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Bush Thinktank Grateful That Saddam Not Killed In First Strike

by Jim Lobe

Rightwing Think Tank Directing Bush Policies
(IPS) WASHINGTON -- An almost audible sigh of relief could be heard from a nondescript downtown building here Thursday morning when Iraqi President Saddam Hussein appeared on television some hours after U.S. warplanes and cruise missiles had bombarded a residence in Baghdad.

Media reports quoted U.S. officials as saying that the raid was directed at a "target of opportunity," possibly Saddam and his two sons, shortly after the expiration of the 48-hour ultimatum delivered by U.S. President George W. Bush on Monday for the three men to leave the country or face a full-scale invasion.

If the raid had succeeded in killing the three, U.S. officials here Thursday told reporters that their war plans might have changed. But, fortunately for the neo-conservative hawks who roost at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) three blocks from the White House, it appears that Saddam remains alive, and the invasion will now go forward.

"That we appear not to have gotten Saddam Hussein last night... may be a blessing in disguise," came the e-mail message from AEI's press center.

"As in Operation Desert Storm, the measure of victory in this war against Iraq will not be how big we start but where and when we stop," continued the message from resident fellow Tom Donnelly.

"'Going to Baghdad' means more than physically occupying the city. It is a metaphor for tearing out 'Saddamism', root and branch. There will be many moments -- and a quick kill on Saddam would be one -- where some might be tempted to say, as the first Bush administration did when the television pictures of the famous Highway of Death hit American airwaves in 1991, that enough has been done."

Perish the thought, say the AEI hawks who, led by another resident scholar and chairman of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board (DPB), Richard Perle, are deeply worried that their hopes for a thoroughgoing purge of officials from Saddam's Ba'ath Party as the first step to transforming the entire Arab Middle East, may yet be frustrated.

Eighteen months after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon, the coalition of forces that has beaten the war drums against Baghdad virtually since the dust settled in lower Manhattan have agreed that the "war on terrorism" must include the ouster of Saddam Hussein.

The coalition, in the administration centered in the offices of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney, has consisted of essentially three components: hard right-wing or nationalist Republicans like the Pentagon chief and vice president; neo-conservatives like Perle and most of Rumsfeld and Cheney's immediate subordinates, such as Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz; and the Christian Right, whose concerns have been represented most forcefully within the White House itself, particularly among Bush's domestic advisers.

While all three groups have agreed on key tactics -- such as marginalizing to the greatest extent possible the influence of Secretary of State Colin Powell and other "realist" veterans of the first Bush administration -- and strategy, including ousting Saddam, they have never agreed on what happens once the leader is removed.

"The earliest and most salient rift (in the hawks' coalition) will be the hard-right nationalists, like Rumsfeld and Cheney, and the neo-conservatives," says Charles Kupchan, a foreign-policy analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations and a National Security Council strategist under former President Bill Clinton.

"For the hard right, this is really about getting Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction. Once that's done, they're going to say, 'OK, we've done our job, now let's get the hell out and go home.'"

But the neo-conservatives will want to stay to ensure that the Ba'ath Party is as discredited as the Nazi Party was in Germany, and to use Iraq as a base from which to exert pressure on other presumably hostile regimes, particularly Syria, Iran, and even Saudi Arabia.

The third wing of the coalition, the Christian Right, is more likely to side with Rumsfeld and Cheney than with the neo-conservatives in Kupchan's view, creating a split that "will complicate George Bush's life immensely."

In many ways, these rifts were already apparent in Afghanistan, as Rumsfeld and Cheney were dead-set against serious "nation-building" and the extension of peacekeeping forces beyond Kabul for fear it would interfere with U.S. military operations against Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda terrorist network.

The result, which the neo-conservatives warned against at the time, is that the authority of the U.S.-installed central government is basically confined to the capital, while most of the countryside remains in the hands of warlords. Washington cannot afford to leave Iraq in a similar state of disorder, say the neo-cons.

While Cheney and Rumsfeld have both given lip service to the idea that Washington's occupation of Iraq will be the first step toward the democratization of the entire region, they have also been the most outspoken in affirming that Hussein's self-exile would be one sure way of avoiding war.

This has caused no end of anxiety among the neo-conservatives both within the administration and in the think tanks -- like AEI -- and media outlets, such as the Rupert Murdoch-owned 'Weekly Standard' (headquartered in the AEI building), Fox News, and on the editorial pages of the 'Wall Street Journal.'

The neo-cons say Iraq must not only be 'de-Ba'athised', but that Washington must also be accorded the opportunity to show the world, and especially other Muslim states, just how powerful and determined it is both in waging war and reforming their political systems.

For them, "Saddamism without Saddam" would be the worst possible outcome of the present crisis, and they have excoriated Powell's State Department and the CIA, which have generally opposed going to war against Iraq, for encouraging coups d'etat or enlisting the participation of even former senior Ba'ath officials in any post-invasion administration.

The neo-conservatives have long favored a far-reaching purge that would bring to power the core of the exiled Iraqi National Congress (INC) led by Ahmed Chalabi, an old friend of Perle and Wolfowitz, who would cooperate with U.S. efforts to knock over the other "dominoes" in the region that are perceived as hostile to Washington or Israel.

In their view, a "decapitation" strategy targeted on Hussein, his sons, and a few other top Ba'ath officials without a full-scale invasion and occupation risks falling far short of their regional ambitions.

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Albion Monitor March 20, 2003 (

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