The price of victory

December 24, 1990|By The New York Times

PRESIDENT BUSH may think his Jan. 15 deadline for Saddam Hussein to get out of Kuwait is diplomatically essential, but it's militarily imprudent.

Lt. Gen. Calvin Waller, the deputy commander of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf, has acknowledged that in public, confirming what well-informed military analysts, and Saddam, already knew.

The Jan. 15 deadline creates pressure for an unrealistic quick fix, a short war waged exclusively by air strikes.

That glib fantasy may thrill armchair strategists and animate air power enthusiasts. But it dismays realists like Waller and the Chiefs of Staff who want a combined land-sea-air assault.

Military machines cannot always gear up with precision timing. And impatience, a poor enough prescription for diplomacy, produces even worse military strategy.

The need for ample reinforcements and logistics dictates no war before mid-February, if then.

That leaves time for Saddam Hussein to negotiate on what happens after he withdraws, and time for Congress to deliberate on whether or not to use force if he does not.

Other, more senior officials have said as much previously. Defense Secretary Cheney told reporters earlier this week:

Deadlines can force leaders and diplomats into motion, but military strategy, not diplomatic strategy, is Waller's main concern, and that led him to speak with greater candor than President Bush may have liked.

To weigh a war, Americans need to understand the potential price of victory.

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