Posted: 5/20/2002 11:36:55 AM EDT
The National Review
May 20, 2002
The U.S. Will Not Go to War Against Iraq
by John Derbyshire
Are you starting to get the feeling I'm getting, the feeling expressed in my
title? The feeling that there will be no war against Iraq? Not this year,
not next year, not ever?
Let me emphasize the word "feeling." As a responsible columnist, I am going
to do my best to justify my title with facts. It all starts with a feeling,
though — a slow-rising, ever-strengthening feeling that it just ain't going
to happen. I spend a couple of hours every morning surfing news sites,
reading the papers, gathering material for NR editorials and web columns. I
go to functions where I meet people who know stuff. I read, I listen.
Occasionally I pick up a revealing fact. Much more often, I just accumulate
impressions. Reader, I have accumulated the impression that the U.S. will
not go to war against Iraq. But let me do my best to justify that.
First of all, this is no way to make war. By "this" I mean these jut-jawed
expressions of determination to act... but not till next year, when all is
ready; these fatuous exercises in "coalition-building" or "seeking
understanding"; these protestations that the time is not yet ripe; these
specious rumors of materiel inventories that need to be built up.
(Concerning which, Colonel David Hackworth, who has a considerable
reputation in these matters, says, to Larry Henry, that it's all bull: "Got
enuff to take Iraq and Iran at the same time." Uh-huh. So all this delay is
for... what? To give us time to organize peace between Israel and the Arabs?
Oh, that won't take long.)
This is no way to make war. The most elementary fact about war, that you
learn in your first week of lectures at staff college, or can pick up for
yourself by reading half a dozen decent books of military history, or just
by talking to veterans, is that battles are won by speed, audacity and
surprise. Gentle reader, in the administration's movement towards engagement
with Iraq, do you see speed? Do you see audacity? Do you see surprise? Do
you even see any sign that our government is capable of those things? I sure
It is true that one, or even two, though probably not all three, of those
key elements can be dispensed with if you possess overwhelming force. That's
why unimaginative, plodding generals sometimes win wars; that's why Dwight
Eisenhower carried off the D-Day landings (he still had surprise). And we
probably do possess overwhelming force, even allowing for the couple of
years we have given Saddam Hussein to further disperse his biowar
facilities, plant saboteurs in the U.S., acquire a few North Korean missiles
and add another 20 feet of reinforced concrete to his underground command
bunkers. Which brings me to the next issue: Do we actually have the will to
use that force? Or, more to the point, shall we have that will in spring of
I was once in the capital city of a country that was going to war. That was
London in 1982, when Margaret Thatcher took her country to war against
Argentina. I remember the electric sense of urgency in the air, the fevered
preparations: welders working 12-hour shifts to rig helicopter pads on to
the decks of requisitioned cruise ships, the lights on all night in the
barracks, the seasoned army officer I knew who told me, so grim-faced I
believe he really meant it: "I will kill to get a berth on the Task Force."
(He didn't get one. Serving officers were clambering over each other,
gouging eyes and ripping out hair, to get their names on the Task Force
War is a fierce and desperate business, operations thrown together in haste
and launched at a hazard, junior officers racing forward to be the first to
distinguish themselves, staff officers spotting unexpected strategic
opportunities and hurling at them everything that comes to hand. Materiel
shortages and supply bottlenecks are chronic, there are never enough
engineers, and you improvise somehow. (Improvisation is a core military
skill. Waiting for all the ducks to line up is not part of a soldier's job.
The ducks aren't ever going to line up. The ducks are trying to kill you.)
War is not systems analysis; war is not Mergers and Acquisitions; war is not
computer programming. War is noise and smoke, opportunity and frustration,
chaos and slaughter.
In the case of aggressive war — which, let's be frank and unapologetic about
it, is what this projected war against Iraq would be — there is also what
Bernard Montgomery called the "hare and hound" factor: The hare is running
for his life, while the hound is merely running for his dinner. Other things
being equal, bet on the hare. For the Iraqi regime — not just Saddam, but
all his place-men — there would be a great deal at stake in a war, far more
than would be at stake for anyone in Washington, DC. That's not a reason not
to go to war, if we are truly resolved, but it is a reason to examine our
resolution, and ask ourselves whether it has the necessary component of
determined stone-cold ruthlessness. In 1991 it didn't, which is why Saddam
Hussein is still with us. Are we hound enough to play hare and hound?
Speed... audacity... surprise... resolution... ruthlessness... fevered
preparations... volunteers working 12-hour shifts... officers standing on
line all night in Pentagon corridors for a chance at a combat posting.
That's war. Do I see these things when I look at Washington DC today? No, I
don't. Shall I see them a year from now, when our resolve, our anger, our
desire for revenge, have had twelve more months to dribble away like sand
between our fingers, and every excuse for inaction (never any shortage of
those) has been rehearsed on a thousand TV talk shows by everyone with an
interest in making the Bush administration look foolish (definitely no
shortage of those)? When 9/11 is a fading memory, washed over with layers of
frivolity — the latest celebrity murder, the latest political squabble, the
latest judicial outrage, the latest stock market spike?
I'm not betting on it. If the mood in Washington today — or even, may the
brave lads fighting in Afghanistan forgive me for saying it, the mood in
Washington last fall — if that mood were the mood I saw in London in the
spring of 1982, we'd be in Baghdad by now. Materiel? We'd have coped
somehow. Allies? With 'em or without 'em. Bases? We'd have taken what we
needed, and apologized later. But that was not the mood among our leaders
even last fall; it is not the mood now; barring some horrid new atrocity
against us, which Heaven forbid, it will surely not be the mood next spring.
In my glummer moments I wonder if we are even capable of that mood.
Did I mention allies? If our leaders were sufficiently determined, it
wouldn't matter a damn; but since (according to me) they are not, let's take
a look at the line-up. Latest news:
Tony Blair has privately reassured his Labour Party critics that Britain
will not back US military action against Iraq unless it wins the backing of
the United Nations Security Council. His assurances, at a private meeting
with senior Labour figures, were disclosed as Britain stepped up the pace to
secure agreement through the Security Council for the return of U.N. weapons
inspectors to Iraq. (London Daily Telegraph)
"Unless it wins the backing of the United Nations Security Council..." We
all know what that means, don't we? So the British have bailed out, as I
predicted last October. So that reduces the number of committed allies we
have in this fight to... how many?... let's see... hmmm — oh: zero!
Personally, this fact would not stop me; but then, I personally don't run
the U.S. Department of State.
Which brings us to the Colin Powell problem. Bringing Powell into the
cabinet will, I believe, come to be seen as a classic error by George W.
Bush — given a whole chapter to itself in future textbooks on how to form a
cabinet, or how to get a new administration off the ground. Powell has a
huge constituency, far larger and more committed than the President's own.
To be sure, a lot of people don't like him. Blacks don't like him because
he's not "authentic" enough (which is to say, he shows no sign of hating
white people). White liberals don't like him because he escaped from their
plantation somehow. White conservatives don't like him because he's squishy
on a lot of issues they care about: affirmative action, abortion, the Second
Amendment, and so on.
However, if you add up all the blacks, all the committed white liberals and
all the committed white conservatives, you only have about one-third of the
electorate. The other two-thirds l-u-r-v-e Colin Powell. Even among my own
readers, actually, there is a strong love-Powell contingent.
Which means that Powell can't be fired, and that a Powell resignation would
be, as Mao Tse-tung once said in a similar case: "An earthquake of the
eighth magnitude." Which means that Powell has an absolute veto on our
foreign policy. This is the Colin Powell who has sold out tothe Riyadh-Cairo
line on the Middle East, the Colin Powell who lined up in the dove camp with
Jim Baker and the striped-pants Neville Chamberlain Appreciation Society
from Foggy Bottom when Iraq invaded Kuwait, the Colin Powell who wrote in
his autobiography that Saddam was left standing at the end of the 1991 Gulf
War because the desire to avoid further slaughter overwhelmed the desire to
get rid of the dictator.
I favor war against Iraq. I believe a successful war against Iraq would
trigger major attitude adjustment in the Middle East, to the benefit of us
and the promotion of our values. I believe it would greatly enhance this
country's security by removing a major supplier of WMD to terrorist gangs.
But if our leaders believe that "the desire to avoid further slaughter"
trumps the desire to take down our enemy; if they believe that Crown Prince
Abdullah or Hosni Mubarak will lift one jeweled pinkie to assist our war
aims; if they believe that we need the permission of crooks and despots
before we act in our own interests; if they believe that Europe is
militarily significant; if they believe that the U.N. Security Council is
worth anything more than a thimbleful of rat's piss; if they believe that
our fighting men and women cannot carry out their duties without a year and
a half of preparation; if they believe all these things, then it would be
best if we did not start a war at all. They do: We won't.
— Mr. Derbyshire is also an NR contributing editor.
Sadly, this appears to be the case.
[b]"White liberals don't like him because he escaped from their
Quite the humorist. [:D]
Post from shooter69 -
"White liberals don't like him because he escaped from their plantation somehow."
Yes, that's from 'Uncle Tom Daschle's Cabin' if I recall correctly.
Yea, I read all that[rolleyes]
Originally Posted By FRIZ:
The other two-thirds l-u-r-v-e Colin Powell.
What does "lurve" mean? Is that plantation speak?
The US will indeed go to war with Iraq, probably this coming winter.