One of the Republican party's most respected foreign policy gurus yesterday
appealed for President Bush to halt his plans to invade Iraq, warning of "an Armageddon
in the Middle East".
The outspoken remarks from Brent Scowcroft, who advised a string of Republican
presidents, including Mr Bush's father, represented an embarrassment for the administration
on a day it was attempting to rally British public support for an eventual war.
The US national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, yesterday spelled out what
she called the "very powerful moral case" for toppling Saddam Hussein. "We certainly
do not have the luxury of doing nothing," she told BBC Radio 4's Today program.
She said the Iraqi leader was "an evil man who, left to his own devices, will
wreak havoc again on his own population, his neighbors and, if he gets weapons
of mass destruction and the means to deliver them, all of us".
But while Ms Rice was making the case for a pre-emptive strike, the rumble
of anxiety in the US was growing louder. A string of leading Republicans have
expressed unease at the administration's determination to take on President Saddam,
but the most damning critique of Mr Bush's plans to date came yesterday from Mr
The retired general, who also advised Presidents Nixon and Ford, predicted
that an attack on Iraq could lead to catastrophe.
"Israel would have to expect to be the first casualty, as in 1991 when Saddam
sought to bring Israel into the Gulf conflict. This time, using weapons of mass
destruction, he might succeed, provoking Israel to respond, perhaps with nuclear
weapons, unleashing an Armageddon in the Middle East," Mr Scowcroft wrote in the
Wall Street Journal.
The Israeli government has vowed it would not stand by in the face of attacks
as it did in 1991, when Iraqi Scud missiles landed on Israeli cities. It claims
it has Washington's backing for retaliation.
Mr Scowcroft is the elder statesman of the Republican foreign policy establishment,
and his views are widely regarded as reflecting those of the first President Bush.
The fierceness of his attack on current administration policy illustrates the
gulf between the elder Bush and his son, who has surrounded himself with far more
radical ideologues on domestic and foreign policy.
In yesterday's article, Mr Scowcroft argued that by alienating much of the
Arab world, an assault on Baghdad, would halt much of the cooperation Washington
is receiving in its current battle against the al-Qaida organization.
"An attack on Iraq at this time would seriously jeopardize, if not destroy,
the global counterterrorist campaign we have undertaken," Mr Scowcroft wrote.
Both the American and British governments are expected to time a public relations
effort to rebuff the critics and build public support in the immediate run-up
to an invasion.
Senior Whitehall figures say that crucial in that effort will be evidence that
President Saddam is building up Iraq's chemical biological warfare capability
and planning to develop nuclear weapons.
The US defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, confirmed yesterday that the Pentagon
was considering a change in the status of a navy pilot shot down over Iraq 11
years ago. He is currently classified as "missing in action".
There have been reports that Lieutenant-Commander Michael Speicher was still
being held by Iraq.
If he was reclassified as a prisoner of war, it would represent an additional
source of conflict between Washington and Baghdad.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002