Analysis: No Political Gains for Bush

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WASHINGTON, July 23 (UPI) — The reported deaths of Saddam Hussein’s sons Uday and Qusay at the hands of U.S. military forces will have little effect on President George W. Bush’s credibility particularly if attacks on U.S. military forces continue, political analysts told United Press International.

Bush emerged from the Oval Office Wednesday morning for the first time since Saddam’s sons were reported killed a day earlier by U.S. military forces after a 4-hour firefight in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. The president, accompanied by presidential envoy L. Paul Bremer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, stood under cloudy skies in the White House Rose Garden and declared that the former regime was gone for good.


“Yesterday, in the city of Mosul, the careers of two of the regime’s chief henchmen came to an end. Saddam Hussein’s sons were responsible for torture, maiming and murder of countless Iraqis. Now more than ever, all Iraqis can know that the former regime is gone and will not be coming back,” Bush said.

Uday and Qusay Hussein, Saddam’s sons, were said to be ruthless and known to have personally carried out and ordered killings and mass executions of dissidents. But neither was believed to have been directing the attacks against U.S. forces since Bush declared the major combat operations over in May. The Husseins’ elusiveness gave hope to those who wanted them restored to power.

The deaths of the two men comes as the White House faces stinging criticism over discredited intelligence reports and the increasing attacks on U.S. forces that have killed almost 40 troops since Bush declared an end to hostilities in May.

In the hours following the firefight that claimed not just Uday and Qusay but possibly Qusay’s 14-year-old son and a bodyguard, at least one soldier from the 101st Airborne Division was killed in Mosul and seven others were injured by a roadside bomb. Another soldier from the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment was killed and a soldier and a contractor wounded by a bomb west of Baghdad. Also Tuesday, a Red Cross convoy was attacked on the road between Baghdad and relatively peaceful Basra.

Ted Galen Carpenter, vice president for Defense and Foreign Policy Studies at the Cato Institute in Washington, told UPI that the two fatalities will have little effect on Bush’s credibility when it comes to the Iraqi war.

“I don’t think it has a dramatic or direct bearing on credibility at this point,” Carpenter said. “I think what it may do is put to a test the administration’s argument that the armed resistance we’ve encountering in Iraq is almost entirely the product of die-hard elements of the old regime. If that is the case, then the deaths of Uday and Qusay will be a major blow to the morale of the insurgent forces and we should see a decline in the number and severity of the attacks in the next several weeks.”

Carpenter said that if the pace of attacks remains steady it may prove the resistance has a broader base than just the old regime.
He said that while it is desirable to find Saddam, it is not an overwhelmingly necessary goal for the administration to reach.
“Because as long as he’s out there, it’s almost the same as having Osama bin Laden out there. He is a symbol. But the reality is that Saddam’s sons were the ones in charge of logistical operations so there is little evidence of Saddam himself ever being an expert on that. So I think in operational terms, getting his sons was more important than getting him,” Carpenter said. “In symbolic terms getting him his more important.”

Peter W. Singer, a foreign policy studies fellow at the Brookings Institution, said that the deaths make it evident that the regime is not returning to power and proves that coalition forces have cracked the loyalists’ circles. He said it was unclear what effect it would have on the daily drumbeat of attacks against troops, particularly those in the so-called Sunni triangle — a 30-square-mile region inhabited by Sunni Muslims and Baath Party loyalists.

“At least from their location, they were more on the run than serving as any kind coordinating group for these operations,” said Singer of the Hussein brothers. “Being in Mosul is a little bit different from them being in the Sunni triangle where the attacks happened.”

Another challenge for the administration is proving to skeptics and the American people at large that the Iraqis killed in the Mosul raid were actually Uday and Qusay.

Carpenter said it would be profoundly embarrassing for the military commanders to fake the deaths. On Wednesday, the Bush administration was weighing whether to release photos of the dead men taken after the attack.

The deaths of the Husseins would mark a second turning point in the Iraqi military operation — the first being the toppling of Baghdad two months ago. It is also key for the Bush White House, which spent the last 10 days defending its handling of intelligence reports that claimed Saddam had attempted to buy uranium from Niger. Singer said the sons’ deaths will have “zero effect” on Bush’s credibility.

“There is no connection between the capture of the sons and statements made that played up and politicized intelligence before the war. The only thing that they’re related is that they’ve used this opportunity of media focus on one to try and shift attention on the other,” Singer said.

Those claims, which were included in the president’s State of the Union address, were later discredited. It drew a loud and angry outcry from Capitol Hill lawmakers who charged Bush had used disinformation to move the country into war. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose government had initially turned over those documents to the United States, traveled to Washington last week to help defend the president.

Blair told a joint session of Congress that history would eventually prove the two nations had made the right decision in forcibly disarming Saddam.

After more than a week of reporters asking who was responsible for the line making it into Bush’s speech, Steve Hadley, a deputy National Security Council adviser, came forward during a briefing with reporters on Tuesday afternoon. Hadley said he was the most senior official in the White House charged with vetting national security issues with the president’s speech.

Hadley offered Bush his resignation, which the president reportedly refused. Singer said that if the president had accepted the resignation, it would have been admitting fault.

Singer called Hadley’s move into the forefront of the controversy a commonly used political ploy.

“It wasn’t just a coincidence that Hadley tried to now take the fall on the same day as this (the sons’ deaths),” Singer said.

“Whether Uday is alive or dead doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that inside the White House intelligence was politicized and manipulated,” Singer told UPI. “Those two things happened at different times. It wasn’t Uday who put the 16 words in. It wasn’t Uday who played up those connections. It’s not to play down the success of getting those two guys, but just make sure it doesn’t get politicized.”

”’With reporting from Pam Hess in Kuwait.”’

Copyright 2003 by United Press International. All rights reserved.