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Tuesday, 25 September, 2001, 08:32 GMT 09:32 UK
Bush sides with the doves
Colin Powell and George W Bush
Colin Powell's caution is shared by President Bush
US State Department correspondent Jon Leyne on the battles being fought behind the scenes in Washington.

Quietly, behind closed doors, some crucial disputes are being argued out over how the United States should respond to the worst terrorist attack in history.

Just as the nation has pulled together in the wake of the attack two weeks ago, so this diverse administration has never appeared more united.

Deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz
Paul Wolfowitz has advocated a hard line

Yet behind the scenes, many of the tensions that have characterised the first few months in office are being played out. The arguments are between hawks and doves.

More significantly, they are between those who believe the United States should act alone and those who believe in pulling an international coalition together.

But what is most remarkable, is that the coalition-builders - the multilateralists - are winning.

Unlike some of the more troubled moments of the Clinton administration, it is not possible to chronicle these arguments blow by blow. But some key characters stand out.

Call to target Iraq

The man who has most often voiced the hardest line is deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz.

It was Mr Wolfowitz who pledged early in the crisis that the United States would "end" states that support terrorism.

It is a remark that has never been repeated, nor supported by his colleagues.

Behind the scenes, officials say, it is Mr Wolfowitz who has argued for early and heavy bombing of Afghanistan, without waiting to build an international coalition.

Mr Wolfowitz has also pressed to extend the campaign to Iraq, possibly even launching a much more serious campaign to unseat Saddam Hussein.

Vice president Dick Cheney
Dick Cheney favours a multilateralist approach
But so far, the evidence is that Secretary of State Colin Powell is winning the policy battle.

His philosophy is to build international support, to hold back US forces until they can be used decisively, to focus the effort.

As he put it in an interview on an American television show at the weekend: "You also have to keep your attention focussed on a particular objective before you start adding different goals and objectives.

"The objective that the president has focussed on in this first instance is al-Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden, and his presence in Afghanistan."

A cautious Colin Powell will come as no surprise to those who know his history.

More interesting is that he seems to have won over the Vice-President, Dick Cheney, and the National Security Adviser, Condoleeza Rice, to his multilateralist way of thinking.

Then of course there is the President.

Tough talk

George W Bush has become known for his tough talk. "Wanted dead or alive," he said of Osama Bin Laden. We are going to "smoke them out of their holes," he keeps repeating.

In private, he compares getting rid of terrorists to disposing of rattlesnakes in Texas.

The language has helped win him approval ratings higher than his father enjoyed even after victory in the Gulf War.

But the reality is very different.

With a few exceptions, President Bush has sided consistently with the doves and the coalition builders.

That suggests a relatively limited, tightly focused military operation, when it finally comes.

And that is a prospect that should reassure many of America's allies.

See also:

14 Sep 01 | Americas
America's invisible enemy
13 Sep 01 | Americas
Allies boost US confidence
15 Sep 01 | Americas
Time running out for survivors
15 Sep 01 | South Asia
Pakistan 'will comply' on terror
13 Sep 01 | Business
US markets to re-open on Monday
15 Sep 01 | Americas
World airlines resume US flights
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