The Bush-Blair proposal for a new Security Council resolution says that Iraq is in “material breach” of the 1991 resolutions restating the terms of the cease-fire. Only that cease-fire prevented Baghdad from becoming an R & R center for the First Marine Division. The “material breach” language would impose a duty on the U.N. to act when the Iraqis again refuse to allow unlimited inspections and disarm. But imposing any responsibility for action on the U.N. is the last thing that Kofi Annan, Russia, China and France will permit. Worse yet, Kofi is making his own deals to try to save Saddam.
Lost in last week’s flapdoodle about Terrible Tom’s temper tantrum was the deal U.N. Secretary General Annan made with Iraq behind our backs. Unreported here, it was big news in the Middle East. If you can read through the anti-American vitriol, one of the best sources for news of the region is the Saudi government-controlled English language daily, Arab News. Its reports of Annan’s agreement with Iraq were quite specific and consistent with both Iraq’s and Annan’s actions.
Iraq’s 16 September letter to Annan references discussions with him in March, May, July and September. In those discussions, Iraq agreed to the return of the weapons inspectors on condition that its “sovereignty” would be respected, meaning that the “presidential palaces” (where the WMD are produced and stored) would still be off-limits. A 27 September Arab News report says this deal between Iraq and Annan allows resumption of inspections — on the restricted terms Iraq wants — in exchange for Annan’s promise to “remove the specter of a (U.S.-led) military aggression” against Baghdad. If the Security Council doesn’t pass our draft resolution in the next week or two — and it’s a million-to-one shot that it will — Mr. Bush should take action to demonstrate to the world that America’s patience with the U.N. (and its contemptible chief) is exhausted.
Only rank and status matter to the U.N. The President should ask Congress to reduce the ambassador’s job to a much lower rank. Sending some snoozing bureaucrat to sit in the meetings and vote our veto (early and often) would send an unmistakable signal of our contempt for the U.N., which it has earned.
Mr. Bush can let the U.N. play games for the next few weeks while he attends to business. First, he needs to decide among the war plans that have arrived on his desk. Second, he needs to continue preparing the battlefield and serious training of the Iraqi opposition’s forces. The war plans are divided between the “light” vs. “heavy” options the Pentagon has been leaking for months. Each has strengths and weaknesses.
The “light” option — which I favor strongly — concentrates on speed rather than size. Its success depends on applying power in a tightly focused way to destroy military targets with tremendous speed and precision. Iraqi military assets would be targeted flexibly, and the pilots and ground commanders authorized to hit both kinds of targets: the ones we dispatch forces to deal with, and the “pop-ups” that are spotted on the run, and have to be hit before they can hide again.
The “lights” would — in the first hour — try to destroy the missiles that give Saddam his ability to strike outside Iraq. Widespread special operations strikes would be followed by light infantry moving quickly, with massed airpower operating both with ground forces and independently. The next level of military targets would be subjected to air strikes at a level of intensity the world has never seen. Coalition forces flew about 300 sorties a day in the Gulf War. The Iraq campaign would fly between 500 and 1,000 sorties per day. Iraq’s oil fields would be preserved and the American presence on the ground minimized to ease the concerns of neighboring Arab governments. The whole thing should be over in a week. But if targets are more hidden or hardened than we believe, casualties can be heavy on both sides, and the fight could last too long.
Gen. Tommy Franks prefers the “heavy” option, relying on massive tank and infantry formations — perhaps 100,000 strong — driving Patton-like from Kuwait. This force would move slowly, stopping for hours or days at preset staging lines only dozens of miles apart. The crushing power of massed formations would, eventually, defeat the Iraqi forces.
Franks’s approach — which he used in Afghanistan — imposes an unheard-of level of tactical micro-management. Franks uses Predator unmanned aircraft for real-time reconnaissance of small parts of the battlefield. Instead of keeping the big picture in the front of his mind, Gen. Franks uses a “soda straw” view of the battlefield through Predator cameras to make small decisions himself. Decisions that should be made by the captains, majors and lieutenant colonels doing the fighting are instead made at the four-star general level. Against a more capable enemy, this approach could lead to our defeat.
If Saddam isn’t defeated in a matter of a week or ten days, some Iraqi forces may be tempted to remain in the fight. If Franks gets stalled, and it appears Saddam’s regime has a chance to survive, our other enemies in the region will be emboldened. If Saddam manages to destroy the few bridges spanning the Euphrates, Franks’s tanks will sit on the west bank, unable to move, for weeks or months. Saddam already has the bridges prepared for demolition on a moment’s notice. If America can be stalemated there, it can be defeated elsewhere. Delay is itself a defeat.
While the President chooses a war plan, we are preparing the battlefield. Israeli special forces may already be operating in Iraq to target the missile batteries that threaten Israeli cities. I’ll bet that British Special Forces are there too, getting ready to raise merry old hell. Our air strikes on Iraqi radars as well as command and control assets should increase in frequency, and be made whenever the Iraqis target any aircraft enforcing the no-fly zones. Targets of opportunity that the fly-guys spot will be hit as well.
If Saddam can be removed with minimal damage to Iraq, and Iraqi troops forced to surrender quickly rather than be cornered and slaughtered, America will be seen as a liberator, not a conqueror preparing to threaten other nations. We must apply our military power in a way that gives the greatest chance of achieving success: a free Iraq that is an ally and a partner for the future. Light, hard and fast, Saddam delendus est.
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