Scheduling war

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Week after week, Paul Rogers, global analyst for the opendemocracy.net website, works to put the pieces of our troubled world together. In the article below, he makes a point I’ve seen nowhere else. To keep a modern, mobilized, imperial military waiting can be a costly affair. I’m reminded of those World War I armies that, once the mobilization order was given, more or less had to be used.

The pressures of the mobilization, the essential urge of the Bush administration to take out Saddam Hussein, the degree to which they have put their prestige on the line (that bedeviling old American bogeyman of Vietnam-era fame, “credibility”), the desire to control the Middle East militarily (and so to control the future), all speak to the need to make war in a hurry.

On the other hand, pressures from a reluctant military (leaking its fears again yesterday onto the front page of the Washington Post), and particularly of a reluctant army that neither wants to fight in cities, nor occupy another country indefinitely; polls that clearly show the American public doesn’t want an Iraqi war either without UN sanction or involving significant casualties (American, of course); the reluctance of “allies” to offer UN cover; the UN inspection teams and their potentially lengthy inspection schedules; and possibly political advisor Karl Rove belief that winning a war in Iraq too soon, peaking too early, could lead, as with Bush the Father, to electoral ruin in 2004, all mitigate against an early war. Explain it as you will, the “date” seems continually to recede.

Today, on its front page the Washington Post reports, “The Bush administration has set the last week in January as the make-or-break point in the long standoff with Iraq, and is increasingly confident that by then it will have marshaled the evidence to convince the U.N. Security Council that Iraq is in violation of a U.N. resolution passed last month and to call for the use of force, officials said yesterday.” (To read more of this Washington Post piece click here)

I’ve also included below a piece in the Guardian by analyst Dan Plesch that gives a sense of why the Army might be dragging its feet at the thought of policing occupied Iraq. It turns out the American military in Afghanistan is both causing problems and having problems (all much underreported in the American press). Tom

Shift of focus, not change of plan
By Paul Rogers
December 19, 2002

The complications of the United Nations (UN) arms inspection process have not deflected the US drive to war on Iraq. But recent indicators suggest a shift towards a more intensive air campaign.

The complications of the United Nations (UN) arms inspection process have not deflected the US drive to war on Iraq. But recent indicators suggest a shift towards a more intensive air campaign.

As the United Nations (UN) weapons inspection process continues in Iraq, and with mixed signals coming out of Washington, there appears to be some uncertainty over the likelihood of war. In assessing the situation, it is as ever the equivalent of the ‘small print’ – in this case, a detailed examination of what is happening in the US military – that offers the most informed, accurate idea of what is to come.

One of the real problems created for the United States by the extensive and protracted involvement of the UN inspectors in Iraq, is that it can prove hugely costly to keep forces at a high state of alert for long periods of time.

To read more Rogers click here (registration required)

Failure of the 82nd airborne
By Dan Plesch
December 19, 2002
The Guardian

American forces in Afghanistan have suffered a series of setbacks during 2002, and a year after the fall of the Taliban the US army is under almost daily attack in its bases in eastern Afghanistan. In the latest incident, in Kabul yesterday, two American soldiers were seriously injured in a grenade attack.

The main US force in the country is the 82nd airborne division, which is based at Bagram near Kabul. There are secondary bases at and around Khost in eastern Afghanistan, some 20 miles from the Pakistan border. Since mid-September US forces based in this area have been increased to more than 2,000, from just a few hundred earlier in the year, with a full battalion of parachute infantry at the new base of Camp Salerno outside Khost.

Several US-led attacks, using hundreds and even thousands of troops, have been ineffective, suffered outright defeat, or resulted in disaster.

Dan Plesch is a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies

To read more Plesch click here