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Bush Worries Allies and Mideast with his Zeal for Iraq War

17 August 2002

George W. Bush's eagerness to take on Iraq has fanned the flames of Middle East anger, rankled the United States's closest allies and spread unease in Republican ranks.

But for James Zamorski, a 50-year-old architect from Chicago, the case for war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq is pretty simple, really.

"We support the President, and if his people say he's a threat, then we support going after him," Mr. Zamorski said as he and his family were taking vacation snapshots yesterday outside the south lawn of the White House.

Opinions about a possible war vary greatly among Americans, with many expressing fears about the potential human cost, getting drawn into a protracted Middle East conflict or alienating allies.

But with the one-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks nearing, polls show almost seven of 10 Americans support military action against Iraq. And 59 per cent are ready to use ground troops to get the job done, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll released this week and conducted in the first week of August.

There is growing concern, nonetheless, that Mr. Bush may be rushing into a quagmire by moving too swiftly to target Iraq, without making a solid case to Americans or the rest of the world.

The poll, for example, shows that Americans want Mr. Bush to make sure he has the backing of the U.S. Congress before taking any action. This week, several respected Republicans spoke out against the Bush administration's high-profile war planning.

The growing cast of Republican skeptics includes former secretary of state Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser under Mr. Bush's father, former president George Bush.

"An attack on Iraq at this time would seriously jeopardize, if not destroy, the global counterterrorism campaign we have undertaken," Mr. Scowcroft warned in an opinion piece published this week in The Wall Street Journal.

An attack might cause Iraq to retaliate with chemical or biological weapons in a bid to draw Israel into a wider Middle East war, said Mr. Scowcroft, who has provided occasional advice to the Bush administration.

He also noted there is a "virtual consensus in the world" against an attack, making a war more costly and militarily challenging.

Mr. Kissinger, likewise, cautioned about international reaction, noting that a war would be a long drawn-out affair that shouldn't be undertaken without careful thought and planning.

He suggested that a war now could prove to be a watershed event in U.S. policy. "Military intervention should be attempted only if we are willing to sustain such an effort for however long it is needed," he said in a commentary in The Washington Post.

Mr. Bush took the criticisms in stride, speaking yesterday to reporters at his ranch in Crawford, Tex. "I am aware there are some very intelligent people expressing their opinions about Saddam Hussein and Iraq," he said. "I listen carefully to what they have to say. There should be no doubt in anyone's mind that that man is thumbing his nose at the world, that he has gassed his own people, that he is trouble in his neighborhood, that he desires weapons of mass destruction."

Despite the President's strong rhetoric, Secretary of State Colin Powell and some of his top advisers are reportedly taking steps to slow down the momentum for war among the hawks in the administration. Mr. Powell is said to be leading efforts to spark international debate about what kind of regime should replace Mr. Hussein's military dictatorship.

Iraq yesterday asked the United Nations for further technical talks in Baghdad before allowing weapons inspectors back into the country that has locked them out for the past four years. Renewed inspections are key to staving off a war.

The 10-page letter from Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan appears to fall short of UN demands that Baghdad send a "formal invitation" for arms inspectors to return to Iraq before additional substantive talks could be held.

British jets are currently helping the United States patrol the no-fly zones in Iraq. Britain also made the largest non-U.S. military contribution against Iraq in the Persian Gulf war.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair is facing dissent within his government over a possible war and widespread public opposition.

Support from Britain is crucial because the country is the United States' most important military partner, capable of providing more firepower than any other ally and rallying European support.

Like Britain, Canada and most other U.S. allies have expressed strong reservations about overthrowing Saddam Hussein by force before United Nations efforts to defuse the crisis have been exhausted. Foreign Minister Bill Graham has said Iraq should be given a chance to comply with UN conditions for resuming weapons inspection before considering military action.

The Bush administration's escalating military planning has also deepened the rift between the United States and some of its Middle Eastern friends. Saudi Arabia, for example, has warned the United States that it won't be able to use its soil and bases as a staging ground, as it did during the gulf war.

Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, meanwhile, one of the most outspoken Republican critics of war in Congress, insisted there is no hard evidence that Iraq possesses nuclear weapons.

"You can take the country into a war pretty fast, but you can't get out that quickly, and the public needs to know what the risks are," Mr. Hagel said.

For Mark Wasserbauer, 44, of Rochester, N.Y., who is vacationing in Washington with his young family, the risks of war outweigh the present danger. Mr. Wasserbauer is too young to have fought in Vietnam, but he's worried that Iraq has all the characteristics of a conflict that could be long and nasty for his country.

"It has the potential to be another Vietnam," he said as a gazed toward the White House. "It's a terrible idea to attack Iraq. They should fix the other problems in the Middle East, like the Palestinian situation."

Barrie McKenna, Washington.
Published in the Toronto Globe & Mail © 2002 Bell Globemedia Interactive Inc

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