So far, so good

Harry G. Summers Jr.

January 22, 1991|By Harry G. Summers Jr.

ASTOUNDED and delighted." That's how Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, the U.S. commander in the Persian Gulf, described his reaction to the first phase of the allied air campaign against Iraq. And well he should be, for the war has gone better than anyone could have possibly anticipated.

Asked earlier about about Iraqi casualties, Schwarzkopf, revealing his Vietnam War Harry G.Summers Jr.heritage, growled that the one thing we would never do, if he had anything to say about it, would get back in the "body count" business. His objections notwithstanding, however, it is obvious in this first week of the war that the corpses of a number of chimeras now litter the battlefield.

The first to bite the dust was the naysayer's notion that lack of unity of command for the coalition forces doomed the enterprise to certain failure. What they failed to see was that unity of command was not an end in itself. The reason it is a principle of war is that it is the easiest way to ensure unity of purpose. But it is not the only way.

While political sensitivities prevented subordination of all allied forces under one single commander, they did not prevent their cooperation toward a single goal, as the earlier successes of the allied integrated air campaign plan made obvious. Combat aircraft of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Italy, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, working in unison, launched coordinated air strikes against targets across Iraq and in occupied Kuwait. Their phenomenal successes were undisputable evidence that unity of purpose had indeed been achieved.

And not only in the air was unity of purpose achieved. Turkey's agreement to allow coalition air forces to use Turkish bases to strike Iraq was especially significant, for it took away the Iraqi Air Force's tactic of refusing combat by fleeing to northern bases outside the range of allied Saudi and gulf-based aircraft. The second chimera to come to grief was the claim that high-tech weaponry was a foolhardy waste of money on gold-plated gadgetry. They've never been tested in combat, said the critics, and they're sure to fail when they're needed most.

Those critics now have some apologizing to do, for the remarkable combat photos of the pinpoint accuracy of those hi-tech "gadgets," especially the shot of that smart bomb guided into the air shaft of the Iraqi Air Force headquarters, was evidence that those dollars were well spent indeed.

So were the success rates of the F-117A Stealth bombers and other sophisticated Air Force and Navy aircraft, as well as the 80 percent hit rate of the Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from the U.S.S. Wisconsin and other Navy ships in the gulf. Especially significant were the successes of the Army's Patriot surface-to-air missiles in shooting down Iraqi Scud missiles.

Not only was the accuracy of these weapons systems militarily significant; it had a human and moral dimension as well. One of the reasons U.S. weaponry is so expensive is that it is designed to discriminate and hit only the target at which it is aimed. While its principal purpose is to destroy the target, it is also designed to avoid, so far as possible, causing collateral damage (i.e., damage other than to the target, especially civilian casualties).

Scuds, on the other hand, are wildly inaccurate ballistic missiles that cannot be guided to their target. Even if the Iraqi gunners last week had intended to hit military targets in Tel Aviv (in itself a doubtful proposition), they had no way of doing so. The best they could do was target the city itself. When used against population centers, SCUDs, by their very lack of sophisticated guidance systems, can only be terror weapons. But as we have seen, U.S. missiles can literally come through the front door of military targets.

The most significant chimera to be mortally wounded, however, was the so-called Israeli connection. Ironically, Saddam Hussein's Scud missile attacks on Tel Aviv may have had the opposite effect than he intended. Instead of splitting the coalition he may have further united it, as in the wake of the attack both Egypt and Syria acknowledged Israeli's right to self-defense.

While Israel has so far shown remarkable self-restraint, even if it did respond it is now unlikely that the coalition would collapse. Hussein played his Israeli card and it turned out to be a joker. The threat of an Iraqi attack turns out to have been more powerful than the attack itself. That was especially true with the linkage that threat provided with the explosive Palestinian issue. Ironically, the attack itself seems to have delinked these issues. If the Palestine Liberation Organization thought that Hussein was their great savior, they must have been dismayed by the feebleness and ineffectiveness of his attack, as well as by the ho-hum response of the Arab members of the coalition.

Instead of distancing the U.S. from Israel, as was intended, the Iraqi attack strengthened it. For the first time U.S. military forces were deployed to Israel to man Patriot anti-missile air defense batteries to defend Israel from further attack. This can hardly be what Hussein intended.

"So far, so good," said President Bush. But he warned not to be too optimistic. There is much war yet to come.

Col. Harry G. Summers Jr. is a distinguished fellow of the Army C War College, a contributing editor to the Journal of Defense & ? Diplomacy and a military analyst for NBC-TV.


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