A new emphasis was discerned in the speech made by US President George W. Bush Tuesday, Aug 29, to the American Legion’s annual convention in Reno, Nevada. He announced he had “authorized our military commanders” to confront “Iran’s murderous activities,” and added: “We will confront this danger before it is too late.”
Most tellingly, he charged Tehran with providing “training and weapons for extremists in Iraq.” Extremists – not insurgents; therefore al Qaeda was lumped in with Tehran’s recipients.
The US president went on to warn: “Iran’s active pursuit of technology that could lead to nuclear weapons threatens to put a region already known for instability and violence under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust.”
Bush used the strong word “holocaust” 24 hours after French president Nicolas Sarkozy spoke of a “catastrophic” alternative between “an Iranian bomb or the bombing of Iran.” He was the first Western leader to frankly refer to the risk Iran was running of a US attack by proceeding with the development of a nuclear weapon. Tehran had received a previous warning from the Kremlin in Moscow in March.
But by slamming Iran’s misdeeds at this time, the US president was less intent on building up the pressure on its rulers and more focused on looking inward to Washington at the political battle ahead in Congress over the progress report which Gen, David Petraeus, commander of US forces in Iraq, and US ambassador Ryan Crocker are due to submit in mid-September.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Washington sources report that Bush is marshaling his arguments to rebut the rising campaign for an early US military pullback from Iraq. Bringing Iran and its “murderous activities” in Iraq to the fore as an enemy on a par with al Qaeda is intended to draw the sting from the demands for the untimely withdrawal of American troops from Iraq and portray them as irresponsible in the face of a major foe.
Clinton and Biden come round
Our sources report that this tactic is well synchronized with another White House political maneuver designed to give the Petraeus report a soft landing in Washington.
Bush’s aides have persuaded the leading Democratic presidential contender Sen. Hillary Clinton and her rival, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee Joseph Biden, to go along with the US generals’ request for more time in Iraq, but for a very small troop reduction.
In a speech at Kansas City on Aug. 20, Clinton agreed that some elements of the strategy in Iraq appeared to be achieving success, but a military solution was unattainable and the best way to honor the service of American troops was to “bring them home.”
She went on to say: “We’ve begun to change tactics in Iraq, and in some areas, particularly in Al Anbar Province, it’s working.” “We’re just years too late changing our tactics. We can’t ever let that happen again. We can’t be fighting the last war; we have to be preparing to fight the new war.”
And if that statement was judiciously ambivalent, the next day, another Democrat, Sen. Joe Biden left no room for doubt:
“This war must end,” his statement said. “But it matters profoundly how we end it. As we leave, we must do everything we can not to leave behind chaos that undermines American security for a generation. That requires a lasting political settlement.”
Although Democratic Senator Barak Obama stands by his public demand for a rapid US troop exit from Iraq, the Bush administration is satisfied with having blunted in advance the negative fallout to the Petraeus Report from some of the most powerful Democratic voices on Capitol Hill.
Playing for more time to win in Iraq
The Bush administration expects a congressional resolution it can live with on these general lines: Gen. Petraeus and the US army have made progress and achieved successes in the war in Iraq. But they have also encountered difficulties which make more time necessary for operations to attain desired goals. Deliberations are in train to determine how the administration and army should make use of the extra time to be placed at their disposal.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Washington sources disclose that while Senator Biden was approached directly by administration representatives, Clinton was reached through advisers, President Bill Clinton‘s secretary of state Madeleine Albright and his national security adviser Sandy Berger.
But the most effective approach which most influenced Clinton’s stance on Iraq was made through Richard Holbrooke, her choice as secretary of state if she makes it to the Oval Office, and Martin Indyk, her senior Middle East adviser.
Dennis Ross, undersecretary of state for the Middle East under the first President George W. H. Bush and Bill Clinton was asked to use his influence with Obama as his adviser on the Middle East and Iraq. Ross was willing, but nothing came of this approach. The administration also turned to Bush Senior and his old secretary of state James Baker, co-author of the Iraq Study Group recommendations on Iraq.
According to our sources, while the principle of more time has been accepted by these figures, they are still arguing over specifics, such as the Iraqi towns and sectors to be evacuated, the bases to which the US Army should redeploy, how many troops should leave, and when? In other words, what Iraqi assets should the United States keep?
Republican contenders bitterly resent Bush flirtation with Democrats
President Bush has seriously put backs up among Republican presidential candidates. They are furious over what they see as his bid to curry favor with the opposition by taking its leaders into his confidence on a key issue like the Petraeus report, while leaving important Republican leaders on Capitol Hill, his partisans through thick and thin, out in the cold.
Senator John McCain and Rudy Giuliani find this intolerable.
Their sentiments have been broadcast by Charlie Hill, a close foreign affairs adviser to George Schultz in the 1980s, when he served as secretary of state, and Professor Martin Kramer, a distinguished Oriental expert with worldwide academic prestige.
They have said that bringing Democratic presidential contenders and their advisers into the White House loop gives their campaigns a leg up at the expense of the prospects of Republican candidates.
Worse, the Bush White House is giving the impression of passing the decision-making scepter on Iraq on to Democratic aspirants. By jumping the gun more than a year before the presidential election, a Republican president is held to be offering a kind of vote of confidence in their chances of beating the Republicans.