WASHINGTON -- "I personally think that if there is war, it will be a short one that will last no more than five days."
That errant forecast was made by Sen. Daniel K. Inouye on Dec. 19, a few weeks before the Persian Gulf war began.
Inouye, D-Hawaii is chairman of the Senate defense appropriations subcommittee and a presumed military expert. So his mistaken prediction stands out. But many other reputedly knowledgeable individuals, from military officials to politicians to journalists, guessed wrong before the battle began.
Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato, R-N.Y., was caught up in the initial euphoria after war broke out and said, "I don't think it's unrealistic that within a 10-day period of time we could see Iraqi forces lay down their arms. It might well come sooner."
Commentator Pat Buchanan said on the McLaughlin Group show taped Jan. 18 that the war would be over in two weeks or less.
On the war-related issue of oil prices, many experts goofed again. Sheik Ahmed Zaki Yamani, former Saudi oil minister, had said last summer that in the event of war oil prices would leap to $100 a barrel.
Oil prices are around $21 a barrel now.
There were more skilled prognosticators, however.
Going back to the week after Iraq's Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait, when war involving the U.S. seemed a remote possibility, analyst Seth Carus of the Naval War College Foundation said: "If I had to put money down, I would say the odds greatly favor a direct military conflict between the U.S. and Iraq, possibly on a large scale."
The day war began, Rep. Les Aspin, D-Wis., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, warned, "This thing is going to be weeks, not days, and we are still going to have some casualties."
These examples notwithstanding, the lesson to be learned from looking at the record is to be wary of war weathermen who casually utter forecasts.
Remarkably, the eruption of contradictory speculation seems to have had little impact on the public, according to public opinion experts.
"I don't see any signs of confusion," said Gallup Poll editor-in-chief Frank Newport.
Allan Lichtman, a political historian at American University, said predictions are "heavily discounted" by the public.
If there are people who want expert assurance about the war's length, they might consider an estimate with a long shelf-life, something along the lines Vice President Dan Quayle told the troops in Saudi Arabia Jan. 1:
"Nineteen ninety-one will be the year Saddam Hussein gets out of Kuwait."
Evening Sun researcher Roman Ponos contributed to this article.