A Limited-War Strategy For Victory in the Gulf

Swift air strikes at selected targets followed by psy-war against Iraqi ground troops should dislodge Saddam with a costly ground war

FRANCISCO GOYA captioned one of his Caprichos, his bitter drawings of human foibles, ``The Sleep of Reason Breeds Monsters.'' Today's discussion of the Gulf crisis is full of ``monsters'' and is troubled further by purposeful posturing and bombast. Some speak of a swift, massive land, sea, and air campaign that will drive Iraq out of Kuwait unless it withdraws by Jan. 15. Iraq's Saddam Hussein says he will not budge but that 20,000 Americans will go home in body bags. False alternatives raise temperatures - war or peace, appeasement or Armageddon - ignoring the many options in between. Rhetorical flourishes - why die for cheap oil or for feudal Arab regimes - confuse things further. The situation is serious enough without dark fantasies. It is a time to keep reason awake.

What now? The United Nations coalition has promised not to attack before Jan. 15. Saddam Hussein will try to gain time to divide his enemies. Some think he will offer a partial withdrawal from Kuwait. But to suggest that he would give up any of the territory he calls part of Iraq would reveal desperation. He has unsettled the Iraqi people enough with large new drafts for military service, civil defense exercises, reduced rations, and higher prices. The economic embargo is biting. To admit that this adventure too is a failure, after his war with Iran, would destroy his credit and, quite possibly, his regime. More probably, he will dangle colorful offers of negotiation, although the coalition agrees that there is nothing to negotiate.

There is no need to attack immediately after the deadline. Delay could even heighten the tension; but, having set a date, the stalemate cannot be allowed simply to continue. At a time and in a manner of its choosing, the coalition would have to use force. Then it must not use too much. The United States, as leader of the coalition, will be called to account for American and other lives. It must also bear in mind that some allies who are today cheering it on would curse it for doing excessive damage.

The first blow must be massive, but carefully limited. It would be an air offensive aimed at Iraq's air and air-defense forces - the integrated radar networks, antiaircraft missile systems as well as aircraft and airfields extending into Iraq. It should also, in the first minutes, take out the missiles with which Saddam Hussein could lash out at Saudi Arabia or even Israel. Surely, these targets as well as major command and control centers have been pinpointed and assigned.

With air supremacy assured, the coalition can cease firing and turn to psychological warfare. It would explain to Iraqi soldiers in the field and the population at home where Saddam's megalomania has put them. The Pentagon's lamentable psy-war performance in Panama does not inspire confidence, but radio broadcasts and millions of leaflets dropped by planes would reach the cities of Iraq. The perhaps 1 million troops and 4,000 or 5,000 tanks in the war zone call for special measures. Sitting there with no air cover and nowhere to hide, they should be assured that the allies do not want to kill them but prefer to see them return safely to their families.

The tanks dug into the desert and the fortified fuel and water depots can be given this message on their operational radio frequencies. Safe-conduct leaflets would tell the soldiers to come over when they have a chance and live to go home.

Needless to say, Saddam's omnipresent secret police will try to keep the troops in line, but once the men are demoralized by their hopeless position, they have weapons with which to assert themselves. The message may have to be reinforced with precise attacks on supply dumps or individual tanks. It will sink in. There is no rush, none of the pressure of time that the coalition would face if it sent hundreds of thousands of troops into battle. It is not totally inconceivable that elements of the Iraqi army (this would require armor, which has done it in the past) would head for Baghdad to deal with the regime.

In either case, collapse or revolt, there would be no need for allied amphibious or airborne landings and ground offensives to ``push'' Saddam out of Kuwait. At that point, since this is truly a political war, US forces should not even be in the vanguard. A spearhead of Kuwaiti and Saudi troops with Egyptian backing would be enough to do the job.

The job should stop at the Iraqi border - no invasion, no occupation, no destruction of economic infrastructure. The goal is to get rid of Saddam Hussein and his policy. It is hard to imagine how either could survive such a defeat. The chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons plants around the country would be demolished under international supervision. Until then, and formation of an Iraqi government that can really make peace with its neighbors, the economic embargo can remain in force.

With tomorrow in mind, we must make a better start toward security and progress in the Persian Gulf than a Big Bang of blood and rain.

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