by Austin Bay
January 15, 2003
"When's the war with Iraq going to start?" he asked.
"When do we attack?" she asked.
"No war," the septuagenarian bloke intoned. "If I were in San
Francisco, I'd be marching for peace."
These are what I call "the church questions," the queries and
commandments delivered over the shoulder in the pew or dropped in quiet
conversation after Sunday School.
No, these questions and statements aren't limited to pew and
pulpit, but in that venue they seem more thoughtful and reflective than
political yammer at a yard party, more genuine than a hurried inquiry after
the press conference, and certainly more sincere and deeply held than the
stage combat Q&A on those Godforsaken cable TV talk shows.
Real answers begin with facts, and the biggest fact is the war
with Iraq began August 2, 1990, the day Saddam's Republican Guard invaded
And the fighting never stopped.
Combat paused, though briefly. The U.S.-led coalition ended
Operation Desert Storm in early March 1991, after meeting both the spirit
and letter of the UN Security Council resolutions mandating the liberation
Subsequent UN resolutions set behavioral criteria for Saddam
Hussein's regime -- criteria that Saddam and his clique respected only when
enforced with high explosive.
After Desert Storm, the war inside Iraq continued, as Saddam's
troops savaged rebelling Shia Arab villages in southern Iraq. Washington
hoped for Saddam's fall, but with Khomeini's militant Iran next door, no one
in the Middle East wanted Iraq to fragment. So U.S. forces didn't move, and
continued to respect the spirit and letter of UN resolutions that did not
permit Saddam's removal as long as he gave up his weapons of mass
destruction (WMD) and posed no offensive threat to neighboring nations.
But threats continued. 1993: The Clinton administration fired
cruise missiles at Baghdad after receiving information that an Iraqi hit
team was out to assassinate former President George H.W. Bush.
September 1994: Two Iraqi divisions approached Kuwait, and the
United States responded with troops. A true "slow war" began -- a kind of
cold war, but with constant shooting in the north and south No Fly Zones
(NFZ) of Iraq.
In those NFZs (implemented to protect Kurds and Shias struggling
against the constant war of Baghdad's tyranny), "fast war" was daily duty.
Talk to pilots, as I have, who've flown the missions. NFZ missions are
combat missions. It's a testament to training and technology that the United
States and Britain have as yet lost no manned aircraft to Iraqi fire.
August 1996: Saddam attacked a CIA-backed Iraqi dissident base
in northern Iraq. There was no U.S. military reprisal. This is the point
where what was left of the Gulf War political coalition withered. Subsequent
air "enforcement attacks" by the Clinton administration were not sustained
with the kind of focused politics it takes to lead an effective coalition.
Saddam began to win the "slow war." He succeeded in kicking out
UN inspectors. Baghdad's nuclear acquisition clock, already ticking, began
to tick faster.
September 2001: 9-11 illustrated to all but the most willfully
blind and fundamentally anti-American what the ultimate penalty will be when
terrorists acquire WMD.
"When do we attack?" she asked.
Late last summer, the USAF and RAF struck the Iraqi H-3 airbase
complex in western Iraq, destroying its command facility. Saddam knows that
air attack signaled a resurrected Storm.
Since 9-11, the United States has fought the slow, political war
with finesse and has substantially rebuilt the Gulf War coalition. The
United States is still playing for the ultimate outcome, a coup d'etat that
begins the process of dismantling Iraqi tyranny.
Hence Bush administration pressure stratagems, like increased
bombing, deploying military forces around Iraq while demonstrating the
intent to use them and serious discussion with Saddam's Iraq opponents about
governing Baghdad once Saddam's gone.
"War's wrong," the bloke intoned.
And losing a war to a terrorist tyrant is a far greater wrong.