March 25, 2003
Fighting the Last War
By Col. Mike Truner, US Army Retired
IRAQ -- There's a saying
in military circles -We always fight the last war. It means
that too much focus on past enemy behavior can easily lead to misjudging
an enemy capability in the future.
So I asked myself today which war will this be
Desert Storm or Somalia?
In 1991, we had four ironclad prerequisites
for war with Iraq (1) a clear political end state (2) overwhelming
force to achieve a quick and decisive victory (3) a viable Arab
coalition to avoid empowering Arab extremists, and (4) absolutely
no Israeli involvement to avoid a global holy war.
In Somalia, we ignored the most critical
of these lessons. Mission creep turned our original objective of
humanitarian aid into simply `Get Aidid,' the Somali factional leader
we were battling. We committed US troops to a high-risk military
operation in an urban area with extraordinarily dangerous variables
in play on the battlefield, and with insufficient firepower thanks
to then Secretary of Defense Les Aspin.
Now we've firmly committed ourselves to
war with Iraq, and our political objective? To get Saddam. The uniformed
Joint Staff in the Pentagon strongly opposed this plan early on.
It requires an attack with a force half that of Desert Storm against
an entrenched urban enemy renowned for its ruthlessness in defending
its own survival.
The uniformed Joint Staff was overridden,
yet in so many horrifying ways this operation resembles Somalia,
not Desert Storm, only with nerve gas and biological weapons. And
without Turkey as a base to launch a northern assault, a dual-pronged
attack will be all but impossible.
Perhaps we can pull this off, but here's
a far worse scenario that's at least as likely. Within hours of
our attack, Saddam launches Scuds on Israel. Israel's right-wing
government launches a full-scale attack on Iraq, creating a holy
Saddam, threatened with his own survival,
uses chemical and biological weapons and human shields just as he
has in the past. He torches his own oil fields, thousands of his
own people are killed. Photos of American soldiers amid landscapes
of Iraqi civilian bodies blanket the world press which aligns unanimously
against the US. The US is condemned by NATO and the UN.
The war ends within a few weeks, but the
crisis deepens. The US is left to administer a political vacuum
in Iraq. Iran is emboldened to help the Shiites in the south. Disease
breaks out, food and water are contaminated and the cost of the
The US economy is dealt a body blow, but
the administration can find no credible way out. Britain's Prime
Minister Blair is voted out of office.
Meanwhile, al-Qaeda, seeing an opportunity
due to a shift in US focus, attacks a major US target. North Korea,
emboldened by the distraction, ignores diplomatic efforts to restrain
its development of nuclear weapons and begins to export weapons-grade
plutonium to terrorists.
These are not remote possibilities, but
in my view reasonable, possibly even likely outcomes. Thousands
of American sons and daughters are about to go to war with Iraq.
They will do their duty. They are, without exception, the finest,
bravest people I know.
May God bless them. I hope their destination
is Baghdad and not Mogadishu.
Note: To listen to Col. Mike Truner's, comments on NPR , click on
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