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The hawks fall out
By Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON - Faced with the rising costs and complications of occupying Iraq, the hardline coalition around US President George W Bush that led the drive to war with Iraq appears to be suffering serious internal strains.

On the one hand, neo-conservatives, who were the most optimistic about postwar Iraq before the US-led invasion, are insisting that Washington cannot afford either to pull out or to surrender the slightest control over the occupation to the United Nations or anyone else.

To a rising chorus of calls by Democrats for Washington to invite the world body to take over at least political control of the transition to Iraqi rule in exchange for a commitment of money and peacekeepers, the neo-cons are urging the administration to send more US troops instead.

Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, on the other hand, is dead-set against deploying yet more troops to join the 180,000 now in Iraq and Kuwait. And while he, like the neo-cons, opposes conceding any substantial political role for the UN or anyone else, his preferred option is to transfer power directly to the Iraqis as quickly as possible, even at the risk that reconstituted security forces would be insufficiently cleansed of elements of the former regime's Ba'ath Party.

"It's clear now that Rumsfeld is not interested in 'remaking Iraq'," said Charles Kupchan, a foreign-policy analyst at the Washington, DC, office of the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations. "He wants to get the hell out of there."

The growing divide between the two groups emerged publicly over the past month as Secretary of State Colin Powell, backed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appeared to persuade Bush and his National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice that the financial costs of the occupation and the strain it was putting on US military forces were simply too much for Washington to bear on its own or with the support of the United Kingdom and the other members of the current "coalition of the willing".

Key Republican lawmakers brought back much the same message from the August recess. They reported that their constituents were increasingly concerned about how badly things appeared to be going in Iraq. As a result, Bush gave Powell the authority to negotiate a new UN Security Council resolution that would lighten the load on Washington, even if that meant giving up substantial control over the occupation. The only caveat was that the US military retain complete control over security.

Bush's decision marked a signal victory for Powell, who until then had lost virtually every major internal administration battle regarding the "war on terrorism" to an unbeatable coalition of unilateralist hawks after the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and the Pentagon.

That coalition has comprised the neo-conservatives in the Pentagon and Vice President Dick Cheney's office, traditional Republican machtpolitikers such as Rumsfeld and Cheney, and the Christian Right, whose views have often been pushed by Bush's top political adviser, Karl Rove.

While their common unilateralism still unites them in opposition to the UN taking any control from the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq, the hawks appear now to have fallen out over whether Washington should increase US military forces and financial investment in order to keep the world body out and commit itself to a serious effort at "nation-building".

The divide burst into the open recently when neo-cons outside the administration, seconded by Republican Senator John McCain, launched a concerted attack, centered in the Rupert Murdoch-owned Weekly Standard and other sympathetic media, on Rumsfeld's opposition to increasing US troops in Iraq.

"The choices are stark," wrote Standard editor William Kristol (a former top McCain adviser) and his frequent collaborator, Robert Kagan. "Either the United States does what it takes to succeed in Iraq, or we lose in Iraq."

The article, "America's responsibility", argued that it was illusory to believe that foreign troops from India, Pakistan or Turkey, which would presumably be made available under a new UN resolution, were capable of doing what was required in Iraq. Recent CPA initiatives to bring former Iraqi intelligence and police officers back into service risked "catastrophe", it added.

"If we lose [in Iraq], we will leave behind us not blue helmets but radicalism and chaos, a haven for terrorists, and a perception of American weakness and lack of resolve in the Middle East and reckless blundering around the world," they warned.

While they did not attack Rumsfeld by name, another article in the same issue did. Tom Donnelly, a defense analyst based at the hub of the neo-con network, the American Enterprise Institute, assailed the defense secretary's "mulish opposition to increasing the number of American soldiers in Iraq". He also derided the notion that "an Iraqi army or police force" would be able to secure the country's borders or "even control traffic in Baghdad" without a much larger US force for protection.

Titled "Secretary of stubbornness", the article argued that Rumsfeld's position "is a prime reason the Bush administration has had to go begging to the United Nations".

But Rumsfeld is sticking to his guns, asserting that he also has few illusions about both the usefulness of foreign troops and even the willingness of other countries to provide them. He stresses instead that a new UN resolution would at least provide much more money for reconstruction, while Washington speeds up the training and deployment of Iraqi security forces and begins to devolve power from the CPA to Iraqis themselves. "Our hope is that we can begin to transfer the political responsibility quite rapidly," he said.

The open clash between Rumsfeld and the neo-cons over the US commitment to "nation-building" has long been simmering below the surface. Indeed, even as US troops were driving toward Baghdad last March, neo-conservatives such as Kristol and Kagan were expressing concern that Rumsfeld and Cheney were more interested in crushing perceived US enemies than in trying to "remake" them.

But Washington's difficulties in stabilizing Iraq have forced the difference into the open, especially since many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are seeking scapegoats for the administration's failure to anticipate the postwar challenges.

Bush's request that Congress approve a jaw-dropping US$87 billion to fund US operations in Iraq and Afghanistan in the coming year has spurred the hunt for a scapegoat, which is currently centered on Rumsfeld and his neo-con deputies, Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith.

In such an atmosphere, the divide between the two forces will be difficult to bridge.

(Inter Press Service)
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