Bush maps out global strategy against enemies

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Yesterday was a brilliant early spring day in Washington, not a dreary wartime November day in London.

But the words of Winston Churchill after the battle of El Alamein gnawed at the mind as President George Bush addressed the world from the White House lawn, just as the successful campaign in Afghanistan appeared to be winding down. This was not the end of America's war against terrorism, he might have said, and possibly not even the beginning of the end, but very definitely it was the end of the beginning.

Six months is, by simple calendar definition, not an anniversary, even when the event being commemorated is as shatteringly unforgettable as 11 September. But yesterday's ceremony here was in its way perfectly timed – a moment of stocktaking for an initial task largely completed, but also an opportunity to map out the path ahead.

As Mr Bush spoke, the 10-day battle of Shah-i-Kot, the bloodiest land engagement of the five-month-old military campaign, appeared to be winding down, although other stubborn pockets of Taliban and al-Qa'ida resistance may emerge in Afghanistan's mountain redoubts. But Osama bin Laden's terrorist infrastructure in the country has been largely demolished, and the regime that sheltered him has been ousted.

But the next act of the global campaign is only beginning, and as Mr Bush warned in some of the starkest language he has used on the subject, it will be over not just when the terrorist networks are "disrupted, scattered and discredited" but when the sources of the weapons of mass destruction they are seeking to obtain have been removed as well.

In that sense, phase two will be both similar to and very different from the first phase, which is drawing to a close. At one level, it will see the pursuit of al-Qa'ida and its operatives into other countries where they have cells or might be trying to regroup – Georgia, the Philippines and Yemen, to cite the three specified by name by the President yesterday to the assembled audience of congressmen, ambassadors, victims' relatives, rescuers and other heroes of 11 September.

As he spoke, more than 170 different national flags fluttered in the sunshine, a symbolic show of solidarity with the United States. The ambassadors from Nigeria, South Korea and Turkey offered statements of support, and in the background jets took off and landed from National airport – a reminder of how, slowly and painfully, normality of a kind has returned.

But phase two also embraces the country that Mr Bush did not mention, but was lurking behind almost every line of his speech: Iraq.

Iraq is the key to the wider war which Mr Bush is preparing. It is the link between the 11 September terrorists – whom Baghdad, so far as is thus known, did not directly support in their enterprise – and the weapons of mass destruction that other terrorists might one day use.

At the first level, the war will be long, tough but relatively straightforward. The US will provide resources and assistance to train local troops as it has done in the Philippines to aid Manila's efforts to eradicate the Abu Sayyaf radical Islamic separatists.

Much the same goes for Georgia, where Washington will send up to 150 military trainers to assist Georgian troops to gain control of the Pankisi gorge near the border with the Russian province of Chechnya, where al-Qa'ida operatives and Chechen fighters have taken refuge. A similar task faces the US forces based for the first time in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, to prevent the al-Qa'ida remnants regrouping there. Under a very vigilant American eye, Pakistan will be expected to do the same in its own rugged north-western region bordering Afghanistan.

Then there is Yemen, the ancestral home of the bin Laden family and potentially the most dangerous of all. There Washington is working, with the co-operation of President Saleh, to prevent al-Qa'ida reorganising itself in the remote frontier regions with Saudi Arabia, and thus "to avert the possibility of another Afghanistan".

Iraq, though, is different. Just how far advanced Washington's plans to achieve "regime change" and get rid of Saddam Hussein are is unclear. But Mr Bush has rarely sounded more determined. He said states such as Iraq which sponsored terrorism were also seeking weapons of mass destruction and the terrorist hungered after these weapons and would employ them "without a hint of conscience". These facts, the President declared, "are undeniable and must be confronted". In preventing the spread of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, "there is no margin for error, no chance to learn from mistakes. Our coalition must act deliberately, but inaction is not an option."

There it is in a nutshell. "Deliberately" signals that Iraq will not be attacked tomorrow, and President Bush's reference to the coalition implies that America wants to build a wide coalition to support, and preferably participate, in any assault. Indeed, the leader of the sole superpower, which is under constant accusations of acting unilaterally, yesterday was bending over backwards to appear – for one day at least – a multilateralist.

Mr Bush mentioned no fewer than 20 countries in his speech – not just the old and new faithfuls such as Britain and Pakistan, but countries which have been harshly critical of America's perceived penchant for going it alone.

France was praised for sending a quarter of its navy for supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. Germany was singled out; even Denmark, not the most prominent of US allies, was mentioned twice. And in a twist on the usual patriotic flourish, Mr Bush ended his peroration with the words: "May God bless our coalition."

The exhortation was an effort to rekindle the mood so clear in the first weeks after the attacks, when the world rushed to support the US numbed by grief and outrage. Since then ardour has cooled. So Mr Bush hailed the "mighty coalition of civilised nations" which was defending the common security of the civilised world. But his subtext was also plain: if necessary, Washington was also ready to go it alone in this war whose beginning is now at an end.