George Will

WASHINGTON--The first line of the founding work of Western literature--Homer's ``Iliad,'' a war story--announces a tale of passion: ``Rage--Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus' son Achilles.'' America's critics cannot truthfully charge that rage or any other passion fuels America's remarkably measured and patently reluctant resumption of the war against Iraq--the 12-year war, the war of 17 U.N. resolutions.

In 1914, at the dawn of the modern era of world politics and of a 75-year war, the English poet Rupert Brooke expressed Europe's almost ecstatic welcoming of war. He thanked God for the chance to plunge into war's healthful adventure, ``as swimmers into cleanness leaping.'' America's critics cannot truthfully charge that on Wednesday night there was in America any trace of a similar delight in war.

On March 14 the London Daily Telegraph reported that a large British air force was poised to attack Iraq ``from nine countries, most of them Arab nations that have secretly agreed to provide bases while publicly voicing opposition to an Anglo-American invasion.'' British forces are known to be based in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait ``but the rulers of five other Arab states have asked that their role in the coming war be kept as discreet as possible.'' Critics of American ``unilateralism'' cannot square their criticism with such facts, including the likelihood that Australian special operations forces have already been active in western Iraq.

Five hundred years ago Machiavelli acquired a reputation for amorality by saying, among other uncomfortable truths, that it can be moral to use violence to economize violence. America's critics will credit neither the probability that a war of disarmament will purchase a large reduction of future violence, nor the fact that American war plans reflect remarkable attempts to use military technology to minimize violence.

Retired Air Force Gen. Richard Hawley, a senior Pentagon staff officer during the Gulf War, warns that Dwight Eisenhower's axiom has not been repealed--the axiom that war plans are fine, until the fighting starts. Still, Hawley says the war plans call for tactics to serve the political goal of suppressing Iraqi military resistance to allied attempts to decapitate the Iraqi regime.

From the post-Civil War Reconstruction, to Versailles in 1919, to the futile Vietnam ``peace accords,'' to the appallingly mishandled end of the Gulf War, America has, to say no more, a blemished record in the matter of ending wars. Today's allied plans are for fighting in a way that facilitates Iraq's postwar recovery by minimizing damage to physical infrastructure, and even to the bulk of the Iraqi military.

Army doctrine, says Hawley, has been that under optimal conditions, an armored force can advance 50 miles a day. The war plan calls for a three- or four-day dash to Baghdad from Kuwait's northern border, a distance of approximately 400 miles. If this occurs, says Hawley, some fortunate Iraqis will be the badly trained, badly equipped, badly led and barely motivated conscripts of the five regular army corps, each with 30,000 to 40,000 soldiers. Plans for a four-day dash to Baghdad envision bypassing these forces deployed between Kuwait and the capital.

Already those forces have been bombarded with hours of allied radio broadcasts and by millions of leaflets proclaiming the futility of fighting for Saddam Hussein, whose charisma, like that of his hero Stalin, is his cruelty. A dash to Baghdad presupposes freezing those forces in place, using air power, Hawley says, in a manner akin to Gen. George Patton's use of the 8th Air Force to protect his flanks during his armored plunge deep into Germany.

A dash to Baghdad--and, farther north, to Tikrit, Saddam's hometown and an important source of his support--also presupposes logistical heroics to supply fuel to, for example, Abrams battle tanks, which travel half a mile on a gallon of fuel. Hawley says plans are for an instant infrastructure--the laying of water and fuel pipelines from Kuwait, deep into Iraq. Trucks can then supply the forces that will deal with whatever resistance comes from the Republican Guard forces protecting the regime in the capital.

Although this plan for lightning warfare is novel, American commanders hope that the result is familiar. Shortly before the outbreak of the Gulf War, as Desert Shield was about to become Desert Storm, an Israeli military officer was shown the allies' military preparations. His terse and, it turned out, correct judgment was: You have too many hospital beds, too few POW pens. It is a U.S. war aim to have that be true again.


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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