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Bush “Over Reaching” in Iraq

Bubbling up from the amorphous and amoral stew we call the media are the first whiffs of what passes for informed opinion among people who believe that the New York Times is a font of wisdom. The latest exhibit is a Newsweek piece by the oh so bright and yet so predictable Evan Thomas. Another arm chair geo strategist who is exhibiting the first flickers of what we now call concern but our grandparents called fear. And fear is a healthy thing when faced squarely. But clothed in robes of skepticism it becomes nothing more than contrariness, a contribution not to extending the national debate but a chance to take a gratuitous swipe at the nation’s leaders. It is an evasion of responsibility. If you think we are marching down the wrong road, then you have an obligation to demand that the line leader check the map. It does none of us any good, especially the men and women at the point of the spear to harrumph deep in the ranks and make snide comments to your peers.

But then that would put him at risk of being held to account for his opinion, wouldn’t it?

Anyone who cares to read a Reader’s Digest prĂ©cis of how to dismember Iraq should read James S. Robbins recent series at National Review Online and avoid anything contaminated by the reigning group think of the NY Time/Washington Post Axis of Apathy. In a series of 5 short pieces Robbins concluding with, Robbins runs the entire drill from strategic top down review to a correlation of forces that could serve as a template for how to present an estimate of the situation at the Command and General Staff College.

The first step in a true appraisal of how to dethrone Hussein is to recognize the overwhelming disparity in power between the US and Iraq. >From a strictly conventional perspective Hussein is in roughly the same position that Hitler occupied in early 1945. His territory is largely unconquered but he faces the largest and most impressive collection of military forces in the history of the world. His air force has been decimated and allied air power freely transits from one end of the Third Reich to the other. What were once experienced and effective ground combat forces have been stripped away through years of withdrawal and attrition. While there are still many hundreds of thousands of German soldiers left, nobody would make a serious argument that hastily formed divisions of volunteers and wounded veterans, armed with automatic rifles and panzerfausts are in any sense the equal of the battle hardened divisions that pushed all the way to the gates of Moscow.

Saddam Hussein is a man who’s time can be numbered in days if not hours. He sits atop a creaky jumble of conflicting loyalties, divided power centers and competing interests. He has secret police to watch the public and more secret police to watch the secret police. His Republican Guards are a counter poise to the regular army but there are special troops within the Republican Guard who are the counter force to the Republican Guard. It is a complete welter that rests on one man alone, Saddam Hussein. The disunity of Iraq represents one center of gravity that can be attacked by the United States. If we begin to disconnect the competing power bases it is possible that the internal forces released could tear Iraq apart.

The destruction of Iraq is a race against time. What is unknown to most Americans, and perhaps to our own intelligence services, is the capacity of Iraq to conduct nuclear, biological or chemical weapons attacks; whether those are aimed at nations in the Middle East or done by terror groups in Europe or North America.. We know from Hussein’s history that he has used chemical weapons in the past. We know that he was conducting research on biological weapons and that Iraq had a fairly advanced program to create atomic weapons. What little insight we had was lost in 1998 when Bill Clinton permitted Saddam Hussein to kick the UN Weapons Inspectors out of the country. That should have been a signal for an all out assault by air, land and sea forces to completely destroy any facility that might be linked to weapons research. Another opportunity lost due to Clintonian indifference.

The simplicity of deposing Hussein may appear to be deceiving but it is reality. The latest bit of evidence that I have gleaned are stories about how supposedly Hussein has recruited and trained hundreds of "suicide pilots" who will fly Iraq’s aging fleet of jet fighters at nap of the earth altitudes in kamikaze like attacks on enemies of the regime. These reports are laughable. Iraq is the least Islamic regime in the Middle East. It is clear to even the dimmest pilot that any suicide attacks will be to save the bacon of one man, Saddam Hussein, not to advance some Islamic ideal of jihad. The Japanese, a culture where self sacrifice and the Bushido warrior code were regnant, could count on thousands of volunteers to fight and die for their emperor. But their emperor was a god, not some grubbing tyrant intent on remaining in power. These stories are nothing more than propaganda blasts for public consumption within Iraq. No reasonable intelligence analyst would credit these stories as a realistic threat.

All that remain is for the United States to begin constricting a ring of power around Iraq. The first step is to establish that Hussein will not permit weapons inspectors back in, and non compliance with UN resolutions. This step is more than just a pretext for military action. They allow the United States to act under color of international law and to call upon the members of the United Nations for support. It will be quite interesting to see how our erstwhile European cousins respond to US military action in support of, rather than contradictory to the UN. It will be another demonstration of pretzel logic.

Once the international pretext is established then the US will be free to establish major combat forces in the theater. As this will take some time (60-90 days) it will be accompanied by an information campaign within Iraq and the deployment of covert forces (CIA and Special Forces) to foment dissent. This will likely be done under the cover of a strategic campaign to secure complete dominance of Iraqi air space and the systematic destruction of large troop concentrations. Saddam learned from our campaign in Afghanistan that the only logical counter to air superiority is dispersion of critical assets. But once he begins to do this, he trades flexibility and control for protection. When he can not mass large numbers of troops or tanks, his ability to put down domestic rebellion or face US troops is constrained. While smart bombs will make a significant contribution we will also likely see the return of large strikes with iron bombs on troop and vehicle concentrations. Making the enemy forces fear B52 strikes is just as important as taking out individual command and control centers.

There seems to be a good deal of concern that US forces might be drawn into combat in the cities. This is unlikely for two reasons. First, I don’t anticipate that Saddam’s forces, outside of some fanatical loyalists, will be motivated to conduct a Stalingrad. Second, if our war aim is to topple Saddam then the occupation of cities like Baghdad are not prime military objectives. Once the US has occupied or dominates the countryside then Hussein will be confined to the few built up areas that he can physically control. Since our quarrel is with him, and not the population of Iraq why would we risk the heavy civilian casualties that would be the consequence of city combat?

The alternative of course is to do what Clinton did and the Europeans prefer: nothing. That may have been a reasonable strategy in 2000 but it does no favors to the world to permit a tyrant to sit behind his barricades and concoct nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

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