A Presentation to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Peace, War, and Defense Curriculum on 15 January 2003
Let me begin by thanking Professor Richard Kohn for his kind invitation to present to students and faculty of the Peace, War, and Defense Curriculum my views on “The Coming War with Iraq.” As Americans consider the wisdom of such a step, it is entirely appropriate to consider what a war with Iraq might entail.
We can also gain perspective by considering—even in simplified form—the steps the armed forces might have taken in devising their plan for a war with Iraq, should one be ordered. So, bear with me please while I take you on a tour of the military planning process before, in the end, giving you my estimate of how the war seems likely to progress.
There are several reasons for proceeding in that manner. Even a cursory examination of the planning process will reveal the kinds of things that must be considered when either devising or assessing a war plan. As the planning process is not exclusively military, it can also be used with little modification to analyze a range of international problems and how they might be addressed, militarily or otherwise. Knowing the basis of my conclusions, those who question them can focus on my facts, assumptions, and reasoning, and we can have a fruitful exchange rather than a simple, perhaps superficial debate over personal opinions.
At the national level those objectives are political in nature and the resources include all the diplomatic, economic, cultural, social, psychological, and military things that might be used in conjunction with each other to accomplish the nation’s purposes.
Defined in that way, the United States has been strategically engaged with Iraq for a long time. That engagement preceded the Gulf War as when the United States had to take a position on Iraq’s 1980-88 conflict with Iran. Regarding Iran as the greater threat, America helped Iraq in that war, sharing intelligence and advice. It even virtually ignored the attack of an Iraqi jet on an American destroyer in the Gulf in 1987, which killed thirty-seven sailors. Engaged in a different way following Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait, the United States initially hoped to convince Iraq to withdraw by isolating it politically by means of a UN resolution condemning its seizure of Kuwait (diplomatic strategy), blocking Iraq’s overseas trade (economic strategy), and building a coalition of nations willing to deploy troops to the Mideast (military and psychological strategies).
We know that coercion failed, and a U.S.-led coalition went to war. Even so U.S. strategic engagement with Iraq survived Desert Storm. For the last dozen years, U.S. grand strategy has focused on convincing Iraq to dispose of its weapons of mass destruction and stop its brutal treatment of at least the Kurdish and Shiite peoples that make up about eighty percent of its population. To those ends, the UN has tried inspections (abandoned for four years after 1998) and economic sanctions, and the UK and the United States have put aircraft over the Kurdish and Shiite areas of Iraq in an effort to ensure that Saddam Hussein did not repeat the mass murder—possibly several hundred thousand Shia and Kurds—that followed their earlier rebellions against his dictatorship. For some months now, President Bush has also been using a strategy of coercion, including a threat to use armed forces, to achieve destruction of Iraq’s chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons programs and, it would seem, drive Saddam Hussein from power.
The military contribution to American grand strategy has recently sought to add credibility to that threat to use force, if need be, by deploying U.S. forces to the Mideast, establishing a combat headquarters in Qatar, and conducting training exercises in Kuwait. The Congressional resolution authorizing President Bush to make war on Iraq, the UN resolution demanding the return of UN weapons inspectors, and Bush’s effort to build a “coalition of the willing” also lend strength to that threat and enhance the likelihood of successful coercion short of war.
The UN economic sanctions continue in place, and hardly a day passes that Iraq and the United States do not engage in a war of words designed to influence world opinion and especially domestic opinion in the United States and among leading Western powers. Though Iraqi public opinion, whatever it may be, is unlikely to cause Saddam Hussein to submit to UN demands, the Bush administration has from time to time sought to unsettle Iraq’s senior leadership, particularly its military leadership, with threats of war crimes trials if, for example, they comply with any order from Saddam Hussein to use chemical or biological weapons. There are also hints that America might not attack units of the Iraqi regular army so long as they keep to their barracks in the event of war. Recent meetings with the expatriate Iraqi opposition both make Bush’s intentions clear and increase the likelihood of domestic disruptions should war come.
All such efforts to convince Iraq to yield up its weapons of mass destructions (and put the country under humane leadership?) may not succeed. Even while U.S. actions remain well short of full-scale war, President Bush is using the various instruments or resources of grand strategy in his effort to coerce Saddam Hussein to comply with U.S.-UN demands.
Military Estimate of the Strategic Situation
MISSION. The first part requires the planners to identify what the president might demand of them. Put another way, they must ask what are the political goals that must be converted to objectives that might be accomplished by the use of armed force—the ability to seize territory, destroy property, and kill people. That is a most difficult and delicate task, but it is fundamental to the use of violence as a means to achieve political ends. Looking to the coming war with Iraq, we must ask what we believe Bush will demand of the American military. My list includes the following
Those four objectives imply, of course, defeat or surrender of the Iraqi army. They do not, however, exhaust my list of what may be on the president’s mind. Here are two more objectives that may be important to him.
You can add, subtract, or modify those objectives—that mission—as you prepare your own estimate. Just remember to change the resulting strategy as you do so. A different list might require a different sort of war.
THE SITUATION. The second part of a strategic estimate concerns the situation, which requires attention to both the theater of war and the relative combat power of the opposed military forces.
Iraq’s Capabilities. That said, what has Iraq with which to resist a U.S. attack? It has an army of about 350,000 men organized into seven corps, the equivalent of about 26 divisions. The best troops are in the six Republican Guard divisions and 11 special brigades. That may sound formidable, and the Iraqi army should not be lightly dismissed. Still, it has important weaknesses: One hundred thousand of its soldiers are recalled reservists, its divisions are small (10,000), half are at eighty percent strength, and the rest at seventy percent or less. The army’s training is poor, and its equipment is old and badly maintained. The loyalty of the regular forces is also doubtful. During the Gulf War, their members were prone to surrender en masse, and they seem to have already been the target of U.S. psychological operations designed to weaken their resolve.
The Iraqi air force and navy are in worse shape. The former has only 20,000 men, six bombers, 130 ground attack planes, 180 fighters, and five reconnaissance craft. Of those numbers, only fifty-five percent are reckoned to be serviceable, and their pilots have limited flight time. In two or three days, coalition air forces should dispose of the Iraq’s air force and destroy its air defense capabilities. The two thousand men of the Iraqi navy have use of only three patrol boats and three mine layers. According to a recent Center of Defense Information interview of Rear Admiral (ret.) Stephen H. Baker, “What Next in Iraq and the War on Terror,” Iraq has chemical and biological weapons and a small number of SCUD missiles and rockets capable of delivering them on targets in Israel or in an attack on invading U.S. forces.
U.S. Capabilities and Vulnerabilities. Coalition forces, now principally from the U.S., are already deploying at sea and in Turkey, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, UAE, Oman, Diego Garcia, and in East Africa. It seems likely that the Royal Navy, British Army, French navy, and forces from Australia and, probably, other Western allies and Turkey will reinforce U.S. forces in the region. My summary of those deployments will generally emphasize the American and UK elements, whose size in the theater increases weekly.
Coalition ground forces will most likely include at least three U.S. heavy (tank and mechanized) divisions, a light division (probably the 101st Airmobile), and a Marine division. One U.S. heavy brigade is already in Kuwait, the equipment for several more is already in the area, and two pre-positioning ships were unloading armored vehicles in late December. The men can be flown in later, and the late December estimate of those in position (75,000) or already alerted might bring the total to about 200,000 by the end of January. Though it is not yet certain, Britain will most likely provide an additional heavy (armored) division.
Kuwait also contains several squadrons of American transport helicopters and helicopter gun ships, the first to move light forces and the latter to engage Iraqi tanks. Small ground and special operations forces are already in northern Iraq (Kurdistan) raising a 5,000 man Kurdish militia as well as in southern Iraq and the western desert—the latter probably there to ensure that Iraq cannot move its SCUDs close enough to reach Israeli targets. At this writing, Turkey has 4,000 troops, including a tank battalion, in northern Iraq.
The coalition naval force will probably include at least four carrier battle groups and perhaps more; the Constellation, Abraham Lincoln, and Harry Truman are already in the area or en route. The Theodore Roosevelt and Kitty Hawk might be ordered soon to join them. The British will supply a task group led by the carrier Ark Royal, and in early January the news announced that France would also send an aircraft carrier. Each American carrier group not only includes strike fighters but also nuclear attack submarines and several ships capable of firing cruise missiles against programmed targets in Iraq. A four-carrier U.S. force could launch 700 sorties per day, versus 160 during Desert Storm, and the U.S. planes at least would be carrying far more smart weapons than in 1991.
Non-naval aviation units are already based throughout the region and, if we are going to war, more are likely to join by the end of this month. Fighter, reconnaissance, and refueling aircraft are located in Turkey and all around the Persian Gulf. Supplementing them, B-52s and possibly B-2s and B-1s might fly from Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. One estimate, including the navy, is that the coalition air forces will have at least 1,500 aircraft able to employ smart—precision—weapons, missiles and guided bombs. The heavy bombers can deliver cruise missiles as well. Supported by better surveillance (target acquisition), battle management, and command and control aircraft than in 1991, that force should have ten times the aerial combat power of the Desert Storm air forces.
The various headquarters that will control all those ground, air, and sea forces are already established in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Bahrain. They lack only their full complement of troops, equipment, and supplies.
COURSES OF ACTION.
Iraqi Courses of Action. So, how might Iraq respond when invasion is imminent? Saddam, key members of the Baath Party, and their families might try to escape to retirement in someplace like Libya or Russia, hoping perhaps to return at a later date. If they reject flight, Iraq has several choices: Its army might try to meet coalition forces in the desert as they begin entering Iraqi territory or they might draw back to defend the cities, hoping to impose costly urban battles on the coalition. Iraq might also elect to employ the chemical and biological weapons it claims not to have.
Analysis and Comparison. The planners would then analyze and compare all such enemy and friendly courses of action. After possible adjustments to resources, they would prepare to make a decision on an appropriate military strategy. Before doing so, however, the planners would apply three tests to their preferred course of action: Is it suitable; will gaining the military objectives likely secure the desired political outcomes? Is it feasible; can the forces available overcome possible enemy resistance? Is it acceptable; will the strategy achieve U.S. objectives at reasonable cost and in a manner likely to promote a lasting peace.
The Coming War with Iraq
Even the most optimistic commentators recognize, of course, that a war with Iraq may bring serious problems and further trouble U.S. relations with the Arab world. Rather than take counsel of such fears, the Bush administration has chosen instead to emphasize the war’s possibly positive consequences. It is also no doubt keenly aware that ending this crisis with the Baath Party still in control in Iraq, even with Hussein gone, would be a severe blow to the prestige and security of the United States. It may well be that the potentially harmful consequences of a failure to insist on a full victory will pale in comparison to the evil that might flow from drawing back from achieving President Bush’s principal objectives—even if doing so requires leading the United States into a war on Iraq.
Following graduation from West Point (1959), James L. Abrahamson began a 27-year career in the US Army, during which he earned a master’s degree from the University of Geneva (1964) and a Ph.D. from Stanford University (1977).