by Austin Bay
May 1, 2002
After a decade, the drama verges on political soap opera, mixingnew characters with actors from the original cast.
But it isn't a soap, it's the tragedy of Iraq. The short plothas Saddam savaging his corner of the world, then beating the noose in 1991.Each time he moves to slip his political cage, the United States rattles asword. Bit players start a scene or two. In 2002, the current Russianforeign minister, Igor Ivanov, calls for a "political solution." Igor'sscriptwriter punched his lines from those spoken by Soviet bigwigs in fall1990.
Military planners work with "scenarios," rather than scenes,political could-be's and military what-ifs that as new intelligence isgained and decisions are reached become the basis for campaign plans.
Last weekend, "leaks" about a military plan to destroy SaddamHussein's dictatorship began to appear in the open press. The leakedscenarios call for a U.S. attack to destroy Saddam "early" in 2003.
In 1990, I created a "Kuwait war game" for ABC News'"Nightline." The program aired in October of that year. ABC sought campaignconcepts and possible results. It got air war followed by ground war,featuring an armored sweep into the Iraqi desert. ABC also insisted on aU.S. Marine amphibious invasion of Kuwait. I told the producer that washighly unlikely, but the producer replied: "Ted (Koppel) likes Marines. Putit in." No one who likes Marines sends them on an opposed amphibiousassault, but Admiral Koppel ruled.
I named one "scenario" that appeared in the board version of thegame ("Arabian Nightmare," published in Strategy and Tactics Magazine,December 1990) "Beware the Ides of January." Yes, a Shakespearean rip.Caesar got sliced on the Ides of March. Saddam's no Caesar, but the phrasehas that ominous chord.
Desert Storm did kick off in mid-January. My scenario wasn'tsorcery, but the work of weather tables (avoid the shamals), as well as alogistics estimate on the time required to field an overwhelming U.S. combatforce.
So plans for an "early" 2003 campaign have weather and logisticswisdom (though October 2002 isn't a bad time, either). A year givesdiplomats time to quiet the Israeli-Palestinian horror. Saddam exacerbatesthat situation. For him, it's a "split the coalition" gambit, one heattempted in 1990 (and was accounted for in "Nightline's" war game).
But leaks aren't real war plans, nor are games. At one level,these leaked plans are political threats -- a saber drawn, rather thanrattled. In strategic context, the United States is encouraging the "9mmballot": an Iraqi coup against Saddam that succeeds. The leaks increaseinternal pressure on Saddam and dispirit Iraqi troops by keeping them oncontinual high alert. The message to Saddam's supporters is, "Unless youwant to go down with Saddam, remove him." The dissident Iraqi Officers'Movement reports the military desertion rate has leaped inside Iraq, ameasure of increasing paranoia.
Still, a successful coup remains a longshot (though a small,fast-striking U.S. force assisting a coup is an interesting scenario). The"leaks" suggest 70,000 to 250,000 U.S. and British troops in the 2003campaign to finish Saddam. A month ago, I wrote that a U.S. attack launchedfrom Kuwait would take an "Army corps plus," and that's around 200,000,three "heavy" (armored) divisions, an armored cavalry regiment, an airassault division, a Marine brigade and support forces. If Saudi bases arenixed, air arrives from Kuwait, from Navy carriers and from Turkey, andpossibly from Bahrain and Qatar. It's "very smart air," the "Einsteinincrease" in air munitions' accuracy displayed in Afghanistan.
This attack would use advancing ground divisions as "mobilebases" for helicopter and airborne forces (with "overwatching" air power) toidentify and destroy key targets, such as weapons of mass destruction (WMD)depots.
I still plug for action to the north, a second front involvingTurkish troops.
Destroying WMD is absolutely critical. That's Saddam'sthreatened last scene, scorched-earth destruction. But Hitler's officersdidn't burn Paris. Holding Iraqi officers personally responsible for chem,radiological and bio attacks on noncombatants (Israel, Saudi Arabia, Kurdvillages) will give them second thoughts.
Speculation? Yes, sketchy scenes of could-be history. The nextyear will provide the grim, non-fictional details.