Saddam's strategy

January 29, 1991

As our guest analyst Col. Harry G. Summers points out elsewhere on this page, Saddam Hussein's strategy is not conducive to an early end to this war. Now it appears that a land war, with all its brutality and casualties, is inevitable. A long and costly land war is exactly what Saddam wants; he senses that, over time, mounting casualties will severely test the allies' resolve.

But, as Summers points out, time is not on Saddam's side -- unless, that is, the allies hand him the advantage. Still haunted by Vietnam, Americans are tempted to think that anything other than a quick and easy victory will doom the military effort to an endless quagmire of illusory victories, erased by dispiriting defeats. The daily ration of censored war news could soon strain the attention span of a nation accustomed to keeping a close eye on the scoreboard.

There are plenty of lessons to learn from Vietnam and the history of this war will contain many instances in which policy makers have gone overboard not to repeat past mistakes -- as when President Bush upped the ante by doubling troop strength just after the November elections. But despite its similarities, the Persian Gulf conflict is not Vietnam, at least not yet.

Saddam's strategy cannot produce a military victory for Iraq, she will have to claim victories where he can find them -- defiling the Persian Gulf with oil or firing missiles on Israel and Saudi Arabia. The allies' job is to keep those outrages from turning into victories. That is a job that calls for patience -- not an easy thing in wartime.

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