Iraq Can Wait Till Phase 1 is Done

Peter W. Singer
Peter W. Singer Former Brookings Expert, Strategist and Senior Fellow - New America

March 19, 2002

On Sept. 11, more than 3,000 people, including two close friends of mine, were killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Nearly six months later, Osama bin Laden and the rest of al-Qaida’s core leaders, who planned their deaths, remain on the loose.

Holdout bands of terrorists are not only battling U.S. troops in Afghanistan, but are also spread out in cells around the world, certainly conspiring to carry out new attacks.

One would think that these challenges would be enough to keep both policymakers and pundits busy. Yet somehow the debate in Washington has shifted. All the talk, and apparently much of the behind-the-scenes planning, now revolves around how finally to get rid of Saddam Hussein. Fair betting odds are that an invasion of Iraq will happen before the year is over.

It is generally agreed that an effective military campaign against Iraq would require the deployment of about 200,000 American soldiers to the Persian Gulf region. A postwar stabilization force would require at least 100,000 troops. National Guard and reserve forces would certainly be called up.

Not one these soldiers, or the entire U.S. military apparatus needed to support them, would be used to seek out and kill the men who killed 3,000 Americans.

An effective military campaign would require about four to six months of preparation in order to move forces into place, build up supplies and ramp up production of needed precision guided weapons. Experts guess that the fighting would run up to two months. The postwar stabilization force would certainly stay in Iraq for years, maybe even decades, if the reordering of postwar Germany and Japan or the present operations in the Balkans are apt parallels.

All of this valuable time and energy would be directed at one of the few places in the world where we know the men who killed 3,000 Americans were not based in the past, nor are now hiding.

That the U.S. military could defeat Iraq is not doubted by anyone. However, while Mr. Hussein’s army is certainly no juggernaut, it is also not the fractured, dysfunctional forces of the Taliban.

Depending on the scenario, experts predict that an invasion of Iraq would result in significant casualties among American soldiers, likely in the range of hundreds of lives lost. If we had to fight our way through the streets of Baghdad, or if Mr. Hussein, with his own death looming, decided to use his chemical or biological weapons, the figure could rise to the thousands.

Not one of these soldiers’ lives would be given in the cause of avenging their 3,000 fellow Americans killed on Sept. 11.

An invasion of Iraq would certainly be unpopular in the Islamic world. Neither our regional allies, nor our European allies, nor the other members of the U.N. Security Council want to support us. In all likelihood, a wide range of political and economic deals would have to be struck on the side just to get the political cover and military basing access necessary to carry out the operation.

All of these bargaining chips would not be spent on gaining the intelligence, legal, political and economic cooperation needed to bring down the terrorist network that killed 3,000 Americans.

Until we finish the job given to us by Sept. 11, any talk of taking on Iraq is premature. Such discussion also misses the reason the Bush administration and the U.S. military enjoys such overwhelming support for the ongoing operations in Afghanistan. The American public is unified in its desire that the war on terrorism be won.

A demand that we also busy ourselves with reliving the gulf war is not so apparent, certainly not when the killers of 3,000 Americans are on the loose and U.S. soldiers are fighting and dying to punish them.

Saddam Hussein is an evil dictator, lacking in any redeeming qualities, other than that no good evidence so far links him to the attacks of Sept. 11. Osama bin Laden and his terrorist organization plotted the deaths of my friends and 3,000 other Americans. There is no question at whom all our focus and energy should be directed.