War With Iraq: Hidden Risks
by Joseph D. Douglass Jr. (*)
The U.S.election in November was an unquestionable victory for President Bush and his policies. The American public strongly endorsed the President's clear intention to invade Iraq, force a regime change, and confiscate or destroy all weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and facilities/equipment/material for re-establishing any WMD capability.
President Bush seems intent on going to war with Iraq. The declared intent and justification is to disarm Iraq of any WMD. Regardless, there is no question but that the primary objective has been and still is to affect a regime change. This means getting rid of Saddam and all his top supporters. This has to be done if for no other reason than because WMD disarming is impossible to guarantee. It is simply too easy to hide munitions, material, and stockpiles in secret places, underground, or even in nearby friendly countries. The only solution is to force a complete regime change and do it now before the political climate changes. U.S. forces will have to remain in Iraq indefinitely and it will take a year or more to conduct a detailed search of Iraq.
To his credit, President Bush did 'pay attention to the critics' respecting the UN. But, this is unlikely to change anything because of the nature of the UN, Saddam, and the clear U.S. policy to force a regime change. The UN has passed a resolution, which has delayed actions, but the preparations for invasion will continue and no one expects Saddam to declare all stockpiles related to WMD, particularly insofar as he has consistently said he has no WMD. It is even possible that he may declare some stockpiles of chemical or biological agents or obsolete weapons, enough to make it seem like he was cooperating and to give the inspectors something to inspect that will, in the process, divert them away from items Saddam does not want to expose. It is all a deadly game to maintain power and enough WMD to regenerate a threat or fight a war if the U.S. decides to invade. Given Saddam's nature, it is close to inconceivable that he will declare enough of his hidden goodies to preclude the possibility of a U.S. invasion. This could happen, anything is possible, but hardly worth betting on in light of the driving interest the Bush Administration seems to have to invade Iraq, and their unquestioned belief that WMD are present.
What distinguishes the war today from the Gulf War ten years ago is that the current Bush Administration has sent unequivocal signals that it is on the road to war and that Saddam and all his compatriots are targets. On top of everything else, evidently in the administration's no-holds-barred policy of putting pressure on Saddam to give in, the ultimate result may well be to increase Saddam's determination to resist. The best example of this is the Bush Administration's statements that they intend to round up Saddam and all his compatriots and ship them off to the Hague for war crimes and crimes against humanity trials. Thus, Saddam and his commanders have to go all out. What do they have to lose?
Devastating tricks Saddam can employ
Thus, there seems to be a better than even chance that Saddam and his compatriots will go down swinging and this is potentially disastrous because we are talking about urban warfare and underground warfare, all of which are excellent places for CBW to be employed. Given Saddam's emphasis on operating as close to civilian concentrations as is possible, the impact on local residents could be horrendous. Additionally, there are serious risks to U.S. and Allied forces insofar as CBW operational protection is not good and with a little bit of advanced thought, there are many devastating tricks Saddam and his commanders can employ. You do not need warheads and missiles to release poison gas and biological warfare agents in 'restricted' sections of a city or Presidential facilities or anywhere else if and when U.S. or allied forces enter those areas.
However, the governing assumption seems to be that, as in the first Gulf War, Saddam will do nothing and the U.S. will have a turkey shoot. This is probably the main reason behind all the public talk of invasion plan 'leaks' and of hundreds of thousands of troops headed to the Middle East: make Saddam so frightened that he is unable to decide what to do and, instead, does nothing. Decision paralysis is what this is sometimes called. Additionally, U.S. propaganda strategy seems designed to make Saddam so concerned about the reliability of his own commanders that his paranoia will cause him to worry more about them and his own security than he will about stopping the U.S., which the Bush propaganda is also designed to portray as an impossible task. Still further, and what may be more the case, associated with all this is the very real possibility that there is no operational capability for imaginative thinking among the high Iraqi command, other that the thinking Saddam does (Dare anyone else presume to think?), which would never earn him a place in the military strategists hall of fame. All these things taken together easily justify the image of an enemy that will fold quickly when the U.S. lighting strikes begin and rapidly destroy all his valued targets as happened ten years ago.
Suppose there is some innovation within the Iraqi command, however, and that someone suggests that maybe the U.S. has a few problems of its own. Are the Iraqis capable of thinking this through and taking action?
Almost everyone expects the U.S. to start the war with massive precision air strikes and selected special forces operations. The air strikes will make maximum use of a limited supply of expensive missiles. How can they be defeated? Certainly not with the usual air defenses. To counter the air strikes, Saddam might well take a different ploy and go all out to hide all valid military targets and reasonably quickly and carefully deploy a succession of high-value decoy targetslike old trucks with pieces of sewer pipes deployed under poor quality camouflage netting designed to be identified as mobile missiles. They could easily over a few days deploy a thousand or more such decoys to absorb an equivalent number of U.S. missile strikes (and deplete the supply of precision-guided munitions). The same techniques can be used to draw fire on electronic emissions (radars and communications) without doing any damage to the 'real things' which might well be shut down for a few days anyway. Several thousand army troops could be deployed in their home cities and villages in civilian garb to stop people who do not look like they belong, which might make it difficult for special forces platoons, especially if curfews were in place.
Keep in mind that air strikes prepare air superiority for ground troops. Air strikes cannot conquer, hold territory, search for and find hidden stockpiles of WMD, or force a regime change. This requires ground forces, which, we are told, will follow on the heels of the air strikes.
Sounding the 'gas alarm'
Here then is where the chemical and biological strikes come in. Chemical and biological protective gear at best helps people survive. It is very hard to fight while in a protective posture. The army hates chemical warfare because it stops the war. So, the first problem is forcing advancing troops to 'button up' and hence bog down their advance. One does not even need chemical weapons for this. All one has to do is cause someone to sound the 'gas alarm' and everything will slow down if not stop. It may even be automatic because of sensors designed to warn troops of gas so they can stop and go into a protective posture. Unfortunately, sensors tend to react to gases other than nerve agent. Even vehicle exhausts can set off alarms. One interesting possibility would be to distribute organo-phosphorous fertilizer all over the place, knowing it will be kicked up and may have a good chance of setting off the alarms. On top of this, the possibilities for setting small mines and other booby traps that will release gas and biological warfare agents when troops enter selected areas are endless, limited only by the imagination, and do not require expensive and bulky missiles. All that is required is some innovative thinking.
Based on the reports in the media, Saddam (and a variety of other 'terrorist' countries) has the capability to release biological agents up wind of U.S. bases or ships, including agents/toxins, against which the U.S. vaccinations are ineffective, and if done covertly in advance of operations could have devastating consequences on U.S. air, ground, and sea power. If the wind conditions and particulate size are right, this could be done a hundred miles or more up wind and still work, although effectiveness would decrease with range. But, if Saddam used a cocktail of different agents, including contagious diseases, it could still have serious consequences. Moreover, properly employed, U.S. intelligence would be no more able to determine what happened or who was responsible than they have been able to determine in the anthrax demonstration last year.
Another ploy Saddam might well employ in the midst of the confusion posed by decoys and dust and the fog of war would be a strike of chemical and/or biological warfare missiles, especially cruise missiles, against Israel to bring them into the war. If the wind is right, they could even do this without violating Israeli borders. This is the simple expedient of attacking the enemy's strategy, where the enemy is the U.S. and the U.S. strategy is to keep Israel out of the war because of its repercussion throughout the Middle East. Obviously, at some point Saddam has to be expected to play this trump card and if he learned anything ten years ago it should be to play the card early rather than after it is too late. This of course is a big unknown: did Saddam learn anything from the last go-around?
Tremendous vulnerability of the U.S.
Thus, there may well be serious problems ahead, including terrorists operating within the U.S. The U.S. gives all the indications of being serious (although admittedly unprepared), and it appears that there is a real fear that terrorists already have a small number of nuclear weapons and some, one has to assume, may already be in the U.S. The government has quietly established radiation monitoring of all the roads going into major cities and other targets, but these efforts can be detected and circumvented. The tremendous vulnerability of the U.S. to just a minute quantity of anthrax was also demonstrated a year ago, and one to which it is impossible to respond when the source cannot be identified. Within the confusion of war one should expect other terrorists, with or without Saddam's support, to use the opportunity to cause problems for the U.S. at home, especially with chemical or biological agents if they have them, recognizing that Iraq more likely than not will be blamed. At present there are 15 to 20 other nations with biological warfare capabilities and most of them are so-called terrorist states or terrorist supporters.
What is Russia up to?
To increase the uncertainty even further, what is Russia up to? Why are there Russian military intelligence officers in Baghdad? Might they be there to advise Saddam respecting the use of decoys to thwart U.S. precision strike missiles, a long-time Russian tactic to counter exactly the type of disadvantage Saddam now faces? Might they be advising Saddam on ways to cause serious problems for U.S. invasion forces? Might the Russians be present to take advantage of the situation and orchestrate, for example, a regime change more to their liking (one that leave them in control of Iraq) before the U.S. has a chance to attack? This is perfectly in line with their strategy used in the Afghanistan war and in the Bosnia war. Indeed, this could further the Bush Administration's resolve to strike sooner rather than later, if it senses this possibility, even if it has to manipulate events so that an attack is seen as justifiedafter all, after the dust settles, who will ever be able to figure out who made the first move and 'what really happened'?
Does the American public want war? It is really hard to say. There are clearly many people who are concerned about the Bush Administration's war fever when there have been no disclosures of any information that demonstrates the existence of a threat to the U.S. that demands a pre-emptive action. There is simply no comparison one can draw between the situation today and the missiles of October when the Soviet actions were presented at the UN for the world to see.
Bush's November victory not a real mandate
To place the matter in a better perspective, President Bush's strong 'victory' in November should not be regarded as a real mandate or even as a public expression of support. Rather, it is hard to see it as much more than an indication 1) that the opposition party is not putting up much of a fuss and, more important, 2) that the vote reflects more the effect of a pro-war television news media that is constantly beating the war drums because they are really in the business of entertainment and beating the drums and ratcheting up the emotions is good for ratings. Additionally, we should not lose sight of the simple observation that the powers behind those that make the television news seem to support the war policy.
Over the past 100 years, whether there is war or not, has been mainly a question of political and economic interests, foreign as well as domestic, not what the public wants or what the real U.S. interests are. The determining question is what the vested interests want and then how they employ propaganda and news to bring the public along. That is what appears to be happening now.
Everything went well in the first Gulf War, extraordinarily well. Casualties were estimated in advance at potentially 50,000. At least that was the number of body bags reported shipped to the Middle East to handle the dead. Actual casualties were under 200 and many of them were the result of friendly firebut then we quit before going into Baghdad. Will things be as one-sided this time around, especially when Saddam and all his top associates know that when Claxton rings this time, they are finished if they do not do something very different this time. That brings us back to the key question: Did Saddam learn anything from the first Gulf War?
We are certainly living in 'interesting times', as the Chinese would say.
(*) Dr. Douglass is the author of Betrayed: The Story of America's Missing POWs and co-author of CBW: The Poor Man's Atomic Bomb and America the Vulnerable: The Threat of Chemical and Biological Warfare.