Global Policy Forum

Bush Team Is Divided on Policy Toward Iraq


By Robin Wright

International Herald Tribune
February 15, 2001

The Bush presidency's foreign-policy priorities are still under review, but already the new administration is experiencing its first internal fractures over U.S. policy toward Iraq. .

Two distinct factions are emerging as President George W. Bush's team debates the best way to follow through on the administration's pledge to increase pressure on Baghdad, U.S. officials acknowledge. The biggest difference between the two camps involves the depth of U.S. support for opposition forces that are attempting to mobilize Iraqi exiles to topple the government of President Saddam Hussein. .

One faction, including representatives of Vice President Dick Cheney's office, the Pentagon and Congress, advocates an aggressive strategy designed to empower the Iraqi National Congress, the main opposition group, to launch military operations against Mr. Saddam. .

The goal would be to erode the Iraqi leader's power until he is forced, one way or another, from office. .

Iraqi National Congress leaders, who arrived in Washington last week for talks with the administration and members of Congress, are already boasting of a larger U.S. role in their activities. .

"We are very confident that the Bush administration is going to help us," said Ahmad Chalabi, one of the group's six leaders, in an interview. .

"We want to work so we can initiate actions against Saddam on the ground. We're talking about getting more military training and going back into the country, and they've agreed to that." .

The other administration faction, centered within the State Department, favors a policy of "streamlined" sanctions against Iraq and more modest support for the opposition, limited largely to intelligence, propaganda and aid for displaced Iraqis. .

The approach this side would prefer, its advocates say, stands a better chance of enticing European and Arab allies back into the U.S. policy fold. .

The State Department is also skeptical about the exiles' ability to stay united or have much impact, officials say. .

Both groups share a goal of forcing Mr. Saddam to honor the terms of the 1991 Gulf War cease-fire, especially his pledge to surrender weapons of mass destruction and stop threatening both his own people and neighboring states. .

But under Secretary of State Colin Powell, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during Operation Desert Storm and the Gulf War, the State Department is wary of the Iraqi National Congress and of the potential dangers of even low-level military support that could become open-ended and increasingly costly, U.S. officials say. .

Over the weekend, Mr. Powell endorsed U.S. support for an Iraqi National Congress mission that would be limited to "public diplomacy" and humanitarian work.

. "They can be effective in some of the public diplomacy actions they have undertaken, in broadcasting or getting information to the Iraqi people about the nature of their regime and what their leadership is costing them," Mr. Powell said on CBS-TV's "Face the Nation." "I think in terms of providing humanitarian relief."

. Mr. Powell said the administration would look at what else the Iraqi opposition might do "that makes sense and supports our policies." .

Key allies in the 38-nation coalition that went to war against Mr. Saddam, including several neighboring governments, also do not support military action by the Iraqi National Congress. .

Most of the allies have indicated that they would not provide the frontline access needed to stage covert operations, U.S. and Arab officials say. Many of these governments now advocate a policy of "engagement" with Iraq as the best way to promote change. .

Mr. Powell's team is confident that it can eventually win allied support for a streamlined sanctions policy toward Baghdad. .

That policy would lift the most punishing aspects of existing economic sanctions but leave in place an arms embargo and United Nations control over Iraq's oil revenue to ensure that the Saddam government does not use its income to develop more weapons of mass destruction. .

Mr. Powell has already discussed the policy shift with several European and Middle East governments, and U.S. officials say he will hold further talks on his first foreign trip next week to the area.

More Information on a Turning Point for Iraq
More Information on Sanctions Against Iraq
More Information on US Policy and the UN


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