an "offshore balancing" argument regarding the Iraqi buildup and potential war. [Note to readers from the Buggy Prof: that article by Walt and Mearsheimer, widely regarded as the most effective criticism of the Bush policy of toppling the Saddamite regime --- and instead, counting on containment and deterrence to work --- strikes me as seriously deficient, and I wrote a long, detailed analylsis of its mistakes and fallacious assumptions and will reprint it here on this site later today.]
I have read your arguments on the Iraqi threat, which are compelling, and those of Hitchens' posted a day or so ago, but am wondering if there is a good, additional realist argument that would not support an invasion at this time.
Perhaps the case could be made that there is no immediate threat from Saddam to the United States itself. The link to Iraqi support for al Queda is fuzzy, according to the administration and outside experts. And Saddam has no ICBM's or other delivery vehicles to rain down chemical weapons on American cities. Perhaps the U.S. might be better with keeping the current massive buildup in place as a holding action in coercive diplomacy, and only intervene with force in response to Iraqi aggression. This would not be weak-kneed liberal internationalism (See Krauthammer in the current National Interest), but would be an aggressive show of force in hair-trigger offshore retaliatory posture. Finally, bear in mind that I'm of the Kenneth Pollock persuasion (The Threatening Strom, 2002), but am concerned about massive casualties in a prolonged ground war.
Your comments would be appreciated.
The Buggy Prof's Replies:
Thank you for your stimulating comments and query, all up-to-date and focused on key questions that involve a fair amount of uncertainties . . . as all wars do in advance, but especially the likely forthcoming war to destroy Saddam's regime. So here are my best responses to your points.
1) US TRAINING FOR URBAN WARFARE
• Actually, US forces have been training for years now and at various sites, including one with Israeli forces at a mock city site in that latter country, where they draw on Israeli experience in going after terrorists at Jenin last year, as well as other places. So this isn't new, training for urban warfare . . . especially in dealing with terrorists or, for that matter, large defensive forces
2) CASUALTIES: US, IRAQI CIVILIANS IN THE FIRST GULF WAR
• Nobody can predict this in advance, but I can say that figures about the casualties in the last war on the Iraqi side --- 100,000 --- are extravagantly high. The number of killed soldiers seems to have been around 5-7,000 (verified by the number of wounded, a ratio of roughly 2.5 wounded Iraqi soldiers per killed soldier holds across different kinds of wars now for a couple of centuries). The vast majority of Iraqi civilians were killed AFTER the US and other forces stopped fighting, when Shi-ites rose up against the hated Saddamites in the South and the Kurds in the North. They were all crushed mercilessly, in ruthless fighting, by elite Republican Guard forces (about 100,000 in those days) that got away virtually unscathed . . . something that should never have been allowed to occur.
• The US High Command also let Saddam keep his helicopter gun ships. Within days of the armistice, they were in use to crush the Shia rebels and the Kurds in the North. Actually their brutal use was worse than that. Hundreds of thousands of Kurds, trying to flee the wrath of Saddam's Republic, were repeatedly attacked in the mountain areas by those helicopter gun ships as they tried to flee into the Kurdish areas in Turkey. It was this merciless attacks in the North and South that led the US and the British (initially the French too) to declare no-fly zones in the South and North and then bring humanitarian aid to the Kurds. The ruthless Saddamite assault on Shia resistance continued for several months, and for certain guerrilla units, several years.
• In view of the alarm expressed by certain people about US casualties in any imminent war, it's worth recalling that even experienced security specialists like Elliot Cohen and Edward Luttwak --- both knowledgeable and well grounded in history (unlike a lot of security specialists these days, with their model building) --- predicted that even after 6 weeks of the air war in late January and February, we were likely to suffer 20,000 or more casualties. The reality? Fewer than 250, with most of our military men and women killed by an Iraqi scud that, by mishap, ended up destroying a US barracks on Saudi soil hundreds of miles from the front lines. Will it be different this time?
3) US STRATEGY AND BATTLEFIELD TACTICS AND CASUALTIES THIS TIME, IF IT COMES TO WAR,
• On the US side, we're no more likely to do the expected --- as far as Saddam's military preparations and tactics --- in the forthcoming war than we did in 1991. Don't expect frontal assaults by armor and infantry on heavily prepared positions around Baghdad, Saddam's Mother-of-All Redoubts if we're to believe them. Those positions will be attacked in a 5-10 day heavy aerial assault --- the bombing of an intensity, accuracy, and ability to destroy even deep hardened bunkers, never mind command-control-communications-and information points and personnel, that will dwarf the 1991 war. I won't even qualify this claim with a "likely" probability. In 1991, only about 10% of the destructive ordinance --- cruise missiles, bombs from heavy and light bombers, artillery --- was of a smart pin-point sort. This time, it will be closer to 90%, with considerable improvements just in the last year as intensive analysis and new R&D and deployments have unfurled in the light of the Afghan war in the fall of 2001.
--- It's a safe bet that there are already several special forces inside Baghdad, ready to help pinpoint the location of the relevant targets.
--- The initial bombing, of course, will be intended to destroy and neutralize the air defenses that Saddam has built up, along with his C3-I
• US armor --- tanks, armored vehicles --- will very likely enter the war even before the 5th day of bombing, moving rapidly from Turkey and Kuwait and seizing oil fields that Saddam will likely try to destroy, as he did on a widespread level of ecological terror when Iraqi forces retreated from Kuwait and the Kuwaiti oil fields. Most likely too, airborne troops and special forces will be used in such operations, along with Kurdish forces in the North. Similarly, the bombing will initially spare the regular military --- kept in barracks on their bases even by Saddam (who doesn't trust them) --- in order to encourage defections and join the US and British forces. Any military units that defy the US demands here --- moving out for battle --- will be quickly destroyed.
• The aim of these ground forces isn't simply to seize territory and protect the oil fields, but to liberate Iraqi cities that Saddam himself won't likely try to defend. If he did, there would almost certainly be uprisings by the Shiites in the South and the Kurds in the North, in collaboration with US special forces. And as territory is liberated, Iraqi forces deserting Saddam will very likely join, as I indicated, the assaults --- and probably be used should Baghdad still be standing . . . let's say the 10th to the 15th day of the campaign.
• Likely US casualties by the end of the war? I'd be surprised if they are in the high hundreds.
4) IRAQI MILITARY RESISTANCE AND LIKELY CASUALTIES
• A fight for Baghdad might not even be necessary: for that matter, an initial invasion might cause a coup. If not, then In Baghdad itself --- 5 million or so in population --- there are about 1.5 million Kurds and Shiites now living there. Scarcely any Kurd or Shiite family – the former about 15-20% of the Iraqi 23 million population, the latter about 60-65% --- hasn't a relative who hasn't been brutalized by Saddam over the decades; and they will probably be eager --- and are armed --- to stage an uprising if it Saddam's Republican Guards, Special Republican Guards, and Palace-SS thugs still are determined to fight. That will quickly add to the problems of Saddam's loyal units, and be devastating at time, given that there will be special ops with the ability to pin point their location and deliver smart warheads down a chimney if need be, launched by heavy or light bombers, from cruise missiles, or from Predator and other unmanned aircraft.
The experience of the Israeli forces with whom the US is training, plus special equipment we have --- assault rifles that can bend around corners tiny remote-controlled mobile spy vehicles that look like toys to move around buildings, and even bigger bulldozers than the Israelis had if it comes to that --- will no doubt bulk large here in helping our forces to keep down their casualtie.
• Iraqi military's likely casualties? It all depends on those that are foolish enough to ignore our warnings ---and our related offer of amnesty to the regular military that isn't implicated in Saddam's atrocities over the decades --- not to join the fight. In 1991, the army numbered about a million, with modern equipment; it's down now to about a third that size, roughly 350,000 . . . and all reports indicate that their divisions only at about 50% of combat effectiveness, badly hurt by 12 years of sanctions and bad morale probably and lack of new tanks and artillery (there are some up-to-date tanks, maybe a few hundred at most, the total tanks numbering about 2500).
• Republican Guards --- numbering about 50,000 – 75,000 now and enjoying more combat-ready --- has an officer corps that isn't trusted by Saddam and has been repeatedly purged: if they fight tenaciously, something that is doubtful, but can't be discounted, in the approaches to Baghdad where they'll be deployed in bunkers, will be decimated. Note that they hate Saddam, but probably don't like the US or the UK, and we'd have to see how they'll fight if it comes to that. It might not. They aren't led by stupid men, and they know which way their fortunes will lie as the battle unfolds. You can count on the top levels of the officer corps having already been contacted by US and UK intelligence.
• The SRG – Special Republican Guards, numbering about 15,000 --- are a new elite set up by Saddam to police and repress any opposition in the Republican Guards, and they are likely to fight with tenacity until the end . . . full, moreover, of war criminals of the worst sort. To them can be added the secret police and intelligence units --- and more important, the Saddam Fedayyeen, a few thousand thugs in a Tikriti militia of village-tribal men from Saddam's own region run by his son Udai, and used mainly to terrorize internal opponents --- resulting in something like a possible 30,000 – 100,000 core fighting force, all depending on what the Republican Guards actually do.
• These latter forces can be counted on to die for Saddam --- possibly not all the SRG --- because they are all heavily implicated in the totalitarian repression of the regime, which has used poison gas against the Kurds (biological attacks too), assaulted and killed 700,000 alleged political opponents, and tortured countless numbers more
5) IRAQI CIVILIAN CASUALTIES
• There's never been a fully authenticated study of the number of Iraqi civilians killed in the air war in 1991, though the regime has never claimed more than 7000 – 8500 . . . which may be accurate or not, given that Saddam wouldn't like to have reigned for 12 years more letting the Iraqis think that he wasn't protecting them against far superior weapons.
• How many this time? I can't say. Nobody can. It all depends on whether there's a coup or not, whether the regular Republican Guards fight for Saddam around Baghdad, whether there's an uprising or not, and what happens.
• It is worth keeping in mind here that about 100,000 were killed by Saddam's forces when they rose up in the South and North after the Gulf War (and we didn't go to their aid, until afterwards when the no-fly zones at least put an end to the massacres of Kurdish civilians). Will it be that high this time? If we're lucky, far fewer . . . even in a battle for Baghdad and with an uprising. Against this, you have to take into account, first the 700,000 victims of Saddam's cruel repression and deliberate extermination of tens of thousands of Kurds --- maybe more --- and second the economic impact of 12 years of sanctions that haven't brought much, if any, harm to Saddam and his family and the elites of the Baath Party and the special elite military and intelligence and police units. The population, by contrast, has suffered noticeably save in the North where the Kurds, thanks to the US and UK air protection, have virtually carved out an independently ruled area, their economic growth being steady and at times impressive since 1991.
6) THE KEY US MOTIVE, BESIDES DISARAMING SADDAM'S REGIME, IS TO TOPPLE IT AND START KEY CHANGES IN THE DANGEROUS POLITICAL STATUS QUO IN THE MIDDLE EAST
• This is a point I've emphasized in the listserver postings for several months now, maybe longer. The war on terrorism joins the evil-axis three Islamo-fascist regimes in the Middle East --- Iran, Iraq, and Syria, all anti-western right now, all hostile to an Israeli-Palestinian peace, all terrorist-supporting, and all engaged in massive WMD programs --- precisely here: the need to get at the roots of Isalmo-fascist fundamentalism and terrorism, and its attractions to young men in the Middle East and other Muslim countries. Twenty years ago there were fewer than 200 million Arabs; there are now 380 million, half of them under 15 . . . at a time when unemployment among men is 20-30% almost everywhere in the failed Arab economies; and there will be almost 500 million in fifteen years or so.
• Unless the despotism, failed states, pervasive corruption, widespread conspiratorial attitudes, high unemployment, and repression of women (often brutally) are tackled at their roots --- all signs of Arab failures to modernize, in contrast to almost every other region of the world save tropical Africa, and even there the elites are enthusiastic about modernizing --- then we can expect radical Islamist messages and symbols to become more ugly and militant and to recruit tens of thousands of young bewildered and alienated Arab men from joining the terrorist sides of this Islamo-fascism and engaging in assaults against us and other friendly democratic governments. With, at times – especially if the Islamo-fascist, terrorist-supporting states continue their WMD programs --- their using nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons against us and others, to say nothing of the frightening specter of a nuclear-chemical-and-biological arms race among the despotic Arab and Iranian states, with wars of mass extermination very likely at some point
• Even if containment and deterrence were therefore possible --- and the most knowledgeable observer here, Kenneth Pollack, the former CIA agent and specialist on the Clinton National Security Council who has reluctantly come to believe they aren't, that a greater war and catastrophe await us in the future if we don't fight now –-- they wouldn't get at these root causes in the least. (For Pollack's views, recall the NY Times op-ed article on this last September, sent to the listserver subscribers; and even more frighteningly documented, in THE THREATENING STORM: THE CASE FOR INVADING IRAQ)
Great new website!
Regarding the link posted on/2003 about Kent Douglas's commentary, I was just wondering one thing: if the United States finds it necessary to do a long-term occupation similar to that imposed on Germany and Japan at the end of World War II, will there be a lot of resistance from a population that has been programmed to hate the United States? We could even bring in the possibility of jihadis coming to Iraq to fight the evil Americans, much as they all went to Afghanistan during the 1980s to fight the Soviet Union. Sure, it will be easy to crush Iraq's conventional forces, but harder to crush guerrillas, as every great power has found out at one time or another.
What are your comments?
Michael - I like it. I like it, and I hope that many of my 593 "subscribers" will visit your website often and get the education they cannot get from the LA Times or the Clinton News Network (CNN). I gave up on ABC, CBS, and NBC years ago. Be well. Harvey
Posted by harvey b. schechter @ 01/28/2003 10:10 AM PST