On Point

Twelve Years, Seven Months and No More Counting

by Austin Bay
March 19, 2003

Forty-eight hours. By the time this essay hits print, the countdown President Bush began on March 17 will be history.

The calendar tells the real story, however, not the stopwatch. Twelve years, seven months. That's the proper time metric for gauging The Saddam War, which began on Aug. 2, 1990 when Saddam's Iraq invaded Kuwait.

Desert Storm, unleashed in January 1991, smashed Saddam's military and temporarily thwarted his expansive ambitions. Key U.N. resolutions forbade using coalition troops to topple Saddam's fascist Baath regime. The United States kept that bargain, though the bloodbath in Kurd and Shia communities as the Republican Guard returned to murder Iraqis revolting against Saddam morally stains the United Nations' deal.

Subsequent Security Council resolutions had implicit clocks. Saddam had to rid himself of weapons of mass destruction or suffer consequences.

But the United Nations has failed. Its countdown never quite concludes. Another tick, another minute, another hour, another decade. The U.N. clock, all wound up with the lingo of collective security, ultimately lacks the steel spring of collective will.

Hence the devastating line in Bush's speech: "The United Nations Security Council has not lived up to its responsibilities. So we will rise to ours."

I've written this before, and every second makes it more certain: The formula for Hell in the 21st century, weapons of mass destruction plus rogue states plus terrorists, must be broken. Breaking the fatal linkage -- stopping the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, eliminating terrorists and reforming rogue states -- should be the civilized world's common goal.

America, with staunch allies, has accepted the necessary burden.

The biggest burden now falls on U.S. and British soldiers. Make no mistake -- in wartime, the toughest job in a democracy is that of a private taking a machine-gun nest. A democracy's soldiers are the real human shields -- shields against chaos and tyranny. Bush said it well: "We are now acting because the risks of inaction would be far greater. In one year or five years, the power of Iraq to inflict harm on all free nations would be multiplied many times over. With these capabilities, Saddam and his terrorist allies could choose the moment of deadly conflict when the two are strongest. We choose to meet that threat now, where it arises, before it can appear suddenly in our skies and cities."

What happens if Saddam and his clique do not leave Iraq as Bush demanded?

U.S. commanders have characterized their battle plans as relying on "shock and awe." The tyrant's battle plans appear to rely on "Shias and alleys." "Shock and awe" versus "Shias (refugees) and alleys" represent a battle for control of time. The United States intends to fight on "fast war time" and Saddam hopes for slow.

"Shock and awe" means "smart" precision munitions dropped on Iraqi military headquarters, on air defenses, on elite Iraqi combat units, on any resistance. As the "hard and smart" rain pins and destroys Iraqi units, U.S. and British tanks and armored infantry strike. Helicopters move infantry (airmobile assault in Pentagonese) to seize key road junctions, weapons depots and neighborhoods. Special operations forces (SOF, e.g., Green Berets), already positioned in Iraq, relay intelligence and direct bombs using lasers. In concept, an overwhelming "fast" wave of power and maneuvering forces breaks the will to resist of all but Saddam's worst thugs.

Saddam believes "slow time" gives him a chance. He wants waves of refugees (in the south, most would be "Shia" Arabs) to vex advancing U.S. armor. Chemical weapons could also slow the allied attack. Saddam hopes the alleys of Baghdad are slow and costly. (Holding his own people as hostages may further stall allied city operations.) If Saddam's "slow gambit" succeeds, he could ask the U.N. Security Council for a ceasefire resolution.

Which time scheme will dominate the battlefield?

The U.S. military is an around-the-clock organization. Saddam's units are not. As for the alleys? Defending alleys requires a large cadre of hard-core Iraqi fascists. When the rest of Iraq is liberated, even those criminals will realize their time is past.

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