At End of Road, Bush Team Speaks with One Voice

Since drawing a line on the combat phase of the Iraq War, the US administration has slackened the pace of its global policy-making. Instead of making decisions on the gallop and acting on the instant, the Bush team is more inclined now to leave its options loose and apply modular solutions at greater leisure to variable situations. The modular approach looks like being applied to the Middle East and Persian Gulf, for example, in line with some of the strategies developed for the Far East and the Indian subcontinent.


DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Washington sources and experts discern this approach in seven key global arenas: Iran, Iran, North Korea, China, Israel, Syria and the Palestinians.


Iraq: The White House, National Security Council, State Department and Pentagon have decided in unison on changes in the US troop deployment in Iraq. By the end of the year, the force will be cut by about half – from 125,000 to 60,000-70,000 – and concentrated in the Baghdad region and the sensitive cluster of Shi’ite cities, Najef, Karbala, al-Kut, al Hillal, Nasirieh and perhaps al-Amarah near the Iranian border. An additional US troop presence will be maintained in five or six Iraqi air bases, Talil in the south, Rashid – Baghdad’s military airfield – Habaniyeh, west of Baghdad and H2 in western Iraq near the city of al-Rubatah, ready for action in any contingency inside Iraq and beyond its borders. At those bases, American air and special forces will be deployed ready to strike as needed in surrounding regions from the Caspian Sea in the north down to Saudi Arabia and Iran in the south.


Europe: Carving Iraq into three military zones, each policed by the troops of a different country, provides Washington with a variety of options – some in distant places. The only non-American party sure of its post-war role is the UK, which has been granted military control of most of southern and southeastern Iraq administered from its headquarters in Basra. But the British lack sufficient forces in-theater to extend the rule of law and order to those cities, the strategic Shaat al-Arab waterway and the southern oil fields. They have therefore entered into fast-paced negotiations with Italy, Spain and the Netherlands for military forces to beef up British contingents in southern Iraq.


The isolation of France, Germany and Russia is also underscored by denying these anti-war governments any part of the European role in post-war Iraq. Further underlining the trio’s exclusion is Washington’s approach to a group of East European countries led by Poland, as well as India and Pakistan to undertake security duties in western Iraq and some parts of the north.


DEBKA-Net-Weekly has discovered that Washington’s indignation over French conduct was exacerbated by the news that, when Saddam Hussein and his family were on the point of fleeing Iraq, President Jacques Chirac ordered the French embassy in Baghdad to issue him with forty French passports. Passports issued by all European Union members give their holders the freedom to move around Europe without restriction. Washington has requested serial numbers of the passports issued to Saddam, but the French are refusing to hand them over.


Russia: The presence in Iraq of Polish, Ukrainian or Albanian military will serve to accentuate the divide between New and Old Europe drawn by Donald Rumsfeld before the war, as well as showing up Russia’s reduced influence on the course of events in Iraq and the Middle East at large.


DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in Washington and Moscow say Vladimir Putin’s persistence in attempting to “apply the brakes” to Iraq’s reconstruction and rehabilitation will only make the Bush administration even more determined to make sure Russia is denied any economic advantages in the post-war era.


That was the message that US undersecretary of state John Bolton delivered during a recent visit to Moscow. “Someone in Russian intelligence persuaded Putin that Moscow’s economic and financial situation was such that it could afford to revive its contest with the United States for superpower pre-eminence,” a senior US official told DEBKA-Net-Weekly. “Putin bought the thesis so completely that he started the race even before the war in Iraq. Now he can’t afford to give up.”


India and Pakistan: The feelers Washington put out for the deployment of Indian, Pakistani and perhaps Singaporean forces in Iraq may also be paying off. Preceded by American diplomatic efforts to bring about reconciliation between the two enemies, the initiative has resulted in a surprising relaxation of tensions between them and willingness to talk on the part of Indian prime minister Bihar Vajpayee and Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf.


Both leaders perceive America’s war in Iraq and its reconstruction program as the first moves in their own strategic backyard – the Persian Gulf and Middle East. India and Pakistan are perfectly aware that Washington may well stage its next forays in the direction of Iran and Syria. Vajpayee and Musharraf see they would be better off mending fences, even partially, and fitting in with the Bush administration’s tactics to have any hope of influencing them.


Turkey: The deployment of Indian or Pakistani soldiers in Iraq would tell Turkey plainly that it is being cut out of America’s grand schemes because of its decision to prevent the United States from opening a northern warfront, thereby prolonging the campaign by 10 to 14 days and ultimately enabling Saddam Hussein and his sons to escape the country. For more than 50 years, Washington regarded its alliance with Turkish military commanders as the bedrock of US strategic policy in the region. Sending troops from another Muslim country into Iraq will show Ankara the United States has strategic alternatives. It will also drop a heavy hint to Turkish generals that change at home – however drastic – will be necessary to restore their country’s pride of place in US strategic thinking.


Israel and the Palestinians: Change is also called for in regard to this conflict.


DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Israeli and Palestinian sources report that US expectations are receding of secretary of state Colin Powell being able to achieve a breakthrough in his talks Sunday, May 11, with Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian prime minister Mahmoud Abbas. US officials seriously doubt whether Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, and his internal security minister Mohammed Dahlan are capable of nullifying Yasser Arafat’s control over key Palestinian intelligence and security services – and through them over Palestinian terrorism.


The US administration no longer entertains much hope of Abu Mazen and Dahlan going to war against the Hamas and Islamic Jihad, especially in the Gaza Strip.


As a result, a fresh option is being weighed in Washington. It is to bypass the top Palestinian leadership by inviting Palestinian businessmen or academics for talks in Washington to consider establishing a US civil administration in Palestinian Authority areas on the model to be set up in Iraq. Several senior US administration sources told DEBKA-Net-Weekly that this may be the only way left for scotching terrorism and attaining an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement that would lead to a Palestinian state. An American administration in Palestinian areas would act as guarantor for a Palestinian security force that would fight terrorism, the only mechanism capable of reconstructing the Palestinian Authority in such a way as to assure Israel that terrorism can end. Sharon would then be able to consent to the painful concessions sought by Washington, such as the uprooting of settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.


Rumors flew about in Jerusalem and Ramallah on Thursday, May 8, that Powell intended announcing the creation of a permanent US supervisory team headed by state department official Richard Erdman, a former political counselor at the US embassy in Tel Aviv, to monitor the implementation of the “road map” to peace.


The division of labor within the US government in carrying out the “open option” policy is clear. Powell will be in charge of developing diplomatic options; Rumsfeld will oversee the military ones. At least that’s the picture from Washington. The scene in the field is a bit different. Meanwhile, Powell will arrive in the region on a softening-up mission with all sides aware that the man with the big stick, Rumsfeld, is poised to pounce should the going get tough.


The same scenario is being played out in the dangerous nuclear game involving Iran, North Korea and China.

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