The war in a nutshell

Paul Greenberg

January 30, 1991|By Paul Greenberg

WHAT'S THE allied strategy against the Iraqi army now hunkered down in and around Kuwait? The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Colin Powell, explained it succinctly the other day: "Our strategy for dealing with this army is very simple: First we're going to cut it off, then we're going to kill it." By all reports, that is just what the allies are proceeding methodically to do.

If there must be an advance overland, let's hope it will be against a pulverized, starved, and outflanked Iraqi army -- even if reducing it to that state takes a few weeks. Or months. Or longer. After a while, the message should start getting through to the Iraqis: Why waste away in this desert as our enemy, Brother, when, inshallah, God willing, you could be our guest? The United States of America and Associates welcome you to clean, well-run prisoner of war camps with three squares a day and every article of the Geneva Convention scrupulously observed. Come on over. Tonight it's shish kabob. Why die for Saddam when you could live to see your children's children and tell wonderful stories of the war against the infidel?

Iraqi radio says the allies are too cowardly to fight on the ground. That kind of talk is music to my ears. I could listen to it for weeks, for months, until the last broadcast tower in Iraq crumbles under this air assault, and the last starved, lice-ridden poor beggar of an Iraqi soldier lays down his AK-47 and walks across to peace and a little tender loving care.

Pop culture has its wisdom, too. There is a scene in one of the Indiana Jones movies in which Our Intrepid Hero finds himself confronted by a menacing figure who could have stepped out of Scheherezade's 1001 tales. Vicious, huge, the menace approaches, twirling his scimitar this way and that, letting it glint in the light, displaying his invincible swordsmanship. Our Hero shrugs at the inevitability of it, smiles sadly, and shoots the menace dead at 20 paces. There are some advantages to being in the next stage of technology; let's exploit them.

Saddam Hussein's best defense against this air assault is not SAMs but CNNs. There is method in Baghdad's decision to let the Cable News Network keep reporting from Iraq. The more images of innocent civilians bombed -- whether it's a sham milk factory or an actual apartment building that's destroyed -- the more restrictions may be placed on allied air power. The more restrictions, the less chance of destroying Iraq's communication and transportation network, which are vital to its staying power in this war.

Pictures of Iraqi homes in rubble should indeed sadden -- not only because civilian sites have been hit but because military ones were not. And the less effective this assault from the air, then the longer and bloodier the conflict is likely to be. Vietnam-style restrictions on air war would be neither intelligent nor ethical. The best way to limit both civilian and military losses is to prosecute this war as effectively as possible.

If American public opinion can be aroused by artfully censored news from Iraq, once again the United States may have to fight a war that gives the enemy privileged sanctuaries. The price will be more casualties in the field. Just as in Korea and Vietnam.

Never again. The risk of injuring innocent civilians must be weighed against the certainty of making this a land war in Asia, with its all too familiar anguish. George Bush said this conflict would not be another Vietnam, that this time America would not fight with one arm tied behind its back. Let's dearly hope so. Or we will have learned nothing from earlier ordeals.

With each pounding, with each convoy of food and supplies destroyed, with each additional act of isolation and destruction from the less than friendly skies, the message will grow stronger to an army whose fate General Powell has outlined: "First we're going to cut it off, then we're going to kill it."

No rush. Why should American boys -- and girls -- be put in harm's way before air power has had a chance to turn this great army Saddam has amassed in the desert into a hungry, hunted remnant? Take your time, airmen. Time is on our side, if we will but use it. No land war in Asia.

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