American Elections Dictate Timing
Of An Attack On Iraq
From Roland Watson in Washington
The Times - London

The rhythms of the American electoral cycle mean that if President Bush fails to attack Iraq at the beginning of next year, he may have missed his chance.
The Pentagon is unlikely to consider launching thousands of US troops across the desert in the following summer months, when temperatures rarely fall below 100F.
There is an opportunity to strike in the autumn of next year, officials say, but waiting until then risks the fighting spilling over into 2004, leaving President Saddam Husseinís fate unresolved at the start of a presidential election year, something that Republican political strategists are loath to contemplate.
Despite Mr Bushís early rhetoric against Saddam, his room for manoeuvre has always been limited by the calendar. Reports of an invasion being launched this autumn were always likely to be wide of the mark. Americans go to the polls in early November for the critical mid-term elections and Republican strategists do not want their quest to regain control of the Senate wrecked by the unpredictability of war.
Although Mr Bush enjoys the tacit support of many leading Democrats for taking on Saddam, that could change in the ruthlessly partisan atmosphere likely to prevail in 2004. Mistakes and reverses in a war that left thousands of Americans dead could hurt Mr Bush in a presidential campaign, especially if exploited by a canny Democrat who presented criticism as patriotism.
There are early signs that Mr Bush will not enjoy a free political ride. Joe Biden, the Democrat chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said yesterday that he wanted to question administration officials in public this autumn about their proposals for Iraq.
Mr Bush has public opinion with him in targeting Iraq, but there are signs that is weakening. A recent Gallup poll found that support for sending troops into Iraq has fallen from 74 per cent in November to 59 per cent. White House officials want to use support while it is there.
A Fox News poll found that 75 per cent of Americans would support Mr Bush authorising the CIA to use deadly force to overthrow Saddam, a step that he has not taken. Fifty-five per cent think that Washington should try to assassinate Saddam.
Mr Bush set a clock ticking in his State of the Union address in January, when he labelled Iraq as part of an axis of evil, along with Iran and North Korea. Mr Bush said that the trio posed a ìgrave and growing dangerî. He said that time was not on Americaís side and added: ìI will not wait on events while dangers gather. I will not stand by as peril draws closer and closer.î
By the time that Mr Bush stands before Congress next January, he will need to demonstrate that he is living up to his own rhetoric, and acting. Yet the Administration remains deeply divided about what precisely the mission should be, let alone how to accomplish it.
Personality clashes have also frustrated the war planning. Donald Rumsfeld, the Defence Secretary, believes strongly that the mission should be focused entirely on Saddam. The toppling of the Iraqi dictator should mark the successful completion of the operation, he believes.
Colin Powell, the Secretary of State, wants a broader brief, to include the transition to a democratic successor regime, the kind of nation-building that Mr Bush derided in his 2000 presidential election campaign. The success in Afghanistan has emboldened some in the Administration, who say that it shows that intervention will be welcomed if it is swift and decisive. Officials talk increasingly about the search for an ìIraqi Karzaiî, referring to the new President of Afghanistan.
In the past the Presidentís National Security Advisers have thrown their weight around in debates between the Pentagon and State Department. The role assumed by Condoleezza Rice is different. She takes a back seat in debates, acting as a private summariser for the President.
The arrangement pitches Mr Rumsfeld against General Powell, a faultline that is likely to grow as planning intensifies. Mr Bush confirmed this week that he was playing a central role. ìIím involved in the military planning,î he told a press conference.
However, some diplomats in Washington doubt whether an invasion will happen. One said: ìI know he wants to do it, but when you look at everything involved, I still donít see how he does it.î,,3-352826,00.htm


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