War On Its Own Time

There has been a minor firestorm across the blogosphere between Stephen Green and Bill Quick over Iraq (with The Spoons Experience also chiming in.) The issue of contention: are the actions of the US towards an attack on Iraq a sign of weakness or a game of "rope-a-dope?"

The fact of the matter, it’s neither.

Wars take time, especially wars in which weapons of mass destructions come into play. You cannot move until every piece is ready to go. That means moving tanks, soldiers, aircraft, and infrastructure across the world in such a way that your actual strategy isn’t apparent to the enemy. Unlike Afghanistan, in which we were ready in a month, the war in Iraq is going to be more like blitzkrieg than a steady aerial bombardment of key sites. We’re going in to remove Hussein, and we don’t have an indigenous fighting force like the Northern Alliance to help us this time. Even more importantly, we have to remove the Iraqi’s command and control infrastructure and WMD capability almost immediately to avoid a strike with chemical or biological weapons against our troops.

The reason why we didn’t go in August or October is because the piece weren’t yet in play. If you go too soon, people die. The US military isn’t going to give the go order for an invasion until we’re damn sure that it’s going to be quick and relatively bloodless for our troops. Too many military campaigns have fallen apart because of poor leadership and overly rapid mobilization. While it would have been nice to go earlier, that wasn’t a realistic expectation.

Bill Quick also makes the argument that our involvement of the UN Security Council and our actions (or inactions) in other Gulf nations are "a mess we’ll be fixing for the next generation." On the contrary, moving too far and too fast would be the far greater mistake.

As much as I’d love to see Arafat get his murderous ass kicked out of Ramallah, it’s not going to help much. The Palestinians would likely replace him with Marwan Barghouti or someone even more fanatical. Right now Arafat is isolated and contained. Removing him at this point would only make him stronger. Just look at what happened when Arafat’s compound was almost entirely destroyed by the Israelis. Arafat went from being someone who was on the verge of being thrown out by his own people to a martyr that once again had the support of the Palestinians. It was a tactical mistake to move at that time, and Israel is still paying for it.

Likewise for Saudi Arabia, Syria, and the other Gulf states. Yes, I’d love to see the House of Saud go, but now is not the time. A regime change now would be disastrous, as you’d have a nation with no stable government, the religious police would still be out in force, and you’d have a population of hundreds of thousands of unmarried and unemployed young men. In other words, the perfect breeding ground for a group that would make the Saudis look like kittens. It would be like the Taliban, except they would be in charge of a large fraction of the world’s oil. Nor would it be wise to depose Bashar Assad, who was a Western-educated doctor who could easily be an ally in the war on terror if he knew that any overt action would get him killed.

All these scenarios are at best armchair quarterbacking. The United States, strong as it may be, cannot remake the Middle East to its liking in one fell swoop. We’re not Rome, that can enforce order via the might of our legions. We’re a democracy, and democracies don’t do what Mr. Quick asks. War happens on its own time, and only a fool would try to fight a war that would invariably have fronts in Israel, in Syria, in Saudi Arabia, in Iran, and in Iraq.

Nor would it be wise to stick our middle finger defiantly up in the air and tell the UN where to stick it. While that might be nice, our current strategy has been basically to demonstrate that the UN cannot influence our policy to any great extent. We got our resolution in the Security Council on an unanimous vote. We’re getting the UN to slowly acquiesce to our demands. To put it bluntly, the UN is slowly becoming our bitch. Which means that when we get the UN to jump through the final hoop on our behalf, all those nations that were demanding a UN mandate are now in the position of having to go along for the ride. It’s what good diplomacy is all about.

With all due respect to Mr. Quick, this war isn’t going to proceed on his timetable, or mine, or anyone else’s other than the people running it. The best time to attack Iraq is mid to late January, and that’s always been the best time to attack. Everything that’s led up to this point is a distraction – the real story of this war will likely favor the "rope-a-dope" theory more than those who can’t seem to wait for war to happen on its own.

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