Washington hopes war will get message to other nations
David E. Sanger
NYT Monday, April 7, 2003
WASHINGTON Shortly after Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld issued a stark warning to Iran and Syria recently, declaring that any "hostile acts" they committed on behalf of Iraq might prompt severe consequences, one of President George W. Bush's closest aides stepped into the Oval Office to warn him that his unpredictable colleague had just raised the specter of a broader confrontation.Bush smiled a moment at the latest example of Rumsfeld's brazenness, recalled the aide. Then he said one word - "Good" - and went back to work. It was a small but telling moment on the sidelines of the war. For a year now, the president and many in his team have privately described the confrontation with Saddam Hussein as something of a demonstration conflict, an experiment in forcible disarmament. It is also the first war conducted under a new national security strategy, which explicitly calls for intervening before a potential enemy can strike. Bush's aides insist they have no intention of making Iraq the first of a series of preventive wars. Diplomacy, they argue, can persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons programs. Intensive inspections can flush out a similar nuclear program in Iran. Threats and incentives can prevent Syria from sponsoring terrorism or fueling a guerrilla movement in Iraq. Yet as images of American forces closing in on Baghdad played on television screens, some of Bush's top aides insisted they were seeing evidence that leaders in North Korea and Iran, but not Syria, might be getting their point. "Iraq is not just about Iraq," said a senior administration official who played a crucial role in putting the strategy together. It was "a unique case," the official said. But in Bush's mind, the official added, "It is of a type." In fact, some administration officials are talking about the lessons Bush expects the world to draw from this conflict, and they are debating which conflict he will move on to when it is over. The president seemed to allude to those lessons in his radio address on Saturday morning, saying his decision to oust Saddam was part of his plan to "not sit and wait, leaving enemies free to plot another Sept. 11 - this time, perhaps, with chemical, biological or nuclear terror." But how to turn that broad principle into policy is already emerging as the next fault line in the administration, as well as in its relationships with the nations it alienated on the way to the Iraq conflict. Some hawks in the administration are convinced that Iraq will serve as a cautionary example of what can happen to other states that refuse to abandon their programs to build weapons of mass destruction, an argument that John Bolton, the undersecretary of state for arms control, has made several times in recent speeches. The administration's more pragmatic wing fears that the war's lesson will be just the opposite: that the best way to avoid American military action is to build a fearsome arsenal quickly and make the cost of conflict too high for Washington. Secretary of State Colin Powell has been the most vocal in insisting that Iraq is about Iraq and nothing more. "I think it's a bit of an overstatement to say that now this one's pocketed, on to the next place," he said as the war began. But Powell was taken aback - not for the first time - by Rumsfeld's comments about Iran and Syria. A senior aide said Powell had cautioned the administration against any public talk of a "domino effect," fearing it would further inflame Arab governments and fuel North Korea's considerable insecurities. "His view is that we've made enough enemies in the past five months, and we don't need to go looking for another fight," one of his senior advisers said. In fact, only Rumsfeld seems willing to name potential adversaries these days. But several senior administration officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said they saw signs that some countries were reconsidering their behavior. Iran may be newly cautious, the administration argues. After Rumsfeld issued his warning on March 28 that the United States would not tolerate the entry into Iraq of the Badr Corps - which he said was "trained, equipped and directed by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard" - the incursion was apparently cut off. Syria is a very different case. In an interview published in a pro-Syrian Lebanese newspaper, Bashar Assad, Syria's 36-year-old president, who inherited the post from his father three years ago, said the war proved that Bush only "wanted oil and wanted to redraw the map of the region in accordance with the Israeli interests." He urged Arabs to learn from Lebanon's history of "resistance." Stephen Cohen, a Mideast specialist at the Institute for Middle East Peace and Development in New York, said: "The Arabs understand that this war is happening at two levels - on the ground in Iraq, and then an ideological war once the ground war is over. They know how the first one is going to turn out, and they are debating how to wage the second." Assad seemed to suggest in his interview that Syria would be a new target for Bush, because it "is the heart of Arabism." Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, not surprisingly, described the agenda very differently. "You don't treat every case with the identical remedy," she said Saturday. Even when the problem appears the same - weapons of mass destruction that could be passed to rogue states or terrorists - "there are lots of ways" to accomplish the president's goals, she said. "In North Korea, we're dealing with the issue in one particular way," she said, "with Iran, we're dealing with it in other ways." But she also noted the president's belief that there is "a positive agenda for moving forward that could be catalyzed by Iraq." Several of the hawks outside the administration who pressed for war with Iraq have already moved to the next step. James Woolsey, the former director of central intelligence, said on Wednesday that Iraq was the opening of a "fourth world war," and that America's enemies included the religious rulers in Iran, states like Syria and Islamic terrorist groups.
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