Thursday, August 29, 2002

Clues on the War with Iraq, and Beyond?

Recent reports out of the Middle East may provide clues as to the timing and extent of a war with Iraq and possibly an ongoing U.S. presence in the Middle East. This article from the World Tribune was particularly interesting: “The United States has told Israel that it
will attack Iraq before the end of November. Israeli military sources said a senior U.S.
military visited Israel earlier this week and toured facilities where the U.S. military has
prepositioned equipment and weapons for an emergency in the Middle East. The sources
quoted a visiting U.S. general who heads army logistics as saying that Washington
intends to strike the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein by late November.”

The report goes on to say that the war won’t end in Iraq: “In joint military discussions
earlier this summer, Pentagon officials said Iraq would be only the first stop in the U.S.
war on terror, an Israeli parliamentarian said. Yuval Steinetz, chairman of the Knesset
subcommittee on military doctrine, said he held talks with senior Pentagon officials in
June regarding Washington's vision of a post-Saddam Middle East. Steinetz said
Washington envisions a new order in the Middle East after Saddam is toppled and a
democratic regime is installed. "Iraq is the key but not the last stop [in the U.S. effort],"
Steinetz said. "It is the first stop. After that there will be massive [U.S.] pressure on Syria
and Iran to halt weapons of mass destruction programs and Syria's occupation of
Lebanon."

And Israel would retaliate if attacked: “Israeli military sources said the level of
Israel's response would depend on the number of casualties and damage caused by any
Iraqi strike. The sources said Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has told the Bush
administration that it would not pledge any policy of restraint as that during the 1991
Gulf war.”

So if this report is true, we now have several crucial pieces of the “impending war with
Iraq” puzzle: When it will take place; the fact that Israel is now being used as a staging
area, and therefore will probably be a base of operations during the war; the fact that
Israel is likely to participate in the attack on Iraq if (or when) it is hit by Iraqi missiles;
and the fact that American ambitions are greater than the removal of Saddam and may
even include regime change in Syria and beyond.

How much of this could possibly be accurate and what are the implications if it is? Let’s start
with the “when.”

If the attack takes place in late November, it would be well after the
elections on the 5th. Bush has repeatedly said he would not attack
before
, but has never said he would wait until after the holidays. A late November attack would leave time
for new members of Congress to be sworn in and to get their bearings before taking a vote on a resolution. And it would also
square with the strategic imperative of Middle Eastern weather, given the reports that
“U.S. soldiers would probably have to slog through Baghdad's streets wearing
chemical-weapons suits and carrying extra equipment.”
However, in response to conservative critics of war, Bush also recently said he won’t rush a decision. But in Bush’s mind, a
post Thanksgiving attack might well mean he didn’t rush. Overall, it seems a late
November offensive is very plausible.

Now what about Israel’s participation? There is no question that Ariel Sharon hates Arabs and would probably
love to nuke as much of Iraq as
possible. There is no question that in a battle, Israel would be a fire-power asset, given that
it has the fourth or fifth strongest military in the world (and one that has had regular combat experience, albeit mostly against civilians lately). And of course there is its proximity
to Iraq. Because the Bush administration has been unable to rally any international support from either the
Arabs
or the Europeans,
having at least one ally it can point to essential, even though Israel is hardly an objective one. So at this point, and after pumping nearly $100 billion into Israeli coffers over the years, it
seems the U.S. Government is finally set to utilize its expensive client in battle.

No doubt, as the Israeli Firsters see it, Israel's participation has the added bonus of further entangling our
alliance to the point where Israel’s military success in the region is synonymous with
America’s military success, and to where an attack on Israel is synonymous with an attack
on America.

How will this play in the Arab world? Not well. What the Iraqis and any other Arab states
that might come under attack will see on the horizon is a duplication of the brutal Israeli
occupation of Palestine, only in their front yards. They will see the Palestinian experiences
under the Israelis now as a precursor of what their own experiences under the
American/Israeli coalition will be later. And this will inspire a fight.

Within such a context, the
optimistic thinking in the Bush administration that once under attack, the Iraqi military will
suddenly turn on Saddam and finish the job for us becomes wishful thinking. Because of Israel’s bellicose behavior towards the Palestinians, their participation in this
offensive will stifle any opposition to Saddam that might exist within the Iraqi military and
unite it with the leadership. As bad as Hussein is, the Iraqi people will have to doubt that
an invading force made up of the two countries most responsible for the suffering of the Palestinan people and the sanctions that
have taken between 500,000 and one million Iraqi lives has the best interests of the Iraqi
people at heart, or will treat them any better than their current oppressor. It is better to be oppressed by the tyrant you know than by the tyrant you don't, or so the logic will go.

Now let’s move the last piece of our puzzle, the larger ambitions of the Bush
Administration for the region. Let’s re-examine the quote from the Israeli Government
official from above: “Iraq is the key but not the last stop [in the U.S. effort]," Steinetz
said. "It is the first stop. After that there will be massive [U.S.] pressure on Syria and Iran
to halt weapons of mass destruction programs and Syria's occupation of Lebanon.”
--Yuval Steinetz, chairman of the Knesset subcommittee on military doctrine

It reads like an Israeli government fantasy, a wishfull-thinking prophecy that it hopes will become
self-fulfilling. Iraq, Iran, Syria, emasculated and compliant, probably occupied by
American soldiers who will do the brutal and dangerous work of trying to pacify a
stubborn, defiant and angry Muslim population, all without the Israelis having to lift a
finger.

Granted, with the oil-loving, Arab-hating clique of Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and
Perle holding such sway over Bush decision-making, such a scenario is possible; but
fortunately, this group of “Oil and Israel Firsters” is counterbalanced by the Colin Powell
State Department and, importantly, the Pentagon, which would actually have to do the
heavy-lifting of an occupation and has some perspective of how costly and dangerous such
a feat would be.

Would the Oil and Israel crowd gladly stretch the American military as thinly as possible over as
much of the Middle East as it possibly could get away with? No question. But will they be allowed to?
That all depends on the fortitude of President Bush to resist the grandeurous delusions of
some of those who surround him.


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