Several scenarios from a man who has real experience

By on March 19, 2003

Just over 12 years ago I was a network news correspondent covering the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian blood feud and Israel’s preparations to protect its citizens in the event war broke out with Iraq and Saddam Hussein decided to lash out against the Jewish state.

One balmy fall evening I was one of the guests at a dinner in Jerusalem hosted by a Very Famous Ancient Network Newsman. The venue was the “Ocean” restaurant in the Rehavia neighborhood of west Jerusalem, then truly one of the great seafood eateries on the planet.

Before we even got to the first course, the VFANN began loudly predicting that the upcoming war with Iraq was an impending disaster of great calamity that the U.S. would lose tens of thousands of troops and that Bush 41 was an idiot who should be impeached.

After his third delivery of an increasingly violent, loud and apocalyptic prophecy about the shape of things to come, I asked him if he knew how many deaths the Israeli Army (IDF) had suffered in 1967 fighting the armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria and the guerrillas of El Fateh. The VFANN was also famous for not having combat experience, and he graciously admitted he did not know. When I told him the KIA were less than 700 he almost gagged on his shrimp. I predicted we would do at least as well as the Israelis.

As it turned, the U.S. was lucky; I was also lucky and the VFANN was very wrong. But this time, who knows? In part my calculation was based on the assumption that since the Iraqis would be fighting for something they knew very well did not belong to them–Kuwait–they would not fight for very long or with much conviction.

U.S. war planners are counting on something like that happening this time around. The theory is that 80-90% of Iraqi military forces have no real attachment to the regime of Saddam Hussein. It is thought that the overwhelmingly Shiite Moslem majority of the Army has no stake in the defense of the overwhelmingly Sunni Moslem clique–mostly from tribes in and around the town of Tikrit, north of Baghdad–that runs the Ba’athist regime.

This calculation could very well be true. If so, the early stages of the war could go quickly and well for the U.S.-British coalition. But then things may get very unpleasant. There are a few thousand Iraqis who probably have no interest in surrender because what awaits them in captivity (especially if the Iraqi populace gets hold of them) isn’t much better than death on the battlefield. In a sense the American C-in-C is a bit like Santa Ana facing the Alamo (Baghdad). The flag signifying “no quarter” has been raised, so the defenders know they have nothing to lose by fighting to the last man.

But there is another calculation about this war that is so horrible to contemplate and seemingly so cynical in its calculation that, like the crazy old Aunt kept up in the attic, it is best not mentioned.

Except by us.

If the U.S.-British coalition is not attacked and does not suffer casualties as the result of weapons of mass destruction (presumably chemical and/or bacteriological) employed by the Iraqi regime and if, once the war is over and won, no WMD are discovered, the Bush Administration will have committed political suicide.

If, however, the Bush Administration gets “lucky” and the Iraqis deploy WMD, or at least WMD are found in reasonable quantity after the war, the Administration will have been vindicated. Among the great losers, will be the French, Germans, Russians, and a long list of domestic opponents.

If, if.

We are at the threshold of war and we do not know what lies beyond the door. Let us at least remember that the first casualty of war is the truth.


About Professor Bill Mc Laughlin