- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 28, 2001

The White House yesterday tried to dampen growing speculation that the United States would take military action against Iraq immediately after Afghanistan, suggesting such an attack was by no means certain or even likely.
"The president is focused on phase one of this campaign against terrorism," said White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer. "Anything that may come subsequent to that would be something the president would discuss at the appropriate time if and whenever that would come to be."
Mr. Fleischer emphasized that President Bush was merely reiterating long-established policy on Monday when he said, in response to reporters' questions, that Iraq should allow inspectors to search for weapons of mass destruction. That had been the U.S. position since inspections ceased during the Clinton administration.
"Nothing changes what the president said," Mr. Fleischer said.
In recent weeks, administration spokesmen have stated that the war on terrorism is bigger than Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda group.
Earlier this week, Mr. Bush said, "Afghanistan is just the beginning," although he did not mention Iraq specifically in that context.
But Undersecretary of State John Bolton has said that "beyond al Qaeda, the most serious concern is … Iraq's biological-weapons program."
The Bush administration is reluctant to publicly rule out a more comprehensive military campaign against Iraq, partly because it wants to keep Iraqi President Saddam Hussein guessing about U.S. intentions. On the other hand, the White House does not want speculation about a broadening of the war to further destabilize the Middle East and deal another setback to Israeli-Palestinian relations.
A senior administration official yesterday told The Washington Times that Mr. Bush was keeping all options open and had made no decision about the specific components of the next phase of the war against terrorism.
"It's important for people to not focus on one country in particular," the official said. "There are a lot of different options on the table, instruments that are at the disposal of the U.S. and international community with regard to the fight on terrorism. I mean, everything does not have to be a military option."
The official added that while Afghanistan is the current focus of the war, planners in the administration are mulling the next phase.
"That's what good government does, what planners do. They think about 'Well, what are the other possibilities? What are the other options?'" the official said. "But nobody has settled on anything."
That's because the administration constantly must reassess the shifting military, political and humanitarian ramifications of the campaign in Afghanistan, which is by no means over.
"All these things are connected and affect the war on terrorism," the official said. "So the next phase is not something you look at in isolation."
But such ambiguity was criticized by the former chief U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq, who said Mr. Bush must be more explicit as it was obvious Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
Richard Butler, former head of the U.N. Special Commission on Iraq, dismissed as inadequate Mr. Bush's statement that Saddam will "find out" the consequences of failing to let in weapons inspectors.
"What does, 'he'll find out' mean? We need more clarity," Mr. Butler said on Australian radio today. "What is meant by those remarks? Making policy on the run with a one-liner is not sufficiently revealing."
Mr. Butler added that the United States already knew about Iraq's weapons capabilities.
"When Saddam threw out the inspectors three years ago, I reported that there were still weapons there," Mr. Butler said.
"And in the three years of no inspections, there are multifarious reports saying that he has continued to develop more, so the U.S. knows that quite well."
While the administration has no compunction about using the war against terrorism as an occasion to renew calls for weapons inspections and a strengthening of economic sanctions against Iraq, military operations appear more likely in other nations.
For example, the U.S. has provided advisers to the Philippines, which has mounted attacks against terrorists within its borders. Somalia is also on the short list of potential targets.
But even if the military war against terrorism spreads to other nations, it remains unclear whether American forces would get as deeply involved as they are in Afghanistan.
While the savagery of the September 11 attacks has provided the Bush administration with a broad mandate to root out bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorist network from Afghanistan, it has not necessarily laid the foundation for equally ambitious military campaigns against other nations.


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