[VIEWPOINT]Rosy predictions were first to dieVictory was supposed to be swift, if not painless. The war in Iraq was based on an overwhelmingly asymmetrical alignment of power and should not have met the difficulties that it now seems to be in the danger of wandering into. It has turned out that the United States must fight two enemies in the war. One is Iraq and the other is the rest of the world.
There is a high possibility that unfavorable international public opinion could work as an important factor in determining the brevity of the war and whether the United States achieves its original purpose or not. For the Iraqis, the anti-war sentiments around the world could not be a greater comfort. Before the war, Iraq had been using weapons of mass sympathy to defend itself from the U.S. justification for the war. With the start of the war, the world media has become an even more helpful army for Baghdad to defend itself from U.S. fire.
Another ambush on U.S. morale comes from the magic the phrase “short war” has. The unequalled might of the U.S. military power and its confidence had put the world media under the spell of the belief that the war would end in less than a week even before the first attacks began. The United States had also expected to remove Saddam Hussein with surgical attacks. This optimistic scenario has lost its reality and now the United States has gone into war in earnest.
In reality, the U.S. government had from the beginning forecast the war to last for one to three months. Even the first Gulf War, which is deemed as an unprecedented success in military history, took 43 days. The war in Afghanistan also took two-and-half months to get the Taliban government to surrender, despite the overwhelming and swift air strikes by the allied forces. A quick victory for the United States is only possible when the soldiers in Baghdad finally lose their will to fight. That such a result was expected in less than a week into the war was just the wild expectation of the media and the general ignorance of how wars really are. To awaken the world from the spell of the media, the United States came forth to warn against excessive expectations for a short war.
It is not Iraq’s resistance that the United States really fears in the war. It is the fact that the anti-war sentiment and the short-war expectations of international public opinion would work as a “smart weapon” that could easily incapacitate any “smart bombs” the United States has. Despite such unexpected obstacles, the United States still has all the favorable conditions to finish the war in the one to three months span that it had planned at first.
First, Iraq is an island surrounded by unfriendly territory. There are no countries supporting the Iraqi side and with the exception of Iran, all countries neighboring with Iraq are acquiescing, if not actively supporting, the U.S. attack. Arab countries with their minds on the post-war order have already started to line up on the U.S. side.
Second, Iraq’s military power has hit bottom with the economic sanctions of the past 12 years since the Gulf War and the drying up of resources. Iraq’s economy has shrunk to one-third its size and its national defense budget has been cut to one-tenth its size in 1990.
Third, it is now impossible to send any military backup or civilian requirements to Baghdad. It took only a month for the Iraqi soldiers to surrender in the Gulf War after the allied forces isolated Baghdad and cut off all its supply routes. The psychological strategies of the United States in persuading the Iraqi people to stop fighting for Saddam Hussein are also expected to play an important war.
Of course, the possibility of a “dirty” war, a most undesirable thing from the U.S. perspective, is still not totally ruled out. Iraq could use children and women as human shields or massacre its people and play it out to be the work of U.S. soldiers in order to turn the world media further away from the United States. These are the scenarios that the United States dread more than the military resistance of Iraq. Moreover, any U.S. casualties or POWs could very well inflame the domestic sentiments against war.
The late participation of Turkey in the war, with its reason of protecting the Kurd refugees of northern Iraq, is also an element of instability. The possibility of Iraq using biochemical weapons or any indiscriminate terror attacks in Iraq or anywhere else could also put the United States in a tight spot.
There is yet the chance that the Bush administration, whose philosophy after the Sept. 11 terror attack is that peace is secured through active preventive measures, could back off in the middle of what is the first step in a preventive war against terrorism. This last possibility is the key point in observing the war.
* The writer is a researcher at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses.
by Song Young-sun