George W. Bush orders U.S. forces to unleash his shock and awe
onslaught against Iraq without United Nations sanctions, he will be
opening American servicemen to a kind of double jeopardy. First, they will
be risking their lives in a combat strategy far riskier than is publicly
acknowledged. Second, any significant taking of civilian life could leave
both officers and enlisted men liable for future war-crimes charges.
Bush, who himself avoided military service in Vietnam
and appears to have gone AWOL from his Vietnam-era National Guard duty, is
putting young American soldiers and their officers in an unprecedented
predicament. They are being told to invade and to conquer a country that
is in the process of disarming under U.N. supervision.
Plus, some military strategists see Bushs war plan as the worst sort
of wishful thinking.
'Shock and Awe'
There is, of course, the possibility that everything
will go as Bush hopes. On the first two days, a bombardment from 3,000
missiles will shatter Iraqi military targets and leave the Iraqi people in
a state of shock and awe. On the third day, Saddam Hussein's army
will collapse and the Iraqi people will welcome the American troops as
But more and more military strategists are asking
what will happen if this rosy scenario goes awry.
What if the 3,000 missiles end up destroying largely
empty buildings or crashing into mosques or civilian centers? Are there
even 3,000 military targets worth hitting in Iraq? And after all the war
buildup, who would be crazy enough to be sitting in barracks or government
buildings waiting to be blown to smithereens? As shocking as the
"shock and awe" bombardment might be, it certainly will not come
as a surprise.
What if the Iraqi army instead of making itself
an easy target for the U.S. missiles melts into urban centers and
begins coordinating with an armed civilian population to resist a foreign
invasion of their homeland? What if the Iraqi people choose to fight the
American invaders, rather than shower them with rose petals? Already,
Saddam Hussein has begun to implement just such a strategy, concentrating
his troops in urban centers and passing out AK-47s to Iraqis, young and
old, men and women.
What if U.S. combat infantry forces, which may number
only about 10 percent of the total U.S. military personnel in the region,
find themselves entering urban strongholds against an enemy that is
numerically superior, knows the battlefield and is aided by civilian
As one savvy U.S. military strategists told us,
All those guys sitting off on battleships add to your numbers, but they
dont help you on the ground. There youll have about 20,000
infantrymen. They'll be outnumbered.
In the last several days, Bush has modified his
military plan once again. Frustrated by delays in winning Turkeys
permission to use its territory to launch an attack on Iraqs northern
front, Bush is rushing to start the war possibly within the next few days
even with many U.S. forces out of position.
This so-called rolling start may not add to the
immediate dangers facing U.S. troops since they are not expected to begin
major assaults on Iraqi cities in the war's opening days. But the need to
build up U.S. forces in Iraq after the war begins may contribute to other
dangers by slowing the war's overall pace.
Assuming Iraq doesnt surrender after the two-day
bombardment, the U.S. war will be courting a humanitarian disaster. Once a
war is imminent U.N. food centers will shut down and U.N. personnel will
withdraw. That will leave many of Iraq's 23 million people, about half of
whom are children, without a supply of food. Whatever its other
achievements, Bush's shock and awe bombardment will certainly
disrupt electricity and water supplies as well.
As U.S. forces continue to roll into place and begin
to mass forces around the cities, disease and starvation will already be
spreading across Iraq.
Meanwhile, the U.S. political position around the
world is likely to be deteriorating. The anti-war movement, already
hundreds of millions strong, is likely to gain momentum and possibly
resort to more disruptive tactics.
U.S. intelligence agencies have warned that Bushs
invasion of Iraq is almost certain to touch off a wave of anti-American
violence, including new terrorist attacks. If Iraqi operatives or Islamic
terrorists have access to biological or chemical weapons, Bush will have
increased the likelihood that they will be used, possibly against pro-U.S.
Arab states or in Europe or in the United States itself.
The future of Pakistani leader Pervez Mussharraf
could be put in jeopardy. Islamic fundamentalists, who already hold strong
positions within his military and intelligence services, could seize on
the chaos to unseat the pro-American dictator. If Mussharraf were to fall,
Islamic radicals might have achieved their goal of gaining control of
Pakistans nuclear arsenal, ironically one of the arguments that Bush
originally pushed to justify attacking Iraq.
With anti-Americanism spreading throughout the world,
the situation at home is also likely to deteriorate. Failure to win the
war quickly would be another body blow to the U.S. economy. American
companies with large overseas operations could expect retaliation.
If U.S. antiwar activists intensify their tactics at
home, Bushs Justice Department is certain to crack down even more on
civil liberties. Attorney General John Ashcroft has already deployed 5,000
FBI agents to "monitor and arrest suspected militants" living in
the U.S., the Washington Post reported. [March 17, 2003]
Back on the ground in Iraq, U.S. forces could be
caught in a hellish scenario.
Amid the devastation inflicted by 3,000 missiles and
facing swarms of desperate refugees, U.S. troops will have to pick their
way though a maze of unfamiliar streets. Rather than an heroic replay of
the first Persian Gulf War, Bush may find this war to be more like a
long-playing version of Blackhawk Down, only on a much bigger scale.
The advantage of U.S. technological superiority may be limited by the
close-in nature of the fighting.
Inexperienced U.S. troops, many facing their first
combat, can be expected to overreact to the complex and dangerous
circumstances. U.S. tactical frustration also may lead to the use of heavy
ordnance against urban targets. Civilians will die and possibly in large
U.S. forces also might be caught up in other tricky
predicaments if, for instance, Kurdish rebels claim Iraqs northern oil
fields and Turkey intervenes to stop the Kurds from achieving a crucial
nationalist goal. Intervention from Iran is also possible. These border
conflicts could become multi-sided, making U.S. troops referees keeping
apart historic enemies who will be heavily armed.
Eventually, of course, the United States is expected
to "win" in Iraq, if for no other reason than losing would be
unthinkable for American standing in the world and for George W.
Bushs political future.
But winning a bloody battle for Iraq could be only
the first step in a protracted struggle with other nations deemed to be
part of Bush's "axis of evil." Battling Iran or North Korea or
some other new threat that Bush identifies in the future could be a far
less certain affair.
Seeing how Iraq was crushed after agreeing to
cooperate in its own disarmament will be a lesson to other nations rushing
to develop weapons of mass destruction. These other enemy states
will recognize that Saddam Husseins biggest mistake may have been to
trust that the international community could restrain Bush from his
gut instinct, which always favored force over diplomacy.
The Issue of War Crimes
As Bush rushes the United States into this future of
near-permanent belligerence, American officers and soldiers must recognize
another possible reality. If the international community ultimately
decides that the U.S. has been transformed into a super-power rogue state,
there will be demands for war-crimes justice against those who carried out
Right now, Americas unquestioned military
dominance may make such tribunals against U.S. military personnel
unthinkable. But as soldiers and generals have known throughout time, war
is the ultimate gamble and no certainty can be assumed. In times of
conflict, what seems like the safe political decision today may look very
different only months or years into the future. Political changes may come
either externally or internally.
Bush, the self-described gut player, may think
that the risky course he has set the nation upon makes sense. After all,
his gut tells him so.
He also has surrounded
himself with people who will not raise too many troubling
questions. On one side, he has neo-conservative ideologues, who either
flatter his bold leadership or warn him not to go
"wobbly." On the other, he has careerists who would never dream
of putting principle ahead of keeping their prestigious jobs.
But Bush's "crusade" against
"evil" will be fought not in Washington but on the front lines
of complex, ancient antagonisms where young fighting men and women of the
United States will be forced to make snap judgments of life and death.
They will go into that battle fearing not only for their own lives, but
realizing that this invasion may be waged in open defiance of
It is a double jeopardy virtually unprecedented
in U.S. history. And it could all end very badly.
Robert Parry, Editor