Role Reversal:
Bush Wants War, Pentagon Urges Caution

By Doug Thompson, Jan 22, 2003

Senior Pentagon officials are quietly urging President George W. Bush to slow down his headlong rush to war with Iraq, complaining the administration’s course of action represents too much of a shift of America’s longstanding “no first strike” policy and that the move could well result in conflicts with other Arab nations.

“We have a dangerous role reversal here,” one Pentagon source tells Capitol Hill Blue. “The civilians are urging war and the uniformed officers are urging caution.”

Capitol Hill Blue has learned the Joint Chiefs of Staff are split over plans to invade Iraq in the coming weeks. They have asked Secretary of Defense Donald Rumseld to urge Bush to back down from his hard line stance until United Nations weapons inspectors can finish their jobs and the U.S. can build a stronger coalition in the Middle East.

“This is not Desert Storm,” one of the Joint Chiefs is reported to have told Rumseld. “We don’t have the backing of other Middle Eastern nations. We don’t have the backing of any of our allies except Britain and we’re advocating a policy that says we will invade another nation that is not currently attacking us or invading any of our allies.”

Intelligenced sources say some Arab nations have told US diplomats they may side with Iraq if the U.S. attacks without the backing of the United Nations. Secretary of State Colin Powell agrees with his former colleagues at the Pentagon and has told the President he may be pursuing a "dangerous course."

An angry Rumsfeld, who backs Bush without question, is said to have told the Joint Chiefs to get in line or find other jobs. Bush is also said to be “extremely angry” at what he perceives as growing Pentagon opposition to his role as Commander in Chief.

“The President considers this nation to be at war,” a White House source says,” and, as such, considers any opposition to his policies to be no less than an act of treason.”

But conversations with sources within the Bush administration, the Pentagon, the FBI and the intelligence community indicate a deepening rift between the professionals who wage war for a living and the administration civilians to want to send them into battle.

Sources say the White House has ordered the FBI and CIA to “find and document” links between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the 9-11 terrorist attacks.

“The implication is clear,” grumbles one longtime FBI agent. “Find a link, any link, no matter how vague or unproven, and then use that link to justify action against Iraq.”

While Hussein and Iraq have been linked to various terrorist groups in the past, U.S. intelligence agencies have not been able to establish a provable link with bin Laden’s al Qaeda forces.

“There may be one,” says another FBI source. “There should be one. All logic says there has to be one, but we haven’t established it as a fact. Not yet.”

Pentagon planners privately refer to the pending Iraq conflict as a “Bush league war,” something that may be fought more for political gain than anything else.

“During Desert Storm, the line officers wanted to finish the job, wanted to march into Iraq and take out Hussein and his government, but President Bush and JOC Chairman (Colin) Powell pulled the plug on the operation,” says one Pentagon officer. “We had our chance. We had the justification. We had the support. We don’t have it now.”

Some Pentagon staffers point to last weekend’s antiwar rally in Washington, where they say the crowd included many veterans of Desert Storm.

“This wasn’t just a bunch of tree huggers and longhairs marching,” says Arnold Giftos of Huntington, West Virginia, who served in Desert Storm and who came to march. “Go to any meeting of veterans groups in this country and you will see serious discussion on whether or not we should be getting into this war.”

Reporters covering the marches on Saturday and Sunday say they counted about 500 marchers among the 30,000 who carried signs or other items identifying themselves as veterans.

“I served in Vietnam,” said Robert Brighton of Detroit, who marched in Washington. “I supported Desert Storm. I don’t support this. It’s madness.”

In addition, Capitol Hill Blue has learned that both House Speaker Dennis J. Hastert and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist have told the White House that they have “increasing” numbers of Republicans in both Houses raising doubts about the war.

“Nobody in the party wants to come out publicly and tell the President he’s wrong,” says one Hill source close to the GOP leadership, “but we don’t have the kind of unity we need on this thing. It could blow apart on us at any time.”

Public support for a war with Iraq is also slipping. In November of 2001, just two months after the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, 78 percent of Americans favored military action against Iraq. That support has slipped to as low as 52 percent in January polls. A Washington Post-ABC news poll taken last week shows Americans evenly split over Bush's handling of the crisis with Iraq.

Spokesmen for the White House, Pentagon and Congressional leadership offices would not comment on the record for this report.

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