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 SanFrancisco, I'd be marching for peace."
These are what I call "the church questions," the queries andcommandments delivered over the shoulder in the pew or dropped in quietconversation after Sunday School.
No, these questions and statements aren't limited to pew andpulpit, but in that venue they seem more thoughtful and reflective thanpolitical yammer at a yard party, more genuine than a hurried inquiry afterthe press conference, and certainly more sincere and deeply held than thestage combat Q&A on those Godforsaken cable TV talk shows.
Real answers begin with facts, and the biggest fact is the warwith Iraq began August 2, 1990, the day Saddam's Republican Guard invadedKuwait.
And the fighting never stopped.
Combat paused, though briefly. The U.S.-led coalition endedOperation Desert Storm in early March 1991, after meeting both the spiritand letter of the UN Security Council resolutions mandating the liberationof Kuwait.
Subsequent UN resolutions set behavioral criteria for SaddamHussein's regime -- criteria that Saddam and his clique respected only whenenforced with high explosive.
After Desert Storm, the war inside Iraq continued, as Saddam'stroops savaged rebelling Shia Arab villages in southern Iraq. Washingtonhoped for Saddam's fall, but with Khomeini's militant Iran next door, no onein the Middle East wanted Iraq to fragment. So U.S. forces didn't move, andcontinued to respect the spirit and letter of UN resolutions that did notpermit Saddam's removal as long as he gave up his weapons of massdestruction (WMD) and posed no offensive threat to neighboring nations.
But threats continued. 1993: The Clinton administration firedcruise missiles at Baghdad after receiving information that an Iraqi hitteam was out to assassinate former President George H.W. Bush.
September 1994: Two Iraqi divisions approached Kuwait, and theUnited States responded with troops. A true "slow war" began -- a kind ofcold 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 strugglingagainst 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 arecombat missions. It's a testament to training and technology that the UnitedStates and Britain have as yet lost no manned aircraft to Iraqi fire.
August 1996: Saddam attacked a CIA-backed Iraqi dissident basein northern Iraq. There was no U.S. military reprisal. This is the pointwhere what was left of the Gulf War political coalition withered. Subsequentair "enforcement attacks" by the Clinton administration were not sustainedwith the kind of focused politics it takes to lead an effective coalition.
Saddam began to win the "slow war." He succeeded in kicking outUN inspectors. Baghdad's nuclear acquisition clock, already ticking, beganto tick faster.
September 2001: 9-11 illustrated to all but the most willfullyblind and fundamentally anti-American what the ultimate penalty will be whenterrorists acquire WMD.
"When do we attack?" she asked.
Late last summer, the USAF and RAF struck the Iraqi H-3 airbasecomplex in western Iraq, destroying its command facility. Saddam knows thatair attack signaled a resurrected Storm.
Since 9-11, the United States has fought the slow, political warwith finesse and has substantially rebuilt the Gulf War coalition. TheUnited States is still playing for the ultimate outcome, a coup d'etat thatbegins the process of dismantling Iraqi tyranny.
Hence Bush administration pressure stratagems, like increasedbombing, deploying military forces around Iraq while demonstrating theintent to use them and serious discussion with Saddam's Iraq opponents aboutgoverning Baghdad once Saddam's gone.
"War's wrong," the bloke intoned.
And losing a war to a terrorist tyrant is a far greater wrong.