The talking heads on television have run out of gas. There's not much they can say they haven't said already. Enthusiasm for the war may vary, but everyone agrees war is inevitable, and that the only question now is when it begins. Presumably we won't bomb while the U.N. inspectors are still on the ground, or there is still a chance the Security Council will support us, but who knows? The Iraqi operation goes forward in murky ways, and things are not always what they seem.
Iraq said last week that the inspection team harbored American spies, while the U.S. said Iraq was lying about its weapons. It may be both sides were right. Certainly one hopes the CIA has planted a spook or an asset among the inspectors. The inspectors are a valuable source of information.
At the same time no one other than the usual hate-America people believe the Iraqis. As a subdued Tom Daschle told Wolf Blitzer over the weekend, the day before the White House got copies of the 12,000-page Iraqi weapons declaration, Iraq has always lied in the past, and there is no reason to believe it now. Indeed even the New York Times seems to have lost all hope. A Sunday magazine piece argued, tortuously, that because liberals had favored the bombing of Kosovo, they were reluctant to oppose a war with Iraq. In fact, the piece concluded by saying that maybe war wasn't a bad idea.
So there you were, virtual unanimity: the Iraqis lie, so let's get on with it. On the other hand, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said on Monday, "We have not made any conclusions about the [Iraqi] declaration."
But no one quite believed that. Fleischer was only trying, very sensibly, to project an image of a judicious White House. The war would be deadly serious, but it is preceded by PR-political maneuvers from all sides. Saddam Hussein issued his weird apology to Kuwait. Tariq Azis, Iraq's creepy deputy foreign minister, told Ted Koppel that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. An Iraqi general told Peter Arnett (yes, he's back there again) the same.
That was all nonsense, of course. But don't forget George Bush's wacky speech in Cincinnati last October. He said Iraq wanted to send a fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles filled with chemical and biological weapons against American cities. Bush does not seem to have repeated the charge since then, however, so it may be that some military man broke through the civilian hawks at the White House and got to him. Aerial vehicles with chemical and biological weapons are way beyond Iraqi capabilities. The real threat is that Iraq will develop nuclear weapons.
Meanwhile there seems to be an internal war of sorts at the Pentagon. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is a big proponent of "effects-based" operations. Apparently, though, the Army and Marine Corps are skeptical. An effects-based war would rely on laser and satellite-guided bombs, unmanned surveillance planes, and other technological marvels. The Iraqis would be hit early and often; resistance would crumble before the arrival of U.S. ground troops. But we tried that in Afghanistan, some Army and Marine generals say, and it really didn't work; we still needed ground troops to do the job.
The consensus figure, meanwhile, on just how many troops would be needed seems to be 250,000, about half the number of those who fought in the Gulf War, but still a considerable force. In an interview in the National Journal, retired Army Lieut. Gen. Gus Pagonis, the Gulf War supply chief, said that of those 250,000, some 50,000 would be logistical personnel, whose concern would be food, fuel, ammunition and other supplies.
Pagonis also spoke about the need for deep-water ports, where supply ships could be unloaded. Without the ports, the military operation could founder. But the only effective deep-water port we seem to be sure of now is in Kuwait. Turkey and Saudi Arabia are reluctant to make their ports available for a U.S. invasion.
Whether the Turks and Saudis will come around is still uncertain, but it should be clear by now that it would be better for the U.S. to have allies in the war than to try to go it alone or with just the Brits. The civilian hawks both in and out of the White House who seem to think it is somehow unmanly to seek the approval of the Security Council would best serve their country now by just shutting up. The war should be led by the generals, and not by them.