Will the US Have to Fight Alone?

From midday Monday, March 10 – early morning in Washington, the odds shortened sharply for an early launch of the American war offensive against Iraq – according to debkafile‘s military sources. Some sources predicted it would go forward even before the crucial Security Council voting session on the American-backed second resolution on Iraq – or shortly thereafter.
The consensus among our Washington sources is that, in making this decision, the Bush administration will be swayed by a number of untoward developments – if they cannot be arrested.
— The failure of the American diplomatic drive to obtain Security Council majority backing for a US-backed resolution that lays down the deadline of March 17 for Saddam Hussein to make good on his obligations to the UN;
— Signs that Tony Blair, under pressure in his own Labor party, may soften on the deadline date for Saddam to disarm;
— Promises by France and Russia to exercise their right of veto to kill the resolution.
If all these events come to pass, President George W. Bush will think very seriously of ordering American troops into action against Iraq, without waiting any longer for UN backing or international approval. Should that happen, leading opponents of America’s war against Iraq and Saddam Hussein like French president Jacques Chirac, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Russian President Vladimir Putin, may find they have defeated their own objective. The further they isolate the United States and block Bush’s every diplomatic effort to procure international legitimacy, the more they impel him towards immediate, unilateral war action. As the leader of a superpower, the US president cannot afford to back off without losing face.
American looks like being forced by its diplomatic reverses to step into war on the wrong foot militarily, isolated internationally, and left to fight almost single-handed.
Pivotal developments in the last few hours have led Washington to this crossroads:
1. British prime minister Tony Blair has been threatened with a revolt in his cabinet and party if he orders the British army into battle alongside the United States without Security Council backing. America’s primary war ally is in dire straits, which was apparent in the statement by foreign secretary Jack Straw in Manchester Monday that his government would be willing to consider a minor adjustment in the date of the Security Council ultimatum to Saddam Hussein.
In Washington, this suggestion was seen as the first hesitant hint from Blair that he may back away from his total commitment to Bush and his war against Saddam Hussein. Even a minor adjustment in the ultimatum date would result in an over-long postponement of the war to the end of 2003, a major victory for the Iraqi ruler without a shot fired and a disastrous setback for the Bush government. Anyway, it is hard to see the United States maintaining more than half of its combat units idle in the Middle East and Persian Gulf for almost another year.
The happenings in 10 Downing Street also have military fallout. If Blair is constrained by his political misfortunes from sending British troops in with the first US-led invasion wave – even if they arrive a few days later, the American war command will have to start the offensive short of the promised 40,000 British troops, pilots, commandos and sailors.
As revealed in the last issue of DEBKA-Net-Weekly No, 100, the British 1st Armored Division is assigned to capturing all southeast Iraq, including the region’s most important oil fields and the province of Khozistan abutting on Iran. British commandos are already playing a key role on the western front. They were intended to go on to be part of the main American-British thrust from the west against Tikrit and Baghdad.
The non-participation of British troops in the first stages of the campaign will also affect allied aerial and naval deployments. The US war command will have five aircraft carriers at its disposal instead of six and 450-480 warplanes instead of 600.
This is a worst-case scenario and may not come about. Blair may decide to put his reputation and standing on the line and order the British army to go into action together with the Americans. Until this happens, however, the Bush team will be having sleepless nights.
2. These setbacks, real and potential, are having an adverse effect on other fronts, military and diplomatic. In Ankara, for instance. Washington had been assured that Recept Tayyup Erdogan once he took over as Turkish prime minister would quickly clear the way for the landing of 62,000 US troops in Turkish bases to open a second front in northern Iraq. But on Monday, March 10, Erdogan, clearly influenced by the diplomatic reverses suffered by Washington, sounded as though he was developing an incipient case of cold feet.
The troops of the US 4th Armored Division were accordingly told they must continue to languish aboard US freighters after weeks of cruising off Turkish shores pending permission to land from Ankara, while most of their equipment was unloaded and transported to the Iraqi border. As a result of this agonizing delay, those troops even if permitted to land eventually will have to take precious days to get organized for their mission and match up with their equipment.
Even worse, they may be diverted to Kuwait. In either case, these units will not be around to take part in the initial stage of the offensive.
C. In the diplomatic arena, the US and Britain have suffered a stinging defeat in their campaign to drive a second Iraq resolution through the UN Security Council. What they needed was 9 votes out of 15 and no veto. What they had in the bag by Monday night, March 10, was only the four votes of the US, Britain Spain and Bulgaria in favor, five opposed, including France and Russia who promised to veto the motion if it gained a majority, five waverers and one abstention, Pakistan. Instead of isolating France, as the leader of the anti-war camp, President Chirac succeeded in isolating the US and Britain.
D. debkafile‘s Gulf sources reveal that Chirac spent most of Monday trying to persuade Saddam Hussein to make a grand gesture and, in an address over Iraqi television, announce the dismantling of an important weapon system of mass destruction and a major concession to the UN inspectors. The presidential palaces in Paris and Baghdad were still making the telephone wires hum as we wrote this.
E. Intelligence and Pentagon officials in Washington reported seeing Iraqi soldiers placing explosives in the north Iraqi oil fields and preparing to blow them up. Similar testimony came in from the southern oil fields.
debkafile and DEBKA-Net-Weekly reported on February 15 that al Qaeda does not pose the only threat to Middle East oil; Saddam Hussein is preparing to destroy the oil fields of his own country. For this purpose, he has deployed in the northern city of Kirkuk and its oil fields fighters of the armed Iranian opposition group Mujaheddin Khalq, trained by Iraq in suicide and commando tactics. He has armed them with a large supply of explosives and also possibly chemical and biological substances.
The same report also revealed that a second Muhaddin Khalq had been sent to the big oil fields of Mosul.
In the light of all these setbacks, Bush and his team must take one of their hardest decisions since attaining the White House. Their options are shrinking as fast as the time at their disposal. Launching the war within days would mean fighting short-handed – at least in the early stages.
When the war is over, thorny questions will be asked about how American diplomacy came to fail so abjectly and how a war effort, planned in every political, military and logistical detail for more than a year, came to be launched before the armed forces were fully prepared.
Finally, while justly proud of capturing al Qaeda’s No. 3 commander, the United States will find that adverse fortunes on the Iraq front will have an effect on its other front, the global war on international terror.
Israel is also bound to be affected by whatever is decided. Official spokesman have repeated ad nauseum that the US war on Iraq is not Israel’s war, that the dangers to this country are minimal and that they will be dealt with by the Americans. Not surprisingly, these statements have never carried much weight with most Israelis. They are even less trusting in such outside guarantees now that grave uncertainties hover over United Nations, British and Turkish capabilities for action. It stands to reason that no nation facing a military threat from a neighbor, including missiles, warplanes, drones and suicides bearing chemical, biological and maybe radioactive weapons, can afford to play down these dangers or entrust its security to any hands other than its own.
This dictum Israel brushed off in the first Gulf war in 1991 and paid for it dearly in the 1993 Oslo Accords and its consequence: the Palestinian confrontation declared in 2000 and still raging. Israeli leaders look like making the same mistake again in 2003.

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