Tug of War Washington Style

The USA conquered Iraq as though it were child's play, don't you agree? Invasion of an entire country, the overthrowing of its regime, the rapid doing away with a 450,000-strong Iraqi army-all in a matter of four weeks. With few losses, too. That is something to be proud of.

And that is just the mood that holds sway over the influential officials of the Bush administration, who all believe the New American Century has arrived. The people who think Iraq is the first bone in a game of domino to be followed by a series of forced replacements of unwanted regimes with wanted ones.

George Bush, let us give him his due, has not lost the ability to listen to the rest of his entourage, who keep telling him two wars in the Moslem East is too much for his first term at the White House. These people think America cannot label the UN a prehistoric petrifaction just because it did not sympathize with America's opinion of Iraq. What this "dove wing" of the president's entourage is trying to tell him is that it is necessary to learn to listen to the choir of opinions voiced in the UN and prefer many-sidedness in the effort to solve global problems to the ecstasy of self-admiration.

Putting it differently, the US administration is going through a war in its ranks. Force rule advocates vs. pragmatics. Isolationists vs. supporters of the idea of cooperating with the world community. Donald Rumsfeld vs. Colin Powell as the main ideologists of confronting tendencies. Even though the border between these two ideological centers of influence inside the US administration is vague, whichever of them wins in the next few weeks will be influencing George Bush's general foreign policy. And the fate of many countries of the world.

By the way, the administration had already split by the time the Iraqi war broke out, and the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime did nothing to ease the tension of internal conflict. It seemed that after the headlong "liberation" of Iraq, the advantage was on Rumsfeld's side, at least for a short while. However, experienced observers of Washington's political games assume the US secretary of state still hopes to make the president see the victory as an opportunity to establish contacts with the UN and Europe, activate the peacekeeping effort in the Mideast, and maybe even restore the States' reputation in the Islamic world.

Ahmed Chalabi, the leader of Iraq's oppositionist National Congress, has lately been acting the part of a fishing float in the underwater struggle inside the White House. The Pentagon sees him as the head of the provisional Iraqi administration, an antipode successor of Saddam Hussein's, while the State Department shudders at the sight of this unreliable dark horse, which, on top of everything else, is not a popular figure in Iraq.

As a result, the events that took place looked like a tug of war. Despite diplomats' objections, the Pentagon lands Chalabi and his retinue in Iraq on the eve of yet another attempt to form a transitional power structure by gathering an opposition meeting in Nassiriya. Infuriated, Powell personally blocks Chalabi's participation in a tent conference and demands that Zalmai Khalilzad, the US envoy to Iraq, keep the debates off this particular individual. Chalabi is left to present the matter as his own reluctance to communicate with fellow countrymen in Nassiriya.

Later, Powell is indirectly supported by American lawmakers. The Congress votes for sending the billions allocated for Iraq's reconstruction via the State Department, not via the Pentagon; even though they say the recommendations the White House issued the day before pointed in the opposite direction.

The discord about the role of the USA after the fall of Saddam came to a head when the administration launched its verbal attack against Syria.

Indeed, there was a feeling that as soon as Baghdad fell, the US troops were almost nearly told to turn left and march to Damascus. All of a sudden, Syria was accused of "opening its border" for political refugees from Iraq; the fact that the 700-odd kilometers of the border lie across the desert and therefore cannot possibly be blocked was not mentioned. It was unexpectedly announced that Damascus had been testing chemical weapons. Nothing was said about four other Mideastern countries (Algeria, Egypt, Iran and undoubtedly Israel) being considered to own such weapons or have an opportunity to produce them.

It is difficult to shed the suspicion that the purpose of the massive verbal attack was to launch a military campaign against Syria, the next target threaded to the "axis of evil"-a campaign the Pentagon had prepared and Washington "doves" had suspended. The neoconservatives in Bush's entourage make no secret of the fact that the toppling of Saddam was just a prelude to the States' effort to establish control over the region. From the point of view of these high-ranking people, some of which are close to Israel's ruling bloc, Likud, the invasion of Iraq was to be followed by removal of Syria as Israel's last strategic opponent.

Only it wasn't. Having reminded Damascus of the "new reality" in the region, Colin Powell nevertheless pledged that Syria need not fear-the US special task force is not coming yet, or if it is, it is coming to get Saddam Hussein personally.

But this does not mean George Bush has made a final decision on the subject. Judging by the impressions of the first two years of his presidency, the basic instinct is pushing him towards the New Century, i.e. the ideologists of a belligerent America that is the sole ruler of the world. Fortunately, whenever this doctrine threatens to lead the country's foreign policy into a deadlock, Bush's pragmatism takes over and he turns for advice to the secretary of state and his associates from the competitive camp.

And so we see not only the US administration is split in half. The salt of Washington's present-day reality is that the president seems to suffer from something that looks like a politically split personality.

This syndrome however might soon become less poignant, if not come to naught. Beginning with September 1, the USA launches into an official presidential campaign. From then on, as they ironically put it in the corridors of Washington, the current carriers of wisdom for Bush, namely Rumsfeld and Powell, will be replaced by Karl Rowe, the White House's main political adviser. But what his positions are in the sphere of foreign policy as applied to the election campaign is not yet clear.

It isn't clear either if the war in Iraq will be the president's trump card in his struggle to win over the electorate. The experience of Bush Sr. shows it takes no time for the leaves to float down from the laurels.

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Author`s name: Editorial Team