- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 3, 2002

A funny thing happened to the stock market last week on the Road to Baghdad. The minute that rumors spread across the floor last Tuesday that a U.S. invasion of Iraq had begun or was imminent, all bids were canceled, and the Dow tumbled 100 points. Even though the market immediately revived, the drop gave New York and the nation a little glimpse of the unexpected consequences that might come with the now much-expected war against Saddam Hussein.
The White House is talking as if an attack on Iraq is an obvious outcome of the Afghan operation. Officials say, however, they are being cautious they plan to have Saddam eliminated by the year 2005, not next week. In the same breath, the Pentagon announces that arms producers are working three shifts, 24 hours a day, to replenish all the Air Force and Navy inventories that have run dangerously low during the Afghan war.
In a kind of offhand afterthought, they all acknowledge that the United States would have no allies, no coalition and no bases in such a war. The fierce looks of ideologically impassioned men and women who don't have to fight elite-group wars seem to be saying: "So what?"
In the last few weeks, I have spoken to several prominent and public conservatives pushing for a war against Baghdad yesterday, if possible. One smiled with an air of strange excitement when he talked of the eventuality of "marching 100,000 American troops across Iraq." For another, that wasn't enough: He wanted us to take on Somalia at the same time and "wipe out every man, woman and child who had anything to do with the killing of our American troops in 1983." And polls show Americans support the general idea of attacking Iraq.
Did I miss a beat somewhere? Have we somehow gone overnight from the "common wisdom" of the 1990s, when supposedly Americans would not risk the life of one single American boy, to an era when we're looking around for, shall we say, "challenges"?
Let's look first at the strategic balance on the presupposed battlefield:
The Iraqi armed forces now figure at an estimated 424,000 men, according to the definitive International Institute of Strategic Studies, with another 650,000 in the reserves. Conservatives pushing for war like to insist that Iraqi soldiers and officers have lost spirit since their ostensible defeat in the Gulf war in 1991, but in fact there is no real proof of that. And if history doesn't tell us that soldiers always fight with an infinitely higher intensity when they are fighting within their own country, then it doesn't tell us anything.
What forces would be with us against them? Where would we base from? Who could we count upon?
Reasonable estimates by former Pentagon officials and others say that as many as 200,000 American troops would be needed on the ground in Iraq. By Pentagon figures, there are 60,000 U.S. military personnel now in the military's Central Commandregion, which includes 25 countries in Northeast Africa, Southwest and Central Asia and the island nation of the Seychelles. Some 4,000 of them are now on the ground in Afghanistan.
A 200,000-troop commitment would demand additional call-ups of the reserves and of National Guard units, 35,000 of which were already called to active duty after September 11. Pentagon officials have repeatedly testified recently that, not only in weaponry but in sheer numbers, the military is being "stressed." And even if such a war were successful, it would then call for a lengthy occupation, in a land where the ruins of previous great civilizations dot the barren desert landscape.
Ah, but, say the obsessive "march-to-Baghdad" contingents here, we already have people on the ground. As in Afghanistan with the armed Afghans, we have Kurdish and anti-Saddam Iraqi groups webbed across the top of Iraq from Iran to Turkish Kurdistan. Well, not quite.
The conservatives and pro-Israeli groups who lead the "get Baghdad" refrain here have spoken of using dissident Iraqis in northern Iran, in a group called the Supreme Council for Islamic Resistance in Iraq, to begin an invasion. But there are only 4,000 to 8,000 of them, most unreliable ex-Iraqi prisoners of war. They have a "brigade" of sorts in short, not much.
Then there are the Kurds in northern Iraq who are violently anti-Saddam but highly infiltrated by Baghdad. Of the two major groups, the Kurdish Democratic Party has 15,000 men under arms, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan has 10,000. Each can call upon, depending upon the mood of the moment, about 25,000 tribesmen, who might identify with your cause and then again, might not.
The group that war enthusiasts in Washington put the most faith in, the Iraqi National Congress based in London, is essentially only a political organization, has no men under arms and is constantly being punished by the U.S. Congress for misuse of funds.
Finally, at least at the moment, not one American ally whether the English or the Europeans, whether the moderate Arabs or the Turks has indicated it would support America in attacking Iraq. Indeed, the Financial Times estimates the United States would have to use remote air bases such as Diego Garcia, thousands of miles away in the Indian Ocean, Cyprus or possibly Central Asia.
Suredoes seem like a slam-dunk, doesn't it?
Still, having said all that, these alarming figures and projections don't necessarily mean the U.S. and, indeed, all of the countries of the world should not think, at some appropriate time, of doing whatever possible to end the Baghdad regime. That wish and even commitment is really not the question, and Inshallah there will be a time when the fall of the regime is ripe.
The question instead is whether anyone in this ongoing discussion is thinking through the groundwork seriously. Surely the military is, because they are the ones, unlike the perfervid ideological theorists, who will have to go out and die for Kerbala, and Najaf and Basra, those bitter and brutal cities of the Mongols and the Tikritis and the ancient Assyrians.
Meanwhile, the political discussion here is simply too frivolous and too wildly imprecise, and there are too many special interests and special lobbies pretending they represent America's interests. When the New York stock market can fall just because careless dreams become rumor and rumor comes to seem fact, then the vision of marching easily to Baghdad is something we had better scrutinize carefully.

Georgie Anne Geyer is a nationally syndicated columnist.



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