Saddam hangs Bush on horns of a dilemma

AS IF George Bush did not have enough troubles, his stumbling re- election drive this week is complicated by one of the most delicate and charged decisions of his presidency: whether to re-open military hostilities against his vanquished but maddeningly indestructible foe, Saddam Hussein.

In one sense, the minuet under way between Washington and Baghdad is wearily familiar. Once again the Iraqi leader is defying the United Nations. Once again, the White House warns that 'all options are open' and has partly unsheathed the military sabre - in this case by cancelling port visits and shore leave for the Saratoga aircraft-carrier battle group on patrol in the Mediterranean.

And, for at least the fifth time since the Gulf war ended in March 1991, Mr Bush yesterday summoned his top military and national security officials to examine options to force Saddam Hussein to abide by the ceasefire terms and UN resolutions.

On each previous occasion, Saddam Hussein backed down just enough to defuse the crisis. This time, though, there are differences. The challenge is as brazen, and the standoff as tense, as any in the past. And in assessing his response, Mr Bush must weigh up not only considerations of foreign policy, but its unpredictable implications for his re-election.

Outwardly, traditional foreign policy bipartisanship is being preserved, as the Democrat presidential contender, Bill Clinton, yesterday made clear he too would support the use of force by Washington, if the UN deemed it was necessary to impose compliance.

Normally, war is a surefire guarantee of popularity for a US president. Mr Bush's approval ratings soared to 80 per cent after the Panama invasion in 1989, and higher still after Operation Desert Storm. Now, however, his greatest achievement is all but forgotten as his popularity has nosedived to under 40 per cent and the country's attention is riveted on its domestic economic problems.

If he attacks now, Mr Bush will be hard pressed to demonstrate the 'vital national interests' which he used to justify the Gulf war. Instead, he could easily find himself accused of naked political opportunism. The boost to his ratings, even Republican strategists concede, would probably be small and ephemeral at best. The anti- Bush bumper sticker to be seen around the US right now sums up his quandary: 'Saddam Hussein still has a job. Do you?'

If, moreover, he does authorise military action, the President still has to decide: How much? There is no sign the US has made the intelligence breakthrough that would permit an attack pinpointing the Iraqi leader himself: the alternatives are a limited punitive strike which would change none of the fundamentals, or the major assault that the Pentagon, when faced with earlier standoffs since March 1991, has always opposed.

And bipartisanship almost certainly has its limits. While the Democrats will back a new UN- sanctioned strike, they might be less unequivocal if Mr Bush decided to go it alone, or with the sole backing of countries like Britain and France.

But inaction carries almost equal risks. Mr Bush's stature as a world leader, his strongest re-election card, could be diminished. The hope here is that this argument will carry the day with Saddam Hussein, as close a watcher of US domestic politics as anyone, and that once again he will pull back from the brink.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Sport
footballLIVE City face Stoke, while Warnock returns to Palace dugout
Arts and Entertainment
books
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
gadgets + techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
News
i100
News
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

£28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

Clinical Negligence Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: HAMPSHIRE MARKET TOWN - A highly attr...

Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF, BGP, Multicast, WAN)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF,...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone