The Bush administration brushed off two setbacks to its war plans yesterday, calling Iraq's destruction of Al Samoud-2 missiles a "predictable" attempt to distract attention from Baghdad's failure to disarm, and saying it would seek "clarification" of Turkish parliamentary rejection of U.S. troop deployment there.
A senior U.S. official said the administration would await the results of a high-level Turkish government meeting today before deciding whether to move ahead immediately with "Plan B." More costly and less militarily advantageous, that plan would begin with an airlift but ultimately could send U.S. ground troops and armored vehicles hundreds of miles across the desert from Kuwait to northern Iraq if an invasion were launched.
In his weekly radio address to the nation, President Bush spoke of an attack on Iraq as if it were a foregone conclusion, outlining plans in motion to provide postwar humanitarian and long-term reconstruction assistance and to supervise the establishment of "Iraq's new government."
"We will remain in Iraq as long as necessary, and not a day more," Bush said. "The security of our nation and the hopes of millions depend on us, and Americans do not turn away from duties because they are hard."
Bush made no mention of the administration's intense diplomatic efforts to persuade a majority of the United Nations Security Council to approve a new resolution authorizing war. As it heads into what senior U.S. officials said are likely to be the final two weeks of U.N. deliberations, the administration has made increasingly clear that the outcome of that debate is ultimately immaterial to its plans.
Even as it sent senior envoys around the world to twist the arms of recalcitrant council members -- particularly the half-dozen undecided governments it refers to as the "U-6" -- the administration in recent days has expanded both its rationale for war and on-the-ground activities indicating the conflict has already begun.
In a Wednesday night speech, Bush said that by forcing a U.N. decision, "the United States is . . . showing our commitment to effective international institutions." At the same time, he said, "a new regime in Iraq would serve as a dramatic and inspiring example of freedom for other nations in the region" and "could also begin a new stage for Middle Eastern peace, and set in motion progress towards a truly democratic Palestinian state."
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz expanded on that reasoning in congressional testimony Thursday, saying, "if we get rid of the whole regime" in Iraq, "think about what the impact of that is going to be on the Arab-Israeli peace process." Wolfowitz said it was no coincidence that the 1991 Persian Gulf War against Iraq preceded breakthroughs in the Mideast peace process. Other administration officials, however, have drawn the opposite lesson, attributing the breakthroughs at least in part to the decision of Bush's father, President George H.W. Bush, to end the war without seeking the demise of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. At the time, it was thought that deposing Hussein would risk inflaming the Arab world.
Wolfowitz also estimated the U.S. cost of Iraqi "containment" during 12 years of U.N. sanctions, weapons inspections and continued U.S. air patrols over the country at "slightly over $30 billion," but he said the price had been "far more than money." Sustained U.S. bombing of Iraq over those years, and the stationing of U.S. forces "in the holy land of Saudi Arabia," were "part of the containment policy that has been Osama bin Laden's principal recruiting device, even more than the other grievances he cites," Wolfowitz said.
Implying that a takeover in Iraq would eliminate the need for U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia, and thus reduce the appeal of terrorist groups for new members, Wolfowitz said: "I can't imagine anyone here wanting to spend another $30 billion to be there for another 12 years to continue helping recruit terrorists."
U.S. patrols over southern Iraq, flying from Saudi bases, are authorized to shoot at Iraqi defenses that threaten them, and bombing of Iraq's air defense system has greatly increased in recent months. Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Friday that the planes were now also authorized to attack surface-to-surface missile batteries deployed on Iraqi territory that do not threaten U.S. aircraft.
Four of the Iraqi sites were hit last week, and Myers said they had been targeted because they were within range of some of the tens of thousands of U.S. ground forces now deployed across the Iraqi border in northern Kuwait as part of an invasion force. "They become a threat to our forces, absolutely, because they are new deployments," Myers said.
Such attacks, along with expanded U.S. justifications for war, sometimes make negotiations difficult at the United Nations. For domestic consumption, the administration has concentrated on what it has described as a nexus between Hussein and international terrorist groups. Unless Hussein is removed, the administration has warned, he might turn over to terrorists -- like those who attacked on Sept. 11, 2001 -- the very weapons of mass destruction for which U.N. inspectors are searching. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Friday that the administration's goal was both "disarmament and regime change."
But at the Security Council, where many countries are skeptical that such a nexus exists and leery of internationally authorized "regime change," the focus is solely on the need for U.N.-ordered disarmament. Many do not see the situation in the same urgent terms as the administration and feel that gradual progress, as opposed to the "full and immediate" disarmament they have demanded, should be enough to delay war.
Passage of a resolution in the 15-member council requires nine votes and no vetoes, and the council is currently split in three directions. Among the five permanent members with veto power, the United States and Britain are co-sponsoring the new resolution declaring that Iraq has failed to meet its disarmament obligations, a conclusion they have said would authorize disarmament by force. Among the nonpermanent members, Spain and Bulgaria support the U.S. position.
Although the administration has long said it does not need a new resolution to go to war, it has bowed to the wishes of Britain and Spain, which see new U.N. approval as a way to assuage overwhelming antiwar opinion in their countries. Both countries are willing to allow council negotiations to continue for at least another month, if necessary, to reach agreement. But U.S. officials have said they anticipate bringing the matter to a vote within a week after chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix delivers his latest report next Friday. If they have not amassed the necessary votes by then, officials have indicated they will skip a vote and move directly to war.
Permanent members France and Russia, who oppose the measure along with China, have threatened a veto. Instead of a war resolution, they propose strengthening inspections and setting more precise goals for Iraq, without setting a deadline for compliance. Nonpermanent members Germany and Syria agree.
In the middle are the U-6: Cameroon, Guinea, Angola, Chile, Mexico and Pakistan. Their indecision is not over war with Iraq; all have indicated dislike of the U.S. measure and prefer a compromise that would allow inspections to continue, with a future deadline. What they remain undecided about is whether to risk opposing the United States.