Nervous Nellies in the news media have devoted reams of copy to the problems the United States might encounter if we go to war with Iraq. It seems only fair to devote some attention to the problems Saddam Hussein faces, because they are much greater.
There are always surprises in war, so it's a bad idea to underestimate the enemy. But those who say a war with Iraq would be a cakewalk have a better argument than those who warn of a quagmire.
It was a cakewalk last time. Since then, our forces have gotten much better. His have gotten much worse.
Saddam starts with a numbers problem. When the gulf war began, Iraq had the world's third-largest army. This lasted precisely 100 hours. Saddam's military is much smaller today. In 1991, he had 1.1 million troops. Now, about 376,000. Then, Saddam had 5,550 tanks. Now, about 2,200.
But this is worse than the numbers appear, because Saddam also has an equipment problem. He has the same stuff he had 10 years ago, just lots less of it, and it's 10 years older. Maintenance has never been an Iraqi forte, and because of U.N. economic sanctions, the Iraqis don't have money for spare parts. Perhaps only half of Saddam's tanks actually will run.
But the situation is worse than it appears, because Saddam also has a training and doctrine problem. Mark Burgess, a former British soldier who works for the left-leaning Center for Defense Information, has done a study of Iraqi training and doctrine, and found it to be vastly inferior to ours. Officers and soldiers are poorly trained and hate each other. Military operations follow rigid plans, which are difficult to change at all, impossible to change quickly. A first sergeant in the U.S. Army has more discretionary authority than a full colonel in the Iraqi army, Mr. Burgess said.
U.S. superiority in training and doctrine, and in command and control, is so great, a U.S. Army officer said, that if we had had the Iraqi equipment and they had had ours, the result in the gulf war would have been the same.
But the situation is worse than it appears, because Saddam has a loyalty problem. The typical Iraqi soldier is a draftee who has little love for Saddam and less desire to die for him. If there is a war, it is likely that most - if not all - of the Iraqi regular forces would sit it out in the barracks or surrender after token resistance.
The defense of Saddam's regime could fall almost entirely upon six Republican Guard divisions of about 10,000 men each, and four Special Republican Guard brigades of about 2,500 each. But even here, loyalty is not guaranteed. Saddam reportedly is reluctant to bring Republican Guard divisions into Baghdad for fear of a coup.
But the situation is worse than this appears, because Saddam also has a disposition problem. Iraq is much larger than Kuwait. Many in the media have portrayed this as a problem for the United States, when, in reality, it is a much bigger problem for Saddam. He must decide very, very carefully where he deploys his forces, because he won't be able to move them once a war starts.
The Serbs proved in Kosovo that if a unit hunkers down and doesn't emit, it can survive American aerial bombardment. But if the unit moves, it dies.
So where does Saddam put his troops? If he wants to be able to launch Scud missiles against Israel, he'll have to put large forces in western Iraq, because the Scud can only strike Israel if it is launched from there. If he wants to protect his oilfields, he'll have to put significant forces in northern Iraq, and in southeastern Iraq, because that's where the oil is. But if Saddam deploys major forces in western, northern and southern Iraq, he won't have much left to defend Baghdad or his home town of Tikrit, where he is thought to be holed up. He could parcel out his forces in all these places, but then he'd be too weak to resist an American assault at any of them. As Frederick the Great said: “He who defends everything, defends nothing.”
Saddam has been described as “an industrial strength assortment of psychological disorders,” so there's no telling what he'll do. But if he takes a cold, hard look at his military situation, he'll comply, promptly and fully, with U.N. weapons inspectors.