baghdad may mean that the next development in the Iraqi crisis comes not from Washington but from Saddam Hussein.

The Iraqi president has a history of constantly testing opponents to learn their limits and feels strong after the past year saw Iraq increasingly break out of its political isolation.

"What seems likely is that Saddam Hussein will not sit patiently while things continue to work his way. He is a risk taker, he enjoys pushing things to the limit, seeing how much he can get away with. And it's my expectation that in doing so he will arouse the ire of the new administration and provoke a serious confrontation which will have serious consequences."

That means Saddam may determine what the Bush team's first response to him will be even before the Bush administration has fully decided for itself.

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