As the likelihood of a clash between the United States and Iraq appears imminent, virtually everyone, from military experts to student protesters, is offering opinions and justifications for and against the conflict. Hawks and doves alike have proffered a litany of reasons including, but not limited to, Saddam Hussein’s alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction, Iraq’s support of terrorism, the United States’ insatiable appetite for oil, and the aggressiveness of the capitalist machine. While there may be merit to any or all of these elements, the primary reasoning behind the inevitability of the showdown is attributable to America’s flawed ideology of justice and fair play. Quite simply, the United States has become so preoccupied with fighting by The Marquis of Queensberry Rules that it has lost the ability to exhibit ruthlessness and elicit fear in times of combat.
Prior to the Persian Gulf War, Saddam Hussein was just another small time dictator instigating sporadic trouble in the Middle East. He drew the attention and ire of the world upon himself when he unwisely chose to invade Kuwait. Seeing the sizable stir that Hussein had created, George Bush Sr. summoned up his mighty war machine, led by the inimitable General Stormin’ Norman Schwarzkopf, and drove the Iraqi invaders back in resounding fashion. However, when the time came to finish off Hussein, Bush Sr. did something distinctly American: he showed his vanquished foe a degree of mercy. Satisfied with the decimation of Hussein’s Republican Guard and the liberation of Kuwait, Bush Sr. allowed the Iraqis to accept some rather generous terms of surrender. Hussein stayed in power, albeit as leader of a country with a diminished military cohort and a wealth of stipulations and conditions to abide by. Schwarzkopf, (deferring to his military intuition), had asked Bush Sr. for a bit more time to conclude Desert Storm, was denied, then later admitted to being “snookered” by the Iraqis at the bargaining table. Hussein was essentially let off the hook, free to return home and regroup, while remaining under the watchful eye of the global community. After his spanking, naughty little Saddam was ordered to comport himself properly, “or else.” That “or else” has turned into a dozen years’ worth of posturing and half hearted threats by three presidential administrations, only now culminating in decisive action.
Hussein has cleverly exploited the United States’ policies on engagement to his own benefit, and continues to play a cagey game of cat and mouse to this day. He has long been comforted in knowing that the United States partakes in prolonged “analysis paralysis” when faced with decisions of using military force, and has enjoyed virtual carte blanche to wreak his own brand of havoc while all avenues of diplomacy have been explored and exhausted. Even as growing numbers of U.S. troops converge on Middle Eastern soil, Hussein continues his smoke and mirrors show without any perceptible concern for impending consequences. He has made a mockery of the UN inspection processes, relegating Hans Blix to deserved status as the fourth Stooge, with piecemeal vows of compliance. Through double talk, bogus promises and assorted stalling techniques, Hussein has shrewdly called the United States’ bluff since the early 1990s, and still maintains the belief that he can escape without a scratch. The bottom line is that he does not have any fear of the U.S.
When did the United States lose its will to be merciless in battle, and the subsequent ability to strike terror in the hearts of its foes? During World War II, Japan proved to be a formidable adversary, and the U.S. government realized that drastic measures were necessary to emerge victorious. There was little compunction about dropping an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, nor was there much concern voiced for the “innocent women and children” who were certain to be victimized by such a brutal attack. President Truman realized that war was, and is, a decidedly ugly business; when Japan failed to capitulate after the first bomb drop, a second bomb leveled Nagasaki three days later. Japan finally got the hint, and agreed to surrender less than a week thereafter. Twin atomic explosions in two major cities, coupled with close to 120,000 casualties had generated enough fear in Japan to break its fighting spirit. Additionally, the United States had demonstrated the steely resolve to let the hammer fall when it had to; it wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t politically correct, but it was necessary and the appropriate action to take.
In the nearly sixty year period since the conclusion of the Second World War, the United States has never equaled the terrifying show of military might exerted against the Japanese. In conflicts ranging from Korea to Vietnam to the Middle East, political negotiation has proved to be the ultimate weapon of choice. In some cases it has succeeded, while in others a dangerous precedent has been set; one characterized by an unwillingness to cross procedural lines of demarcation.
Several years prior to Hussein’s ascendance in the Middle East, Libyan strongman Mohamar Khadafi had garnered most of the attention. He had brazenly supported and participated in various acts of terrorism across the world, and was proving to be a dangerously unpredictable enemy. The imposition of customary sanctions and issuance of repeated warnings did nothing to dissuade Khadafi, and he continued to make headlines with his anti American rhetoric. His fearlessness was rivaled only by his certainty that the United States would never engage in anything more than political browbeating. For the most part he was correct, and it took a significant amount of time and consideration for the United States to act. A matched pair of missiles was eventually air mailed directly into one of Khadafi’s homes, serving as a harbinger of things to come should he not cease and desist. The point was made, and nary a squeak has been heard from Libya since.
The Khadafi situation has most certainly given Hussein added confidence. The various UN resolutions, economic sanctions and sporadic threats of military action have caused him little trepidation, and have accomplished even less to motivate him to comply with the regulations imposed on his government after the Gulf War. The very fact that he was allowed to remain in power was a clear indication of Western hesitancy to “go all the way.” He may be a sociopath, but Hussein knows how the United States does business, and has operated with near impunity for far too long, without fear of reprisals. The question then is how could this scenario have been avoided?
In retrospect, Bush Sr. should have dispensed with all civility and conjured up a decidedly more primal instinct and gone for the jugular. Military action should not have ceased until Hussein’s head was on a spear and all vestiges of his tyrannical regime were removed. As that scenario did not materialize, the United States should have adopted a zero tolerance policy with Iraq years ago. Hussein needed to know that he was living on borrowed time, with the U.S. axe hanging precariously above him. He should have been left with nothing more than a sense of foreboding and doom, knowing that one misstep would translate into his immediate demise. Unfortunately, the United States bowed to public opinion and returned to its standard policy of appeasement and patience. The American wartime mindset has become so ensconced in gentlemanly conduct that the government has failed to see how faulty this stance can be. The overwhelming threat in the 21st century comes from countries such as Iraq, and leaders like Hussein, who are devoid of conscience and fear. These foes only understand savage displays of deadly force, therefore traditional ground rules are no longer applicable and the days of fighting fair have passed. The United States needs to alter its game plan when dealing with fanatical dictators and rogue nations so as to avoid protracted struggles in the future. The time has come for the U.S. to stop worrying about public opinion polls and global popularity contests and start getting mean. Warfare is an extremely unpleasant undertaking for all parties involved, one that is personified by death and destruction. An understanding, as well as an acceptance of this fact is the hallmark of a country’s will to stand up and fight as necessary. Talking the talk without walking the walk only serves to breed more contempt among adversaries. Perhaps if the U.S. had the wherewithal to incorporate a bit more bloodthirstiness into its battle plan, the Husseins of the world would be held in check by healthy levels of fear, and a pervasive wariness of bringing America’s wrath down upon themselves.
As to the situation at hand, the United States needs to remind itself of Hussein’s track record of deception and dispense with political courtesies. Forget the talk of disarmament; forget the potential exile agreement; forget the approval of France and Germany; the time has come to stop bargaining and burn Hussein to the ground without a second thought. Warfare is an all or nothing proposition, and the U.S. needs to live up to its decade long period of demonstrative finger waving, and reaffirm its reputation as a no nonsense super power.