2003 January 25 Saturday
Perspectives On The Coming Iraq War

Saddam Hussein biographer Con Coughlin says Saddam Hussein believes he can defeat the United States if his troops can only manage to get close enough to American troops to inflict some casualties.

Saddam was also immensely frustrated at his inability to engage US troops on the ground while some of his Republican Guard battalions remained intact. He believed that if he could inflict just a few casualties, Washington would cease hostilities. There is no reason to believe that Saddam's view of the US is any different today than it was then. It is a mindset that provides Saddam with the confidence not to be intimidated by the Americans, even though they have overwhelming firepower. In this context he will have taken Donald Rumsfeld's suggestion last week - that war could be averted if Saddam slipped quietly into exile - as yet further evidence that Washington's arch hawk has lost his bottle.

Saddam thinks the Americans are so casualty-averse that by inflicting some losses on the US Army he will be able to get the United States to withdraw from the field in the middle of battle. If Coughlin is right about this then Saddam sees no need to go into exile or give up his weapons of mass destruction. This makes war inevitable.

The French see the war debate as presenting them with a difficult dilemma. On one hand, they want to oppose the Iraq war in part because of a reflexive desire to oppose the will of the United States on the international stage and in part because France has its own interests in Iraq and it doesn't want to lose its political influence and contracts with the Iraqi regime. Plus, they may sincerely believe that the war will inflame the Arab street and increase the attractiveness of terrorism. On the other hand, if they sit it out they will have no influence in Iraq when its over. The French see the Iraq war mainly in terms of a threat to French power and influence. (The "duel" in the first line of the excerpt should probably have been "dual".)

"The French have a duel problem," said David Malone, head of the New York-based International Peace Academy think-tank and a former Canadian U.N. ambassador.

"On one hand they have played their cards masterfully and achieved a genuine compromise with the United States," he said.

"But the risk for them is that if the United States moves ahead, France may be dealt out of Iraq altogether, a significant blow to its standing in the Middle East and commercial prospects in the area," Malone said.

Another council diplomat agreed. "The Germans may be quite happy to sit this one out but the French would want to be leading any action," the envoy said. "It matters to matter for France."

Of course, if the French cave and go along with the US then they will be seen as having been bluffing in their opposition all along. But if they don't cave and the US goes ahead anyway then the UN Security Council will be seen as irrevelant and therefore the French seat on the UN Security Council will be seen as irrelevant. The French leadership is having a hard time trying to figure out a course thru the Iraq crisis that is least costly in its longer term effects on French influence and credibility.

Meanwhile, the British government still believe that the UN "international community" path will work for them.

The British Government, meanwhile, remains quietly confident that a second resolution is within its grasp. Gerhard Schröder's position, ministers say, is annoyingly sanctimonious, but entirely explicable in the light of forthcoming elections in Germany, and the German people's resolute hostility to a war in Iraq. President Chirac's posturing has caused more fury in Number 10. But, as one Cabinet Minister put it to me, "there is no way the French won't want a slice of the Iraqi cake when Saddam falls". No less than the Russians, though less explicitly, the French have their price.

That same article by Matthew d'Ancona argues (and I suspect correctly) that most of those calling for UN approval for the Iraq war do so because they sincerely believe the UN Security Council's permanent members would never all vote for it. The Blair government thinks the UN will come thru and make its life easier. Many others just as firmly believe (and comfort themselves with this belief) that they can count on Russia, China and France to prevent that outcome. Someone's going to be wrong here. What will Chirac decide? I for one hope he opts for making the UN Security Council irrelevant.

While the Brits still think they can bring the French around and save the United Nations route to war with Iraq the belief in Washington DC is that the French are a hopeless case. As a result Colin Powell's star is falling.

Last fall Secretary of State Colin L. Powell won unstinting praise for what the world seemed to regard as a coup: persuading President Bush to seek United Nations Security Council approval for confronting Iraq, and then lining up unanimous Council backing for that approach.

Today administration officials say Mr. Powell is abruptly on the defensive after France and Germany went public with their bluntly worded refusal to support quick action to find Iraq in breach of United Nations resolutions and clear the way for a military attack.

The NY Times reports the French diplomats say privately that they see war is inevitable. Then why are the French taking the position with Germany against the war? Do the French see opposition to the Iraq war as a way to increase their standing with Germany in order to get what they want from the EU? The French position is causing people in the US State Department to refer to the French envoys as "the French resistance".

There are perspectives on the coming war that sound like they are the result of sincere deliberations about moral principles and what will result in the best future for the world. Whether one agrees with the UK Observer's principles or its view of the world it seems clear that the Observer's support for military action to take down Saddam's regime isn't the result of a cynical calculation.

The moral and political advantages of holding to the current course of action are overwhelming. Legitimacy is fundamental to the values of Western powers. Wherever possible, we make law, not war, and where war is unavoidable, we observe the law in its conduct. The prospects for any successor Iraqi regime will be much rosier if it is seen to have come into being through a UN mandate derived from a very substantial majority of members, rather than bilateral Anglo-American action.

Those who demanded a multilateral route have responsibilities, too. They must recognise that the much-maligned Bush administration has dutifully pursued a multilateral approach over both Iraq and the war in Afghanistan. The world asked America to work through the UN. The UN and its members must now show that its decisions and resolutions can be effective.

Some US war theorists see the Iraq war as an opportunity to try out a method of rapid attack that they hope will break the enemy's will to fight. This approach features an enormous opening attack of precision guided munitions that will include 300 to 400 cruise missiles per day in the first 2 days of fighting.

The battle plan is based on a concept developed at the National Defense University. It's called "Shock and Awe" and it focuses on the psychological destruction of the enemy's will to fight rather than the physical destruction of his military forces.

"We want them to quit. We want them not to fight," says Harlan Ullman, one of the authors of the Shock and Awe concept which relies on large numbers of precision guided weapons.

Will the US military shock and awe large portions of the Iraqi military into immediately surrendering? Seems possible. The regular Iraqi army has got to be looking beyond the end of Saddam's regime. When the field commands and large chunks of the Iraqi communications networks get taken out in the initial attack they will know how its going to end and will be looking for a way to still be alive when the US and its allies take over.

Here's an argument on the Iraq war which I haven't yet seen made: the conquest of Iraq will free up 1 or 2 precious US aircraft carriers which would otherwise need to be stationed all the time in the neighborhood of the Middle East. After the war the USAF will be able to establish air bases in Iraq. Use of USAF aircraft will no longer be restricted by the Turks, Saudis or other regimes which now provide basing rights. With a centrally situationed set of air bases the USAF will be able to project from Iraq any air power that US might need to use in the region. So the US Navy can move a lot of assets toward the Pacific.

The argument against attacking Iraq first misses another obvious point: Iraq is really the best place to control first because it borders on Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia. All three of those countries pose various forms of terrorism problems and/or WMD proliferation problems to the United States. Control of Iraq provides the US military a suitable place from which to pressure or attack any of those regimes.

Update: There's also an intelligence agency conflict about how much risk to run with intelligence sources in Iraq in order to prove the obvious fact that Saddam is developing weapons of mass destruction.

Senior Foreign Office officials said that, to date, they had been instructed to be circumspect with sensitive evidence about Saddam's weapons to protect Iraqi informants. But ministers have accepted that more information must be released if the case for a pre-emptive war against Iraq is to be made.

Disclosing more detail may lead to tensions between MI6 and the CIA, which fears that a more explicit dossier could jeopardise Western intelligence networks in Iraq.

The people who don't believe that Saddam is developing WMD are people who don't want to know the truth. Blair's problem with British public opinion on this is so large that Iraqi informers may end up dead so that Blair can sway British public opinion.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 January 25 11:49 PM  Military War, Rumours Of War


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