US unease lingers after deadline: As the White House tries to decipher the motives behind Baghdad's defiance, lessons are being drawn from the outcome of the Gulf war - World - News - The Independent

US unease lingers after deadline: As the White House tries to decipher the motives behind Baghdad's defiance, lessons are being drawn from the outcome of the Gulf war

AT FIRST glance it could be another January in Washington, just two years ago. Once again showdown approaches over an ultimatum to Iraq. Once again US officials are trying to decipher belligerent, semi-hysterical pronouncements from Baghdad. Once again the Pentagon has been holding clinical, quietly mancing briefings, and once again CNN has been centre-stage in the action, with an hour-by-hour countdown to 'Deadline in the Desert'.

Completing the time-warp, the network which became part of the Gulf war yesterday showed grainy grey video footage of the shooting down of the Iraqi MiG - complete with pilots' voice-over - on 27 December which provoked the current confrontation, reminiscent of those films of smart-bomb and cruise-missile wizardry in which America exulted at the start of Operation Desert Storm.

But as the dying Bush administration points out, this is not the prelude to another full-scale conflict in the Gulf. Perhaps because there have been at least three similar run-ins with Saddam Hussein over the last 18 months, perhaps because come 20 January it will no longer be Mr Bush in command, the atmosphere is different. Most obviously, there are not half a million allied troops poised to launch a ground war.

Yesterday afternoon the President departed for a previously scheduled weekend at Camp David: not quite business as usual, since he had called in his top security adviers and then visited CIA headquarters for a briefing on the crisis, but nothing to resemble the nerve-wracking wait when the UN deadline expired on 15 January 1991.

And as a confused day ended events seemed to bear out the Mr Bush's studied unflappability. Once again, as time ran out, Saddam's regime was combining violent rhetoric with grudging concessions on the ground where it mattered. White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater reported 'a good deal of movement' involving both missiles and aircraft. Barring surprises, this latest face-off appeared to be ending with a whimper, not a bang.

Even so, a sense of unease was detectable. As so often before, Saddam's motives baffle. 'You tell me,' replied General Colin Powell, the Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, when asked what the Iraqi leader was up to. Some diplomats expect another 'cheat- and-run' anti-climax. But for most of the day the expert consensus had been that this time a major military strike against Iraqi targets was genuinely on the cards.

Clouding everything is mystery over President Saddam's mind, where apparently suicidal behaviour has a perverse logic of its own. The outgoing CIA chief, Robert Gates, this week ventured three possible explanations for the challenge: a need to deflect Iraqi attention from mounting domestic hardship, pressures from within the leadership clan, or a belief that the presidential transition here offers him a chance to shake free of UN-imposed constraints.

Mr Clinton publicly supports Mr Bush and insists that the change of administration would make 'no difference to the dedication of the United States' to the terms which President Saddam was forced to accept after his Gulf war defeat.

But if the confrontation were suddenly to escalate again over the next 11 days, an incoming president committed to focusing 'like a laser'on the economy would face an excruciating and distracting foreign policy choice: lower the heat and hand President Saddam what he would claim as moral victory, or move the country anew towards war with Iraq.

A retaliatory strike against missiles in southern Iraq would raise more questions about why the West is so reluctant to take comparable action to punish Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic for violation of the no-fly zone aimed at protecting other Muslims, far closer to home in former Yugoslavia.

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape
music
News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
filmMatt Damon in talks to return
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Life and Style
tech... and together they're worth at least £100 million
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig is believed to be donning skies as 007 for the first time
Arts and Entertainment
Fringe show: 'Cilla', with Sheridan Smith in the title role and Aneurin Barnard as her future husband Bobby Willis
tvEllen E Jones on ITV's 'Cilla'
Life and Style
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
tech(but you can't escape: Bono is always on your iPhone)
Sport
Tim Wiese
sport
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
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

Programme Test Manager

£400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are currently seekin...

IT Network Manager - Shepherd's Bush, London

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Network Manager - Shepherd's Bush...

Secondary supply teachers needed in Peterborough

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Secondary supply teac...

Modern Foreign Languages Teacher

£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Group: Full time German Supply Teacher...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week