Jewish World Review March 21, 2003 / 17 Adar II, 5763

David Warren

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To Baghdad! | If wars can be good or bad -- and there are people so prejudiced against them as to deny any war any merit at all -- the one that is now well begun in Iraq is among the very best. I've described its likely consequences on other days -- almost all of them for the better throughout the region, and in the larger war against proliferation and terrorism. Today we're only looking at the immediate good and ill, as the battle itself unfolds.

Many of the things that could go terribly wrong would have happened by now, and have not; the worst new developments the allies have to consider is riots in Cairo and the usual displays of pacifist mindlessness in other capitals of the world -- events easily anticipated. In Europe, governments which did everything in their diplomatic power to sabotage the U.S. and allied "rush to war" are already turning on their heels, discussing in the councils of the European Union how to make it up to the United States and allies, including the new Iraq, when the war ends in victory.

It will be another 48 hours or so before checkable reports begin to emerge from the field; in the meantime the media are indulging their usual "he said/she said". As in the last Gulf War, Iraqi claims which will shortly prove to have been ludicrous, are put on a level with allied press briefings. Even the claim that Saddam Hussein remains alive -- an open question at the time of writing -- is presented unsceptically.

Nevertheless, there is already enough plausible if partial information to form some impression of what is happening on the ground.

The key question, for the answer to which we had to wait on war itself, is whether the conflict could be isolated within Iraq. And the first indications are extremely good. The Bush administration has, through Zalmay Khalilzad and other astute diplomatic agents, delivered unambiguous signals to each of Iraq's immediate neighbours, including Turkey, that they must stand out of the way. Turkey must not dare to intervene unasked in the affairs of Iraqi Kurdistan, and the Americans guarantee they won't let it split away. Iran's ayatollahs are gritting their teeth in neutrality, having been told the consequences of fishing in troubled waters.

The Israelis for their part have sent clear warnings to Damascus, that an attempt to widen the war, by permitting Hezbollah operatives to fire missiles into Israel from Lebanon, or otherwise to jangle the Israelis on Iraq's behalf, would not "maybe" but actually and necessarily involve the immediate destruction of Bashir Assad's regime.

For the fear was that the Iranian and Syrian regimes might calculate, in Saddamite desperation, that their only long-term hope of survival against an America that might turn on either of them next, would be to spread the war now, aiding the Iraqis with surprise strikes (Iran by launching what it might imagine were sucker-punch hits on the U.S. Gulf fleet). Both regimes seem to have concluded they would rather die slowly than quickly, and both are now behaving with admirable circumspection.

But so is the United States -- behaving circumspectly, that is. The Iraqis, and most journalists, fell for predictions of a "shock and awe" first strike, and continue to wait for such a thing to follow. Instead, in their determination to win with as little damage as possible to the general population and infrastructure, the allies appear to be picking at targets.

The opening strike of the formal war was on a target of opportunity -- apparently a meeting of senior Iraqi leadership being tracked by satellite and drones. One ingenious theory holds that the U.S. intentionally spread the false rumour of the death or defection of Tariq Aziz, to trick him into making a public display of himself to journalists, then followed his tracks to the meeting. Who knows? -- we will have to wait.

But what we can know is that whether successful or not, the attempted "decapitation strike" should prove typical of operations ahead. For these are strikes that work, whether or not they hit their target. The idea is to personalize the battle, not out of any joy in revenge but for the sake of rattling the enemy command; and if Saddam survived, or for as long as he survives, to make him very angry.

Why? Because a Saddam who has just had a thrill up his whatever is a Saddam who is focusing his attention on doing direct harm to U.S. forces, and who has thus been distracted from his only alternative -- creating chaos through harm to the innocent people of Iraq. The allies feel confident they can deal with anything Saddam can throw at them directly; they cannot deal effectively with an international pacifist outpouring that holds them accountable for Saddam's dirty deeds, nor a "liberal" media eager to give the Saddamite view of what happened.

Making your enemy angry is one of the surest-fire means to battlefield success, fourth only behind surprise, invincible weaponry, and numbers. The U.S. has been forced to fight without much advantage of surprise, and must exploit the alternative psychological means. And far from being speculation on my part, the techniques to which I allude are actually taught at West Point.

If that was Saddam's "doppelganger" presented yesterday on Iraqi TV, the war is going to be extremely short, and we have a ready explanation for the feebleness of Iraq's retaliations. I would be unwise to speculate about what is happening now on the ground north of Kuwait. All independent journalistic witnesses are still embedded within allied attack forces, and will be held silent until each operation concludes -- for this is war, not tabloid television. But from the little that's emerged, it would seem the U.S. has done the job on Iraq's surviving Scuds, for the only thing the Iraqis were reported to have thrown at them were several "Frog" missiles (not Scuds as in many of the news reports) -- small, easily hidden pieces with a range inside 70 kilometres, that would be hard to chemically arm. As far as I know (as of 7 p.m. Thursday EST), the only one not intercepted by Patriots whistled harmlessly into the sand.

I suspect this much information got out, only to help Israel sleep more peacefully. I further suspect the Israeli calm over the threat of Scud strikes is informed by the knowledge that western Iraq is already under effective U.S. occupation.

There is a lot of ground still to traverse -- I've bussed across it myself and can attest that Iraq is a huge country. It's a very large haystack if one is looking for pins. But there seems no reason at this point to doubt the monstrous regime that's held the world in thrall, and the Iraqi people prisoner for more than a generation, is being quickly stripped naked.

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JWR contributor David Warren is a Columnist for the Ottawa Citizen. Comment by clicking here.

03/19/02: Hostage crisis
03/17/02: Bush, the "UN's cowboy," is really the "un cowboy" --- a softie
03/17/02: United? Nations?
03/12/02: Blair goes wobbly
03/10/02: Ready aye ready
03/06/02: Logic of war
02/10/02: Play up, play up
01/30/02: No ambiguity
12/05/02: A farce
11/13/02: A game of chess
10/30/02: Material breach
10/21/02: Armed & dangerous
09/11/02: The enemy within
08/21/02: Bush v. world
08/06/02: Has Sharon gone 'wobbly'?
07/24/02: Evil Sharon
06/19/02: The end is nigh
06/17/02: Those darn American imperialists!

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