Even before President Bush had placed Iraq on his "axis of evil," dire warnings were being sounded about the danger of acting against Saddam Hussein's regime.
Two knowledgeable Brookings Institution analysts, Philip H. Gordon and Michael E. O'Hanlon, concluded that the United States would "almost surely" need "at least 100,000 to 200,000" ground forces [op-ed, Dec. 26, 2001]. Worse: "Historical precedents from Panama to Somalia to the Arab-Israeli wars suggest that . . . the United States could lose thousands of troops in the process."
I agree that taking down Hussein would differ from taking down the Taliban. And no one favors "a casual march to war." This is serious business, to be treated seriously.
In fact, we took it seriously the last time such fear-mongering was heard from military analysts -- when we considered war against Iraq 11 years ago. Edward N. Luttwak cautioned on the eve of Desert Storm: "All those precision weapons and gadgets and gizmos and stealth fighters . . . are not going to make it possible to re-conquer Kuwait without many thousands of casualties." As it happened, our gizmos worked wonders. Luttwak's estimate of casualties was off by "many thousands," just as the current estimates are likely to be.
I believe demolishing Hussein's military power and liberating Iraq would be a cakewalk. Let me give simple, responsible reasons: (1) It was a cakewalk last time; (2) they've become much weaker; (3) we've become much stronger; and (4) now we're playing for keeps.
Gordon and O'Hanlon mention today's "400,000 active-duty troops in the Iraqi military" and especially the "100,000 in Saddam's more reliable Republican Guard and Special Republican Guard," which "would probably fight hard against the United States -- just as they did a decade ago during Desert Storm." Somehow I missed that. I do remember a gaggle of Iraqi troops attempting to surrender to an Italian film crew. The bulk of the vaunted Republican Guard either hunkered down or was held back from battle.
Today Iraqi forces are much weaker. Saddam's army is one-third its size then, in both manpower and number of divisions. It still relies on obsolete Soviet tanks, which military analyst Eliot Cohen calls "death traps." The Iraqi air force, never much, is half its former size.
Iraqi forces have received scant spare parts and no weapons upgrades. They have undertaken little operational training since Desert Storm.
Meanwhile, American power is much fiercer. The advent of precision bombing and battlefield intelligence has dramatically spiked U.S. military prowess. The gizmos of Desert Storm were 90-plus percent dumb bombs. Against the Taliban, more than 80 percent were smart bombs. Unmanned Predators equipped with Hellfire missiles and Global Hawk intelligence gathering did not exist during the first Iraqi campaign.
In 1991 we engaged a grand international coalition because we lacked a domestic coalition. Virtually the entire Democratic leadership stood against that President Bush. The public, too, was divided. This President Bush does not need to amass rinky-dink nations as "coalition partners" to convince the Washington establishment that we're right. Americans of all parties now know we must wage a total war on terrorism.
Hussein constitutes the number one threat against American security and civilization. Unlike Osama bin Laden, he has billions of dollars in government funds, scores of government research labs working feverishly on weapons of mass destruction -- and just as deep a hatred of America and civilized free societies.
Once President Bush clearly announces that our objective is to rid Iraq of Hussein, and our unshakable determination to do whatever it takes to win, defections from the Iraqi army may come even faster than a decade ago.
Gordon and O'Hanlon say we must not "assume that Hussein will quickly fall." I think that's just what is likely to happen. How would it be accomplished? By knocking out all his headquarters, communications, air defenses and fixed military facilities through precision bombing. By establishing military "no-drive zones" wherever Iraqi forces try to move. By arming the Kurds in the north, Shiites in the south and his many opponents everywhere. By using U.S. special forces and some U.S. ground forces with protective gear against chemical and biological weapons. By stationing theater missile defenses, to guard against any Iraqi Scuds still in existence. And by announcing loudly that any Iraqi, of any rank, who handles Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, in any form, will be severely punished after the war.
Measured by any cost-benefit analysis, such an operation would constitute the greatest victory in America's war on terrorism.
The writer was assistant to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld from 1975 to 1977, and arms control director under President Ronald Reagan.