Last week, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld ordered theater commanders and commanders-in-chief to revise their war plans to provide for greater speed in deployment and action. This decision is a tremendous defeat for the Tommy Franks crowd that refused to move beyond World War II in strategy and doctrine. Mr. Rumsfeld realizes that the focused intensity of our forces, if applied with great speed, can defeat Iraq and any enemy like it without surrendering tactical surprise. This is very good news, because speed of our forces is vastly more important than their size in the coming Iraq campaign. And speed is also the key to solving two very important problems. First is the apparent captivity in Iraq of Navy Capt. Michael “Scott” Speicher. The other is what will happen to Saddam’s WMD between now and when we actually remove him from power. If we are to have any chance of rescuing Speicher — and of seizing or destroying Saddam’s weapons — speed is not everything. It’s damned nearly the only thing.
Pilots find safety in speed and altitude. Then-Lt. Cdr. Michael “Scott” Speicher ran out of both on January 17, 1991, when his Navy fighter was shot down over Iraq. His family had to endure first the “missing in action” report, then the finding that Speicher was “KIA/BNR” — killed in action, body not recovered. But rumors persisted that he was alive. In January 2001, the Navy reclassified Speicher as Missing in Action. Last week, in a move that critics are decrying as war propaganda, Navy Secretary Gordon England again reclassified Speicher as “Missing/Captured.” In almost twelve years of captivity, Speicher has been promoted twice in absentia. If he is alive, he is now Captain Speicher. And if Speicher is alive, and a prisoner in Iraq, today is the 4,289th day of his captivity.
England’s October 11 determination letter cites no new evidence about Speicher, but it holds one cryptic reference. It says, “The cumulative information received since Captain Speicher was shot down continues to suggest strongly that the government of Iraq can account for him.” England’s memo has one specific meaning: if Speicher is dead, the Iraqis killed him after he was safely on the ground. If that is true, we may never know. But if Speicher has survived imprisonment in Iraq all these years, his captivity would have been longer than that of any Vietnam prisoner of war who has returned. In his time, Speicher has likely been brutalized in ways we cannot imagine by some of the most brutal and uncivilized people the world now holds.
The people who may be keeping Scott Speicher captive have proven themselves both brutal and cowardly. Those “crack” Iraqi troops who were going to make the 1991 Gulf War a bloodbath — the “mother of all battles” in Saddam’s words — surrendered to everything that had “U.S.” painted on the side as quickly as they could. One group tried to surrender to a Predator drone, another to a CNN camera crew. They ain’t the Wehrmacht, and none of Saddam’s generals reminds me of Rommel or Guderian.
The Iraqis’ brutality was reported briefly and then forgotten. I had been told one story by a retired senior NCO, an intel guy, who I respected. But I sat on that story for the past four years for lack of corroboration. It’s now been corroborated by another source. Here it is.
Pulling out of Kuwait, the defeated Iraqis did everything they could to damage Kuwait and its citizens. In addition to torching the oil fields, stealing everything they could lift and blowing up buildings, they took about 600 Kuwaitis with them. None of those people has been accounted for. What the Iraqis couldn’t steal, smash or kidnap, they killed, tortured and mutilated. Such was the fate of the animals in the Kuwait City zoo.
The gent I spoke to was in an advance unit checking the zoo to see if any Iraqi soldiers had hidden there. None had. But before they fled, these barbarians took out their frustration on the animals. Not having the skill or courage to stand and fight anything that would shoot back, and not having the courage to even get close to the animals, they machine-gunned the tigers, leaving them bleeding to death in their cages. Some of the smaller animals — monkeys and others — were left alive after having arms and legs hacked off at random. Some were doused with gasoline and set on fire. One Iraqi general used a small monkey for pistol practice. I am told the crippled little guy lived for years afterward. These are the sort of people who may be holding Scott Speicher and the 600 Kuwaitis.
Speed also is crucial to seizing or destroying Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction before they can be used or smuggled out of Iraq in terrorists’ hands. It is much less likely that Saddam will be able to use these weapons now that Iraqi generals know they will be tried as war criminals if such weapons are used. But the danger of these weapons’ being given or sold to others who would use them against Americans is far greater. Once we demonstrate — by military action, not by words — that Saddam is really done for, his army will fold like a house of cards. But the WMD may be bartered for money or even for Saddam’s ability to survive and flee to, say, the Old Terrorists’ Home in Libya. Speed — and the unhesitating application of force whenever and wherever needed — may be able to stop this.
Until the Iraq campaign begins, terrorists will be dealing with Saddam to buy or barter his WMD into their hands. The longer we wait, the plans to smuggle Saddam’s WMD out and place them in terrorists’ hands will have a greater chance to succeed. When Dubya says “go,” our people will have to get this job done faster than any other they have tackled. Today would not be too soon.
Meanwhile, let’s all say a prayer for Scott Speicher, wherever he may be. He has seen too much for the Iraqis to let him go willingly. If our intel guys get word on where he is, only the fastest spec ops action can bring him out alive. We have a moral obligation to him and his family to try. Saddam delendus est.
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