- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 5, 2002

Oh, no not again. In a repeat of recent history, it looks like the Bush administration is going wobbly on Iraq. That would make it the second Bush administration to be afflicted by a lack of backbone when it comes to Saddam Hussein, and we don't have Margaret Thatcher around this time to stiffen the old presidential spine. Back in January, when the president's State of the Union address caused such consternation in Europe and among Democrats here, Iraq was clearly on his list of targets in the war on terrorism. In fact, he promised the American people that he would not stand idly by while the threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction continued to grow. Military action appeared to be imminent.

Now, however, the Joint Chiefs of Staff has reportedly concluded that the United States is not ready to go to war with Iraq, with U.S. forces stretched thin from the Balkans to Afghanistan to the Persian Gulf. A leaked report of a top-secret White House briefing by Gen. Tommy Franks ran in The Washington Post on May 24, asserting that at least 200,000 troops would be needed to displace Saddam Hussein. Gen. Franks, as head of Central Command, would be the man to oversee military action. In addition, there's great concern that an invasion to topple Saddam will involve urban combat in Baghdad with an enemy armed with biological and chemical weapons.

These leaks may, of course, be nothing more than the external manifestations of an internal policy debate within the administration in this case, within the Department of Defense. But if that's the case, it may be time for the hawks to start doing some leaking of their own if they want to stay in the game.

Unfortunately, it all seems too familiar. Not only does the administration's waffling bring back bad memories of the two previous administrations, it fits a pattern. The Iraqi National Congress (INC), the main opposition group, which ought to figure prominently in any plans for regime change in Iraq, has been jerked around by the Bush administration in a disgraceful fashion.

Funding for the INC, which was appropriated by Congress during the Clinton administration, a total of $1.3 million a month, has been disbursed without a contract since last summer. As a consequence, the INC found its funding interrupted in March without warning when the State Department's accounting office objected. Furthermore, the administration is balking at any spending directed at the INC's intelligence-gathering program, which is pretty much the only way to get valuable information out of Iraq presumably because its work has made the CIA look pretty inefficient. (Surprise, surprise.)

In addition, during his recent trip to Europe, Mr. Bush seemed more than ready to appease his hosts, who remain adamantly opposed to military action against Iraq. "I have no war plans on my desk," the president said in Berlin. "We've got to use all means at our disposal to deal with Saddam." At the very least, he did not do a good job of selling whatever plan he has.

In the upcoming spring issue of European Affairs magazine Gary Schmitt, executive director of the Project for the New American Century, rehearses the compelling case for taking military action against Iraq. Saddam Hussein is a tyrant who will stop at nothing to stay on the throne. He has documented ties to terrorists, hates the United States, possesses chemical and biological weapons, and has tried to develop nuclear arms as well. And he may have been involved in some way in the attacks of September 11.

Even so, writes Mr. Schmitt, "Certainly, the administration could do a better job of arguing its case. In this regard, Washington needs to understand just how big a step it is asking the allies to take in supporting the Bush Doctrine, with its contemplation of pre-emptive strikes and regime changes." ("On the other hand," Mr. Schmitt continues correctly, "it is also true that Europe has not been especially receptive to hearing the case being made by Washington.")

What has to happen is that President Bush needs to take charge of his own policy. Or at least his national security adviser does. Mr. Bush continues to talk tough, but when he is finished, the bureaucrats at the Pentagon, at State and at the CIA get to work and pick his policy apart. There is no administration-wide policy on Iraq. Just this weekend at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Mr. Bush issued a strong warning to "unbalanced dictators" Saddam, who else? "that the United States will be ready for pre-emptive action, when necessary to defend our liberty and defend our lives."

Sounds great, when do we begin?

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