"If the gloves don’t fit, you must acquit," worked once before but unfortunately Saddam Hussein never played football. It won’t work twice. With the 12,000-page Iraqi dossier appearing to be a complete contrivance not even Saddam’s friends can defend, the question becomes "What’s Next?"
The cliché that generals always fight the last war is not exactly true. What generals are trying to do is re-create their last success. The rule applies to both sides. Saddam, a great admirer of Stalin, seems to be busy trying to recreate the battle of Stalingrad from World War II. He is re-doing those things that allowed him to survive the last time. But life has changed. It changed last September.
In warfighting, the principles are constant but the applications are fresh. In 1219-21 the great Mongol khan, Genghis and his principal orlok (field marshal) Subedei Bahadur, created the greatest cavalry campaigns in history. Their weapon was the mounted archer with a compound bow whose aim and range were anchored by a saddle with stirrups and who was capable of extreme mobility. The Mongols had both strategic and tactical genius and they came at their enemies from all sides until they opened a vulnerable flank. Then, and only then, did the heavy cavalry make their decisive charge.
Today’s mounted archer is the freelance terrorist. The heavy cavalry is the supporting nation-states intent on installing the Wahabbite version of Shariah law. Today’s warfare doctrines are sometimes called 4GW (Fourth Generation Warfare) The point of departure in 4GW is that the difference between war and peace has blurred or vanished. The war is nonlinear to the point of being unable to define a battlefront or distinguish a soldier from a civilian. Actual military force, though critical, plays a smaller role and supporting initiatives in the economic, political or diplomatic worlds become increasingly important. The "other initiatives" are used to dry up popular support for the enemy. An important difference, illustrated in the Israel/Palestine conflict, is that military success may be used by the opponent to create a backlash that produces more harm than the advance creates good. As in all war, deception is vital and maybe even determinative.
The battle, as always, is for the minds and morale of the citizens. The battle field is electronic communications. The extra player is the management of mass media enterprises who intend to carve out a role for themselves as sectarian clerics whispering in the ears of would-be kings and determining who will and who will not be granted audience.
However, Saddam is waging war on a pre 9/11 America. His gamble is that America has not changed. His fate turns on three questions.
Crime or War? One of the most amazing parts of U.S. public diplomacy as it is portrayed in the media is the question" When are we going to war?" We are at war now. Large parts of the media are content to portray the current Iraqi situation as a global court case with the Security Council as jury, America and Britain as prosecutors, Saddam as defender and the UN as the decider of just punishment. Some comments even go so far as to make the issue look like civil litigation without any criminal punishment applicable. A cornerstone of Saddam’s strategy is to keep this pot boiling. A delay until this summer does not mean an attack next fall. There will be no military action in a Presidential election year. If he buys six months, he buys two years. It’s a race to the bomb.
Saddam does not believe that once he has a nuclear device he can be deterred. One bomb alone can make the Saudi oil fields radioactive for generations. He does not believe that the G-7 nations will give up their oil to defeat him. He does not believe that America has the will to endure for long periods of time, to take casualties or to inflict casualties at the level necessary to defeat him in a nuclear exchange. The longer we engage in parsing sentences about what percentage of a material breach we have today, the better chance he has to obtain his holy grail – a credible nuclear threat. At that point, Saddam believes, the American will to victory can be conquered.
UN or US? The battle in the UN is not over control of Saddam. He has defied them 16 times already and has no intention of submitting to them now. The battle is over control of the United States. Can the rest of the world threaten or induce the United States to cede its national sovereignty on matters of defense to a multinational body controlled by Eurocrats? Should France make the decision on whether or not we go to war with Iraq?
The Iraqi strategy in this regard is to owe its business partners a lot of money - $8-9 billion to Russia and $5-6 billion to France – which they may not collect if he loses power. He also creates fear for their future business if the U.S. becomes an active player in the Middle East. The UN itself makes a huge amount of money from managing the Iraqi food-for-oil programs and its favored NGO’s are large recipients of grants and service contracts.
War redistributes power. The U.S. presence in a conquered Iraq reshapes the political dynamic of the entire Middle East. Iraq shares borders with Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Iran, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. With a military force in the region, the U.S. would become the defining power in the Persian Gulf, able to mount operations against terrorists in the surrounding region. Saddam wants to rally those who seek to defeat the world’s only superpower, whatever the reason.
Containment is Working. With the UN feeding his people and ignoring his smuggling, Saddam has an unaccounted for $6-10 billion a year in smuggled oil sales to accommodate his neighbors while building his arsenal. Holding on to the status quo is a singular victory for Hussein, especially if American troops march up to the border and then march away again. Combat ready troops either have to be used or sent back to permanent quarters. They are not equipped to simply melt in the desert sun. The consequences of inaction are too much for the United States to bear. It cannot function if it is regarded as fundamentally weak and unable to take decisive action.
The principal asset in this phase of Saddam’s public diplomacy is Hans Blix. The 74-year-old Swede has no intention of ending his UN career by starting a war. In the Clinton era, the U.S. put forward Rolf Ekeus to preside over UN inspections. He was far too aggressive for Russia and France, Saddam’s friends on the Security Council, and so Hans Blix was installed. Mr. Blix has an unsurpassed record, says the Wall Street Journal, of failure in dealing with Hussein. As head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) from 1981-87, Blix rated Iraq cooperation as "exemplary" while they ran a self-admitted A-bomb development program tight under his nose. Blix is noted for being sensitive to the sites he inspects, avoiding confrontation and constantly reducing the effectiveness of inspections. As the recently submitted Iraqi dossier reveals a hollowness not even Saddam’s friends can explain, the perjury trap seems ready to close.
Often, those who call for cooler heads are motivated by cold feet. War is the imposition of one group’s will on another group. Saddam is at war today. But he cannot impose his will. His first motive is not to buy time but to still fear. The moment his officer corps is more afraid of what’s coming than they are of Saddam himself, he is finished.
The great Arab tradition of never backing the losing horse works against Saddam if American resolve is clear. Fear has always been Saddam’s weapon of choice. Fear will turn against him over the next few weeks as the tanks and guns and troops assemble. He has miscalculated and misunderstood our freedoms.
The U.S. will act because the price of not acting would be increased international contempt for weakness. It will also act because U.S. forces in the region will become the foundation for waging effective war on al Qaeda. The gloves don’t fit but the noose is tightening.
Tom Huheey is a columnist who specializes in analyzing Washington trends for specialized business publications.