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October 12, 2002

Many Ways the US Attack on Iraq May Fail


by George Hunsinger

Many supporters of the U.S. war against Iraq suppose that it will be won quickly and easily. Not all responsible analysts agree. Two doubters are particularly interesting, one opposed to attacking Iraq, the other supporting it.

Three scenarios are outlined by Immanuel Wallerstein, who teaches at Yale. First, there is the devout hope that the U.S. will win easily and swiftly, with minimal loss of life. Second, the U.S. could win but only after a long and exhausting war, with massive loss of life. Finally, the U.S. could actually lose the war, as in Vietnam, being forced to withdraw from Iraq after a massive loss of life.

Wallerstein comments: "Swift and easy victory, obviously the hope of the U.S. administration, is the least likely. I give it one chance in twenty. Winning after a long exhausting war is the most likely, perhaps two chances out of three. And losing, incredible as it seems (but then it seemed so in Vietnam too) is a plausible outcome, one chance in three."

The most probable outcome is a long drawn-out bloody war. Iraq would be devastated, Wallerstein observes, political and economic turmoil would result at home and abroad, and a "regime change" would indeed occur, but not in Baghdad.

Among the supporters of invasion is Stratfor, a private intelligence corporation offering incisive analysis based on inside sources. On Sept. 25, Stratfor predicted: "An invasion by U.S. forces is likely to cause many Iraqis to rally around Hussein, leaving no easy solution and a big, messy war ahead, with all of the U.S. might on one side and millions of Iraqis on the other." "The likelihood of mass desertions," Stratfor continued, "from the army once the [U.S.] army crosses the border is extremely low." The conclusion was in their headline: "Iraqi Overthrow of Hussein Attractive for U.S., but Unrealistic."

The question of "the day after" must also be faced. James Webb, former Secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration, has written: "The issue before us is not simply whether the United States would end the regime of Saddam Hussein, but whether we as a nation are prepared physically to occupy territory in the Middle East for the next 30 to 50 years." George Friedman, head of Stratfor, has said that invading Iraq would be something like a dog chasing a car. What do you do once you catch it? The title of a detailed and sobering article in the current Atlantic Monthly asks: "The Fifty-first State?"

The attack against Iraq cannot be reconciled with just war principles. Lacking a sufficient cause, it will be a crime of aggression. If it overrides the UN, it will lack legitimate authority. Through urban warfare it could well result in massive civilian casualties. It is not likely to be a last resort. Nor is it likely to have a reasonable chance of success. The huge risks - chaos in Iraq, chaos in the Middle East, and chaos around the world -- hardly seem worth the cost.

Nicholas D. Kristof rightly asks: "Is America really prepared for hundreds of casualties, even thousands, in an invasion and subsequent occupation that could last many years?"


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George Hunsinger teaches at Princeton Theological Seminary. He once worked on the staff of the Riverside Church Disarmanent Program in NYC.

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