Iraq: In the Eye of the Storm
When talking stops and shooting starts, all the arguments over UN inspections in Iraq, still the subject of heated debate as I write, will be filed under ancient history, and new questions will take their place: How will the war go? After the fighting, then what? The American war plan for Iraq has gone through three stages over the last nine months, all discussed with unusual candor in public. The current plan calls for an initial two or three days of devastating attacks by powerful and extremely accurate weapons. The targets of these weapons, according to retired Air Force Lieutenant General Tom McInerney, who discussed the strategy with Greta Van Susteren on the Fox News channel January 20, is to destroy “the centers of gravity” of the Iraqi military—the “command and control apparatus” which is difficult to hide. In the first Gulf War, when only 20 percent of the ordnance was precision-guided, the bombing campaign devastated the Iraqi water supply, electricity production, and transportation system. This time, with precision weapons closer to 80 percent of the total, it is the Iraqi military, not the national economic infrastructure, which will be struck in the opening salvo. Ground forces will follow hard on the heels of the initial strikes. “In eight or nine days we’ll have forces on the outskirts of Baghdad,” McInerney told viewers. “We’ll own 75 percent of that country.”
“Shock and Awe” is the Pentagon’s name for the sort of lightning war we intend to fight, but military history reminds us that no plan survives contact with the enemy. If this one succeeds within the “six days, [or] six weeks, I doubt six months” recently predicted by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, it will probably not be the plan alone that determines success, but just as importantly the military machine carrying it out. That the American military is big, expensive, technically sophisticated, and wary of casualties everybody knows. The question now is whether it can fight the sort of bold, quick, and determined war the planners have drawn up on paper.
Two kinds of answers might be given to this question. The first would be mainly an exhaustive list of numbers and descriptors—perhaps 200,000 American troops in all, armed with state-of-the-art weaponry. Facing them will be a ragtag Iraqi army of about 350,000 men, a lot of obsolete military hardware, and an unknown ability to deliver chemical or biological agents. The UN inspectors have not found any of these weapons since Resolution 1441 was passed in November, but the Bush administration is clearly worried about them—worried enough to threaten Iraqi generals with prosecution as war criminals if they use them, and possibly, according to air war expert William Arkin, even to retaliate with nuclear weapons.
What makes American forces so lethal is spelled out in The New Face of War, a new book by the military and intelligence analyst Bruce Berkowitz. His answer is one word—“information,” by which he means …