The Battle before the US-Iraq War ; Senate Hearings This Week on War with Iraq Signal That, on Key Political Fronts, the Fight Has Already Begun

Article excerpt

As Congress begins to focus on the nature of a US war with Iraq, lawmakers might keep one thing in mind: In some ways, that war has already begun.

On the US side, the war involves developing an American political consensus that such a fight is in the national interest, as well as settling disputes in government about what kind of attack plan will be needed. One side effect of this effort: surprisingly open discussion about how and when the US military might prosecute such a campaign.

On the Iraqi side, war means efforts to defuse momentum for a major US attack - by wooing broad Arab popular support, among other measures.

It is often said that war is the extension of politics by other means. In the case of the US and Iraq, the opposite may also be true.

"The key battle is already under way, and is largely political," writes Anthony Cordesman, a military expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, in a net assessment document presented to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this week.

Iraq cannot hope to withstand a concerted conventional attack from US forces, points out Mr. Cordesman. Thus the stakes in the current geopolitical wrangle, for Mr. Hussein, are stark: victory or defeat.

"Iraq has been involved in a political struggle against the US and its neighbors ever since the ceasefire in the Gulf war that is an extension of war by other means," says Cordesman.

In Washington, the two days of hearings on the subject of Iraq held this week by the Senate Foreign Relations panel were explicitly meant to start a national discussion around key aspects of what would be a Gulf war redux.

"We need to know everything possible about the risks of action and of inaction. Ignoring these factors could lead us into something for which the American public is wholly unprepared," wrote committee chairman, Sen. Joseph Biden (D) of Delaware, and ranking minority member, Sen. Richard Lugar (R) of Indiana, in an op-ed article this week.

Why little opposition in Congress

In general there seems little opposition in Congress to the notion of another war with Hussein, although that could change as preparations for physical battle become more apparent. Most lawmakers are convinced that the Bush administration is very serious about removing Hussein, since some administration officials have talked about doing so almost from their first days in office.

Most may also believe that the administration will succeed, or at least produce something that could be defined as a victory. …


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