Commentary: Dubya's Rubicon

By ARNAUD DE BORCHGRAVE, UPI Editor at large   |   Jan. 29, 2003 at 4:13 PM
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WASHINGTON, Jan. 29 (UPI) -- The most experienced counter-terrorist investigator in the Western world is France's Jean-Louis Bruguiere. He is not campaigning against a U.S. regime change invasion of Iraq. But he is saying that Islamic militants are recruiting hundreds of jihadis to carry out terrorist attacks as soon as the war balloon goes up.

He also sees the bulk of these threats emanating from groups in Chechnya.

Many of these terrorists were trained in how to make chemical weapons in al Qaida camps in Afghanistan and/or in the Soviet Red Army during the Cold War.

Bruguiere has searched high and low and found no evidence of the Iraq-al Qaida link that recently moved from conventional wisdom in the White House to a stated fact in President George W. Bush's State of the Union address.

War on Iraq without approval from the U.N. Security Council, Bruguiere says, will exacerbate anti-American sentiments throughout the world and act as a force-multiplier for transnational terrorists.

"Something very big is brewing," Bruguiere said after Bush's speech. Transatlantic intelligence coordination led to the recent arrests of terrorist suspects in Spain, Italy and Britain.

"We have evidence of a great deal of recruitment by Islamist radicals whose plans appear to be linked to the expectation of war in Iraq," said Italian Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisano.

The Czech Republic's intelligence chief has been informed that some of the suspects arrested in Germany and Britain had transited through Bratislava, in Slovakia, and Prague, but had originated from somewhere in Central Asia.

Bruguiere described transnational terrorism in a recent French magazine article as "the Hundred Years War of modern times." A globalized nihilistic force, he wrote, "is everywhere and nowhere" and totally dedicated to the destruction of Western societies.

All Western European intelligence services, including Britain's MI6, now agree that an invasion of Iraq would be not only a distraction from the war on terror but a catalytic agent for would-be jihadi terrorists from all over the Muslim world and from Muslim communities in the West.

The European perception is almost the exact opposite of the Bush administration's view of world events.

"We are in danger of being overtaken by events because history is moving too fast," says Bruguiere.

Hardliners in the Bush administration -- and their Likud allies in Israel -- are convinced that Saddam Hussein's downfall will be a major setback for global terrorism. To which Europe's counter-terrorist community responds by saying that Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan was tantamount to kicking a hornet's nest instead of capturing it and neutralizing it. The botched Tora Bora operation 13 months ago scattered the hornets throughout Pakistan, a U.S. ally, and beyond to Kashmir, Chechnya, Malaysia, Indonesia, Yemen, East Africa, even Latin America.

Bruguiere also believes that the Caucasus -- not only Chechnya -- is becoming a "neo-Afghanistan" that is more threatening for Europe than for the United States. Muslim extremists who sympathize with al Qaida but are not terrorists tell European journalists they are hoping the U.S. invades Iraq. "This will demonstrate once again that Muslims are being targeted and thus will allow them to rally Muslims to their point of view and recruit new militants," said leftist Algerian author and journalist Mohamed Sifaoui.

So what does the European counter-terrorist community propose to do about Saddam and his concealed weapons of mass destruction?

He is back in his box, they argue, and subjected to the daily humiliation of U.N. inspectors officially authorized to run roughshod over Iraq's sovereignty. A few more months and the inspectors may get lucky with U.S. intelligence to guide them. Alternatively, Iraqi generals may screw up their courage and gang up on Saddam Soprano.

All such talk is dismissed by the war hawks as the prattle of appeasers.

But in recent months, prominent U.S. generals with extensive Middle Eastern experience, who can hardly be taxed with appeasement, have warned about the pitfalls of a U.S. invasion of Iraq. The latest recruit to their ranks is the retiring NATO supreme commander, Air Force Gen. Joe Ralston, a former deputy chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Ralston -- like generals "Stormin' Norman Schwarzkopf, supreme commander of the first Gulf war against Iraq in 1991, and Anthony Zinni, former commander-in-chief of U.S. forces in the Middle East -- says that a solution to the bloody Israeli-Palestinian deadlock is a much higher priority than regime change in Iraq.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has decided otherwise.

In any event, as Julius Caesar said on crossing the river Rubico in 49 BC, "Iacta alea est" -- the die is cast. He preferred the dignity of war over the humiliation of a process. In doing so, he invaded Italy and provoked the Second Civil War from which sprang the genesis of modern European culture.

Bush has no intention of succumbing to the U.N. process. Psychologically at least, he has crossed his Rubicon. He does not plan to upend the biggest deployment of U.S. military power since the Gulf War short of Saddam's annihilation.

The emergence of a post-war democratic Iraq is a Walter Mitty fantasy. All one can do is hope that Iraq, an artificial multi-ethnic state created after the First World War, does not meet the fate of Yugoslavia, another artificial multi-ethnic state launched after World War II.

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