With the war against the Taliban nearing conclusion, many in Washington are urging Bush to expand the current conflict into a vast, open-ended campaign against assorted terrorist groups and "rogue" states like Iraq. The President has encouraged such thinking. The current struggle in Afghanistan is "just the beginning on the war against terror," he told US soldiers the day before Thanksgiving. "There are other terrorists who threaten America and our friends, and there are other nations willing to sponsor them. We will not be secure as a nation until all of these threats are defeated."
Originally, in his address to Congress on September 20, he said the war would extend to every terrorist group that has "a global reach" and to states that knowingly aided or harbored such groups. But on November 26 he expanded the target list to include states that "terrorize" other nations by secretly pursuing the manufacture of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons, a category that conceivably could include Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria and North Korea.
With the door open to so many options, hawks and hard-liners of many stripes have been arguing for a wide range of punitive military strikes. At the top of the list is a campaign to kill or oust Saddam Hussein of Iraq. Other oft-mentioned targets include Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines, Hamas and Hezbollah in the West Bank and Lebanon and assorted rebel groups in Somalia.
With fighting still under way in Afghanistan, the White House is reluctant to provide any specifics about the next stage of the war. But various officials have suggested that the Pentagon is already gearing up for a wider range of attacks, including a stepped-up campaign against Saddam Hussein. From all that can be discerned these plans envision far more extended and risky operations than those now under way in Afghanistan.
Many signs point to preparations for an expanded war. Most conspicuous, of course, are the threatening comments by senior Administration officials. "The objective is to dismantle the global terrorist networks and state support for terrorism," said Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz on November 18. "There are a number of states that support terrorists. Saddam Hussein [leads] one of them." Equally suggestive is the Defense Department's continuing mobilization of forces for deployment to the Persian Gulf area even as the Taliban regime appears to be disintegrating. Several aircraft carrier battle groups have already been stationed in the area, and at least one other group is on the way. "We want to continue planning, so that we can…provide the President of the United States with credible military options," Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of the US Central Command, said on November 8.
A war with Iraq would conceivably jeopardize the flow of oil from the Gulf, so it is particularly significant that George W. Bush has ordered the Energy Department to completely fill the Strategic Petroleum Reserve for the first time ever. The reserve is designed to provide the United States with a secure supply of oil in the event of war or a major national emergency.