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Bush had Iraq in his sights before he became President

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Bush had Iraq in his sights before he became President

By Mary Dejevsky

21 March 2003



How the American administration moved, after 11 September 2001, from its pledge to hunt down Osama bin Laden "dead or alive" to launching all-out war on Iraq is one of the imponderables of international diplomacy. According to new inside accounts, the rout of the Taliban in Afghanistan was less a prelude to war on Iraq than a temporary distraction from it.


George Bush arrived in the White House with Iraq already in his sights. The United States Congress had set "regime change" in Iraq as an objective, but Mr Clinton had neither the desire nor the opportunity to act on it. He spent the last months of his presidency vainly trying to bring peace to the Middle East.


Mr Bush, who came to office with an "ABC" policy ("anything but Clinton"), wanted as little as possible to do with the Middle East, which he saw as intractable. But Iraq became a preoccupation. The attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon confirmed his view that the greatest threat was where terrorists and a "rogue" regime came together. Iraq was back in the frame.


When Tony Blair visited Washington days after 11 September, he found Mr Bush determined to strike not only al-Qa'ida in Afghanistan, but Iraq as well. Mr Bush was persuaded that Afghanistan should be tackled first and only then should planning turn to Iraq. Consequently, after the Taliban were overthrown, Mr Bush's attention swung back to Iraq.


The White House was divided over the wisdom of seeking international support for this venture, but by August 2002 Mr Bush had decided to take the United Nations route on Iraq. The one remaining question was whether he should call formally for a UN resolution that authorised the eventual use of force – and then whether there should be just one resolution or two. Only 24 hours before Mr Bush addressed the UN General Assembly, British officials were confident that their argument – for a single UN resolution – had prevailed.


Mr Bush makes his decisions, apparently, rather like a diner contemplating a sushi restaurant conveyor belt. He watches as the options are paraded before him, then grabs one that matches his view, and another, and perhaps another, even if they are not necessarily compatible. The 28th draft of his speech was what Mr Bush delivered at the UN on 12 September 2002. The crucial sentence relating to the resolution, though, was missing from his autocue. Knowing it should be there, he improvised, with one crucial error. He called for "UN resolutions", in the plural.


What seemed a tiny distinction took on huge importance in talks over the resolution that became 1441. France and Russia insisted on two resolutions – one to get weapons inspectors into Iraq; the second to authorise military action, if necessary. That same dispute, essentially, is what finally scuppered UN diplomacy.


British diplomats felt they understood Mr Bush and enjoyed his trust. And, in fact, most of the post-Clinton relationships have worked well, except for one of the most crucial, that between Britain's urbane Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, and the swashbuckling Pentagon chief, Donald Rumsfeld.


Their non-comprehension was finally buried on a flight between Washington and Brussels. The secret of dealing with Mr Rumsfeld, one insider said, was not to allow yourself to be intimidated, to get straight to the point. But understanding between the two is still not perfect, as was shown by the public difference last week over whether British troops would go into battle without UN or British public support.


The Washington War Cabinet


President Bush's inner circle of war advisers includes key members of his foreign policy team who worked on the invasion of Afghanistan.


They are Dick Cheney, the Vice-President, Donald Rumsfeld, the Defence Secretary, Colin Powell, the Secretary of State, and Condoleezza Rice, the National Security Adviser.


His military and security service advisers, including General Tommy Franks, the Central Command chief, and George Tenet, the CIA director, are also permanent members of the War Cabinet.


Andy Card, the White House chief of staff, and Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary, provide a close link between the cabinet and the media. Yesterday President Bush met his war council to receive briefings on results on the strike against Iraqi leaders.


On Wednesday afternoon, Mr Tenet told the Cabinet that US intelligence had a probable fix on the residence where Saddam Hussein and other Iraqi leaders would be sleeping in the early-morning hours in Baghdad.


Since the terrorist attacks of 11 September President Bush has had regular early-morning "home security" and intelligence briefings Robert Mueller, from the FBI director, and Mr Tenet.


The Bush War Cabinet meets at least once day at the White House and keeps in regular contact with the Blair Cabinet in London.

21 March 2003 15:07

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$400 billion dollar war tab.


America's $400bn war bill


The US is spending more on this war than it raises in taxes, paving the way for a nasty surprise for its taxpayers, writes Randeep Ramesh


Thursday March 20, 2003


War costs, but it is unclear who will pick up the tab. George Bush is not financing this campaign through taxation. Instead the president is cutting taxes - sending a welfare cheque to the wealthy - and raising military spending. The slowdown in the American economy has seen many states, who have to balance their budgets, cut back on social spending. The White House made it clear that there would be no federal bail out for these programmes. The president is reheating Reaganomics - cutting back on welfare, overcompensating with defence spending and offering big tax cuts to the rich at the expense of the poor.

Mr Bush's strategy is risky, if not reckless. A $1.5 trillion dollar tax cut over a decade is by anyone's estimation a large sum even before the cost of a war against Iraq and its aftermath are added onto it. Thoughtful Republicans like John McCain have asked for the cuts to be delayed until "the administration has a better understanding of the costs of war and peace."


In the last century, the cold war ended when the wall came down. In the new millennium, a hot one has begun. But the Soviet Union was a giant adversary. Iraq is a bomb-blasted state crippled by sanctions. Its military budget barely tops $1bn. America's, by contrast, is $400bn. As the Bush administration makes clear Saddam is just the start: Iran, North Korea are next and others will follow.


To finance the new wars, the White House is spending more than it collects in taxes. The result is budget deficits. More government debt will push up long term interest rates - which is bad for growth. Despite the Bush White House's unilateralism, America relies on the rest of the world to finance its deficits. The rest of the world was happy to do so when the US economy was strong, but investors' cash might go elsewhere if America no longer looks as if it is booming. America borrows hundreds of millions of dollars from the rest of the world each day to cover its savings gap. The Bush plan envisages an even bigger hole in the coming years, but will the rest of the world want to lend more and more cash, and if so at what cost?


The drip, drip of bad financial news and poor economic figures out of Wall St and Washington has already unsettled nerves. The internet bubble has burst and America's economy looks a little more ordinary again. Its hi-tech sector - once the country's biggest employer - now has fewer staff than the distinctly old-fashioned food products and transportation equipment manufacturing sectors. What if investors rush out of the dollar and dollar assets. The result is that the greenback weakens: it has already fallen by more than 10% in the past year. Exporters might like it, but a cheaper dollar will not see America return to trade surpluses. Instead it may fuel inflation - a worry in any war where oil is an issue.


Mr Bush will then be left with rising interest rates and more expensive imports. Should Mr Bush continue in office, he might end up like his father and start raising taxes to reassure capital markets that the US was acting to reduce its borrowings.


Seen in this context, the president's trillion dollar tax cut could end up as a political record: managing the greatest happiness possible for the smallest number of people. Perhaps worst is that the president's fiscal plan is a piece of bad politics masquerading as good economics. The administration aims to wage war and is buying more even arms for the most powerful fighting force the world has ever seen.


The increase in the defence department alone matches what the world spends on international aid every year. Ominously Mr Bush has pushed through the largest rises on weapons since Ronald Reagan faced down the Evil Empire of the Soviet Union in 1982. Then Washington had NATO and others willing to shoulder costs. In the last Gulf war, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Japan and Germany shared most of the $60bn costs of the conflict. This time the coalition of the willing does not have such large pockets. In fact the United States is trying to buy support with billion dollar sops.


In the end, the American public will end up paying for war. Unfortunately they have not been told how just large the bill could be.

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