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Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company  
The New York Times

September 23, 2001, Sunday, Late Edition - Final

SECTION: Section 1A; Page 1; Column 2; National Desk 

LENGTH: 1716 words

From Many Voices, One Battle Strategy

BYLINE:  This article was reported and written by Jane Perlez, David E. Sanger and Thom Shanker. 


In his speech on Thursday night, President Bush boldly defined the enemy in his war against terrorism: "From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime."

While seemingly straightforward, the wording and new strategy that springs from it were the distillation of seven days of intense exchanges -- at the White House and at Camp David -- among the members of Mr. Bush's war council. Its leaders have drawn experience from very different conflicts: the cold war for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld; the Persian Gulf war for Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Vice President Dick Cheney; Vietnam for all of them.

Mr. Cheney, secretary of defense in the first Bush administration, has presented the president with military, diplomatic and political choices, and from the inside he is viewed as the steady hand. Secretary Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the gulf war, was a strong cautionary voice then and has been an advocate of prudence again now. Mr. Rumsfeld was arguing even before Sept. 11 that the military needed to be reconfigured for "asymmetrical threats" -- which is exactly what crashed into his building.

But the outline of the war plan often emerges from the private conversations between two newcomers to the world of the battlefield, George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice, his national security adviser.

That became evident last weekend. The war council had come to Camp David for seven hours of what participants say was "an intense debate" over how to define and wage the war, a debate in which Mr. Bush was described by several participants as chiefly a listener. Then, on Sunday morning, after the others had departed, President Bush summoned Ms. Rice to his cabin, Aspen.

"Here's what I want to do," he said to Ms. Rice, a 46-year-old former Stanford University academic and Russia expert who was Mr. Bush's foreign policy tutor in the campaign. As Ms. Rice began taking copious notes, a senior White House aide said, Mr. Bush told her that the assault on terrorism would come in phases, opening with a more focused attack on Osama bin Laden, his operation and his Afghan protectors, but eventually encompassing any terrorist operations with the "global reach" to harm the United States, and the countries that sponsor them.

Ms. Rice's notepad formed the basis of a Monday morning meeting of the "principals," shorthand for top cabinet and national security officials. Her notes also provided the seeds of the strong rhetoric Mr. Bush used in his speech, and the strategy that officials at the White House, Pentagon and State Department say will unfold as America's warplanes, warships and war fighters begin reaching their destinations.

The phased strategy grew from the realization that it would take weeks to build up military forces in the Persian Gulf and South Asia. But it also had the political benefit of bridging -- or at least deferring -- differences within the war council.

The advisers responsible for building a multilateral coalition to fight terrorism, led by Secretary Powell and his deputy, Richard Armitage, argued strongly that the first strike should be against a target clearly related to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

The wider argument, put forth by Secretary Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul D. Wolfowitz, pressed for broadening the campaign to include other state sponsors of terrorism, especially Iraq. It was an argument they knew would appeal to Mr. Bush, who is keenly aware that Saddam Hussein survived his father's presidency, and the presidency after that.

By the time Mr. Bush had finished his conversation with Ms. Rice, the arguments were largely over. "How you describe going forward, how broad" the attack on terrorism, "has been an issue of debate," said a senior Bush aide. Then, burnishing an image of Mr. Bush as a forceful commander in chief, a goal senior advisers have shared this week, the aide added, "The president settled it."

But in settling it, he added a nuance. Mr. Bush, at the war council's urging, set a standard for identifying and deterring the enemy in what he calls the first war of the 21st century.

The final wording of Mr. Bush's doctrine called for waging war against any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorists. It is a critical distinction, because even as it bluntly threatens attacks against states that sponsor terrorism, it offers an escape clause to any government that, in the words of one Rumsfeld adviser, "decides it should do something else for a living."

While Mr. Bush and his war council were pressing states to change their ways, the crisis forced members of the president's own national security team to change theirs, too.

In the first months of this presidency, members of the national security team circled one another warily on everything from abandoning the 1972 antiballistic missile treaty to dealing with China and North Korea.

Just days before the attack, a gossipy item in The Washington Post was already handicapping Mr. Rumsfeld's possible successors. Time magazine asked where Colin Powell had gone, suggesting that despite his star quality, he had little to show for his half-year in office.

The attack changed all that.

Rather than fighting bureaucratic battles over missiles and budgets, Mr. Rumsfeld finds himself at war with just the unanticipated enemy he has been warning of since he arrived at the Pentagon. On Sept. 11, he rushed from his Pentagon office -- leaving his security detail behind -- to tend to the wounded in the first minutes after a hijacked jet slammed into the building. The coordinated attacks on New York City and the Pentagon "proved the worst case of the 'unknown unknowns' he likes to talk about," said one member of Mr. Rumsfeld's inner circle.

Secretary Powell, who was in Peru when the attacks occurred, flew back immediately and by Friday, Sept. 14, had spoken to more than 80 of his counterparts around the world, by phone or in person in his State Department suite. Suddenly he was in the middle of things, warning the military ruler of Pakistan, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, that he had the choice of cooperating or being transformed into a pariah state.

He spoke often to Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to the United States, as Saudi Arabia struggled with how to reconcile its friendship with Washington with the kingdom's worries that attacks on the Islamic world might be waged from its territory.

Several times a day, anyone tuning in to television news found Secretary Powell either explaining administration policy or holding news conferences with visiting world leaders.

Hovering over all was Mr. Cheney, who had also seemed to disappear in a summer of fly-fishing and recovery from heart troubles. But on Sept. 11, he was the man in the White House bunker, and by last weekend he had returned to the spotlight to describe the emerging policy in calm and powerfully ominous tones.

Behind the scenes, Mr. Cheney appears to have been something of a unifying force. And by last Monday, after the Camp David meeting broke up, Ms. Rice, whose friends say she has an obsession with orderliness, had set the national security apparatus into a rigorous schedule. The full National Security Council met each morning with Mr. Bush presiding at the White House. Ms. Rice convened a second meeting, without the president, late in the day. Several times this week, Secretaries Rumsfeld and Powell joined the meetings by secure video-conference calls rather than leave their buildings.

Since Mr. Bush returned to the White House at 7 p.m. on Sept. 11, Ms. Rice has barely left his side. Besides her voice and that of the vice president, the most important voices are Secretary Rumsfeld's and Secretary Powell's. Mr. Rumsfeld likes to say that if a problem cannot be solved, it should be enlarged. That may explain his advocacy for defining terrorism broadly and bringing the widest spectrum of American power to the campaign. Organizing this unprecedented campaign against terror will no doubt require the next evolution in American military policy. "It's like cracking a new genetic code," said one member of Mr. Rumsfeld's inner circle.

Secretary Powell is also cracking new diplomatic codes. His biggest diplomatic challenge is to gently coax the Islamic world into the fight against terrorism without destabilizing moderate governments.

The war council spent much of the week debating how to define the coming conflict to the American people. Its members knew that while Mr. Bush had denounced all terrorism, he should fight only a slice of it, at least in the first phase of the war.

"The more interesting question," said one participant in the debates, "was would it get so broad that you were taking on every terrorist organization in the world." The solution was for Mr. Bush to talk about terrorist with "global reach."

Now the military component of war will fall squarely on the shoulders of a quiet member of the war council who is about to become a very prominent one. He is Gen. Richard B. Myers, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, a soft-spoken former fighter pilot who just weeks before the Sept. 11 attacks was designated the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Members of the war council predict a seamless turnover upon the retirement of the current chairman, Gen. Henry H. Shelton, in 10 days.

But the entire war council is headed into the unknown. In the campaign, Mr. Bush criticized his predecessor for entering regional conflicts without an exit strategy. In the open-ended struggle against global terrorism, the term "exit strategy" has little meaning. Similarly, Mr. Bush has always argued that the United States should not enter a conflict without being able to define victory. In this case, members of his war council concede, victory will come in little pieces and probably never be definitive.

Mr. Rumsfeld this week struggled to define victory for a war in which the other side could hardly be expected to sign surrender papers. He said, "I think what you can do is to go after the problem to a point that you are satisfied that the American people are going to be able to live their lives in relative freedom."

GRAPHIC: Photo: President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, left, Andrew H. Card, chief of staff, and Condoleezza Rice, national security adviser. Since the terror attacks on Sept. 11, the advisers, who have disagreed on national security policy, have been trying to speak with one voice. (Stephen Crowley/The New York Times)(pg. B2)

LOAD-DATE: September 23, 2001