- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 19, 2002

George W. Bush and Saddam Hussein are on a collision course. Even as Saddam blinks as he seemed to on Monday and agrees to comply with all the prior U.N. resolutions he has flagrantly violated, war may still be inevitable.

Backed by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Mr. Bush seems convinced that the certain way to deny Saddam nuclear weapons is through a regime change. And only the use of military force can accomplish and guarantee that aim.

Senior civilian officials in the Bush administration expect a military campaign to remove Saddam will be relatively swift and with relatively low costs. Many also think the Iraqi public, however fragmented among different ethnic and religious sects, will be jubilant at the prospect of having the tyrant's yoke lifted by any means and, as in the Gulf war, much or most of Iraq's army will surrender, defect, or even turn against Saddam. Given America's overwhelming power, they may well be right.

Karl von Clausewitz reminds us in war, however, that even the simplest of things can go wrong. Hence, the military axiom of hoping for the best and planning for much worse is good advice. Expectations or assumptions about rapid victory and a rapid collapse of the enemy's will to resist do not always hold true. The two world wars of the last century are stunning examples of planning for the best and suffering the consequences.

In August 1914, both the Allied and Central powers based their strategy on the lessons of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and presumed a short war. He who mobilized first, it was thought, would win. The German Schlieffen Plan called for a massive "right hook" in which the German soldier at the far end of the advancing line would "wet his sleeve in the sea" as the German army drove swiftly down the French coast to Paris and to victory.

France's Plan XXI envisaged a similar thrust but up the "gut" toward Berlin. Yet, instead of a rapid war, it took four years and two months of bloody fighting before an armistice was signed at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year 1918.

On Dec. 6th, 1941, as the Imperial Japanese fleet steamed toward Pearl Harbor and the Philippines, Tokyo believed the next day's attack against U.S. forces would paralyze America's will to fight. The destruction of its battleships would leave America defenseless in the Pacific. Thus, America would have no choice except to negotiate or capitulate to Japan's desires for expanding its Greater South East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere. Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto's warning of awakening a sleeping tiger went unheeded.

Misperception is not absent here either. The Vietnam War is a tragic case in point. More recently, in March 1999, the Clinton administration, under the NATO aegis, ordered an air campaign in Yugoslavia as the means to stop Serbian inspired genocide in Kosovo. The assumption was that as the first bombs fell on Belgrade, Slobodan Milosevic would capitulate to NATO. No ground campaign was envisaged or put in place. An air campaign was thought sufficient.

It took 78 days of air strikes before Mr. Milosevic cried enough. Had the campaign lasted a 79th, 80th or 81st day, who knows what would have happened. As it was, NATO barely hung together as each day passed. Ironically, a tiny country in the Balkans came closer to shredding NATO solidarity than the vastly more powerful Soviet Union ever did.

Today is not 1914, 1941 or 1999. Wilhelmine Germany and fascist Japan are long gone. The U.S military, supported principally by Britain, is an extraordinarily potent and stunningly capable force. That does not mean however that the administration should not carefully consider all of its intentions and assumptions before it uses force.

As history shows, preconceptions of war do not always prove valid. Indeed, reports from journalists and other observers inside Iraq do not support the predictions of Iraqi defectors and members of the opposition Iraqi National Congress that most of Saddam's army will crumble and the public at large will welcome an occupation.

There is a more perplexing matter. The reason for a military assault is to prevent Iraq from obtaining, threatening or using nuclear weapons. But one effect could be quite the opposite. Iran no doubt would be convinced it needed nuclear weapons if only for self-defense. And a coup or revolution in Pakistan, triggered by instability arising from an American attack, could install a radical regime in charge of a state with a population of 145 million and as many as 100 nuclear weapons. Would we be better or worse off then?

Regarding the old Soviet Union, Ronald Reagan said "trust but verify." Regarding any plans to invade Iraq and remove a genuinely terrible regime, the same message should apply. Hope for the best but plan for much worse.


Harlan Ullman is associated with policy institutes the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the CNA Corp. This article was drawn from his latest book, "Unfinished Business: Afghanistan, the Middle East and Beyond Defusing the Dangers that Threaten America's Security" published by Kensington Books.


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