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Jewish World Review June 11, 2002 / 1 Tamuz, 5762

Michael Barone

Michael Barone
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The road to Baghdad



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We are on the road to Baghdad. "The war on terror will not be won on the defensive," George W. Bush told the cadets at West Point June 1. "In the world we have entered, the only path to safety is the path to action." Americans should be "ready for pre-emptive action when necessary to defend our liberty and to defend our lives." Bush may have "no war plans on my desk," as he assured Germans May 23, but he has set in motion the process for getting them there. A May 24 Washington Post article reported that the Joint Chiefs of Staff are resisting a military attack on Iraq and have delayed it until next year-or maybe never. But it also made clear that planning for an attack has begun at the Pentagon.

The planning has gone far enough to identify the tough problems. One is chemical and biological weapons: Saddam Hussein probably has them, and very well might use them in a war aimed to produce, in Bush's words, "regime change" in Baghdad. Obviously, we need to stop this quickly. One way may be to let Iraqi troops know they'll be held responsible for war crimes after the conflict. A second problem, more political than military, is how to deal with indigenous Iraqi forces. There are thousands of armed Kurds, but in two hostile organizations. The London-based Iraqi National Congress claims to have contacts with pro-democracy Iraqis but is mistrusted-it's not clear why-by officials in the State Department and the CIA. At best, military plans must be made without certain knowledge of how hard Iraqi troops will fight (many didn't fight much in 1991) and of how much help we can get from indigenous forces.

Postwar problem. Then there is the question of what to do about Iraq after the war. But this is a problem for the president, not the military. He must decide whether to accept what has apparently been the CIA's favorite solution-a military coup-or whether to move Iraq toward democracy-the stated goal of the INC. A military coup may not change the character of the Iraqi regime; a move toward democracy will quite likely have positive reverberations throughout the Middle East.

Yet there are those in the government who seem to be trying to obstruct Bush's war against terrorism. You can see this in the victory-lap exultation of one of the Post's military sources that the Pentagon has scotched any plans for Iraq. You can see it in the FBI Washington supervisor who blocked a search warrant for Zacarias Moussaoui's computer, despite French intelligence reports on him-because, hey, there might be another Zacarias Moussaoui in France. You can see it in the FBI's stubborn belief based heavily on handwriting analysis (which seems to have the scientific validity of astrology) that anthrax was disseminated by a disgruntled domestic scientist and its apparent refusal to pursue any of the evidence pointing to a foreign (Iraqi?) source. You can see it in the denial by "a senior administration [CIA?] official" of reports of a meeting in Prague between September 11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and Iraqi spy Ahmed Khalil al-Ani-although Czech Republic officials continue to insist that the meeting took place.

Clearly some middle- and high-level officials have taken it on themselves to set up roadblocks on the road to Baghdad. The question is whether Bush and his top appointees will tear them down. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld seems to have the intellect and temperament to push aside false claims of military incapacity and overstretch (claims nicely debunked by the Brookings Institution's Michael O'Hanlon, no Iraq hawk). On the other hand, one wonders whether George Tenet or someone nearly as high in intelligence ranks is behind the attempts to discredit the Czech reports of the Atta-Ani meeting. Neither Tenet nor Secretary of State Colin Powell seems inclined to overrule CIA and State officials who are resisting, sometimes on nitpicking grounds, cooperation with the INC. And has FBI Director Robert Mueller taken a hard look at the agents who are so convinced that the anthrax attack came from a domestic source that they airily dismiss serious evidence of a foreign source?

In other words, the George W. Bush who has made it plain in his State of the Union speech and at West Point that we must go to war with Iraq needs to take control of his own administration. Trusting officials as "good men" is not enough if they are allowing subordinates to act in line with the incentives that have inhibited intelligence gathering and responses to terrorism over the past 25 years. The American people are with him on Iraq, but he still must get the government in line.

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JWR contributor Michael Barone is a columnist at U.S. News & World Report and the author of, most recently, "The New Americans." He also edits the biennial "Almanac of American Politics". Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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©2002, Michael Barone