The New Rome?
Wesley Clark was Supreme Allied Commander of Europe and Commander in Chief of US European Command from 1997 - 2000 in which capacity he oversaw the bombing campaign against Serbia. He was also director of strategic plans and policy for the US Joint Chief of Staff from 1994 - 1996 when he led the military negotiations on the Bosnian Peace Accords in Dayton. His comments were adapted from a conversation with NPQ.
Washington - My guess - and it is only a guess, of course - is that most of the fighting in Iraq will be over within two weeks. We may need to prepare 250,000 troops, but depending on the rapidity of the collapse of Saddam's own army, many of those won't even get into the fight. Actual combat troops might number 75,000 - 100,000.
We are going to go in with perhaps 1,000 air and missile strikes the first night. Ten or less of those may miss or misfire and strike Iraqi civilians. And there may be some military targets that have to be struck that are so close to civilian housing that some civilians are hit in so-called collateral damage. Nevertheless, there are unlikely to be that many Iraqi civilian losses initially.
I would not expect any American casualties in the initial strikes, and overall, depending on the intensity of the fighting, perhaps a few dozen casualties.
Now those are my best-scenario expectations. The assumption is that the Iraqis will not precipitate conflict, and that when the Iraqis experience that first night of strikes and see the strength of the attacks coming, resistance will melt away. The white flags will come out. There will be such an awareness of the inevitability of defeat by overwhelming American power that as soon as the Iraqi soldiers realize there is more danger from the front than the rear, they will find the opportunity to surrender. Saddam's apparatus will come apart from the bottom up, from the outside in. Our greatest problem in the fighting is likely to be how to handle hundreds of thousands of deserting and surrendering Iraqi soldiers who are armed and hungry.
But then, even under the most optimistic scenarios, the troubles are likely to begin. Food distribution will break down. Health care will break down. There will be violence and revenge in the streets as Saddam's secret police melt away. Despite our efforts to maintain order, there are likely to be uprisings, as in Basra at the end of the Gulf War. The popular violence will be widespread and targeted on those associated with Saddam's regime.
This scenario offers the low end of any casualty assessment.
The high-end casualty assessment is that Saddam sees us coming as we're staging in Kuwait. He says, "I've never liked those Shias anyway," and unleashes on them all his biological and chemical stocks, such as anthrax by the truckload, south of the 33rd parallel. When the Americans drive through on their way to Baghdad, we will ingest all that dust and it will present a high risk to us.
But more importantly it will affect the Iraqi people themselves. And Saddam will try to say to say we caused it. Here we are talking about 12 - 14 million people at risk in southern Iraq. Even if we have our protective suits on, how are we going to take care of all the sick and dying?
Saddam may also try to use his few remaining Scuds to strike Israel. The Israelis will shoot back with their anti-missile systems. And we will also be attacking the Iraqis to neutralize the threat from the Scuds. Still, there is always the possibility that a Scud loaded with anthrax spores might slip through and strike Israel. And in that event, say the Israelis, they would have to respond against Iraq. This is the recipe for tens of thousands of civilian casualties.
And between the most optimistic and the most pessimistic scenarios is the question about how hard the Iraqis might fight. It is simply unpredictable at this time.
DANGER OF HUMILIATION | There is some risk of short-term instability. There may be popular riots early in the campaign. But if the war ends quickly, the impact will probably be minimal.
Last year, once people on the "Arab street" saw that American forces were successful in Afghanistan, they abandoned Osama bin Laden and the Taliban. Once they see Saddam Hussein is a loser, they will abandon him just as well.
But there is a long-term risk from a devastating defeat of Saddam that is extremely dangerous - a deepening of the Arab sense of humiliation across the region. They will view the American and allied victory as a re-imposition of colonialism. This perception is not helped by those who say we can pay for the war with Iraq by taking 1 billion barrels of their oil a day. That kind of talk just confirms the mistaken idea that America is doing all this only for oil.
Another danger is that Iraq could become a battleground of fundamentalists. Under Saddam, the fundamentalists have been the enemy in Iraq. If he is replaced, Iraq could become a wide-open target for the fundamentalists from Iran and Saudi Arabia, both of which would be preaching anti-Western extremism. There is little our American soldiers can do to prevent this - it will depend on establishing quickly an effective Iraqi government.
THE NEW ROME | The sentiment of the Bush team seems to be, "We are so powerful we don't have to ever let anyone threaten us ever again." It's as though we were a new Rome.
It seems that there is a kind of arrogance about American power. Perhaps it comes from our military experience. In the first Gulf War, in Panama, in Kosovo and in Afghanistan, we have been incredibly effective against these other countries. Some people seem to believe that with our unmatched might and modern technology, we can handle Iraq - or anyone else who doesn't get the message.
It is a new demonstration of American power, and though it may look to others like arrogance, it is actually motivated by fear. The attacks of 9/11 made a significant impact.
Certainly, I understand the concern for American security. But we don't want to be so aggressive that we simply stir worldwide resentment and antagonism. If we do, we'll simply make more enemies.
But there is something else that must be understood in Washington. However good the American armed forces are today - and they are very good indeed - they are essentially a peacetime force. Young, largely married with families, all-volunteer, they are not designed to accept the extended deployments and high casualty rates associated with prolonged conventional war.
Moreover, the armed forces are increasingly unrepresentative
of the society they serve. And so we are beginning to hear some talk about
the reintroduction of the draft, if fighting were to continue intensively.
Somehow we have to overcome the legacy of fear and anxiety from the events of 9/11. While we must remain strong, and occasionally take actions to anticipate and eliminate immediate threats to us, we must also recognize that our greater security will be achieved not by killing our opponents and destroying their regimes but by supporting our friends and reinforcing those who share our values.