The Evening Standard        
12 February 1998                                                

 

  The morning after we bomb Saddam

by Gerald Segal

Gerald Segal, Director of Studies at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, analyses the military aftermath of bombing

 We can be sure of at least two news stories. There will be breathtaking video footage of smart weapons weaving their way down city streets on their way to a ventilation shaft in a suspected weapons factory. There will be "pool" broadcasts from American and British aircraft carriers of noisy, bomb-laden aircraft lifting off into the blue yonder. 

But the "gee-whizz" sensation will be tempered by the equally inevitable pictures of dead children and damaged hospitals. Our bombs may not even have caused what Ministry of Defence spokesmen will call "collateral damage", but rest assured there will quickly be an unpleasant side to this war.

 In the past Saddam Hussein has deliberately put his people in harm's way as human shields and he will not shy away from killing his own citizens in order to get the right kind of propaganda. After all, this is a man who has foregone $100 billion in oil revenues since 1991 because he refuses to comply with the UN Special Commission for Disarmament (Unscom) inspections. 

The mixture of some successful strikes and civilian casualties will pose agonising choices for political leaders as well as ordinary citizens.

 It is unlikely that even after a few days of intensive bombardment the US and UK will have achieved all the objectives. Saddam may well reckon that it is in his interest to take the pain, but show that the West's aircraft and missiles are what the Chinese used to call "paper tigers".

 Saddam believes soft Western societies do not have the stomach for a long and bloody war. He will count on the popular revulsion in the West to pictures of dead children.

 He remembers that 24 hours of harrowing pictures of Iraqi soldiers killed fleeing Kuwait led the West to end the war in 1991 before they had finished the job. 

Will he blink first? Will he lash out out at Israel? What effect is bombing by the Allies likely to have? There are several possibilities:

 

Saddam capitulates

 Don't hold your breath. Saddam has no need to capitulate to a mere air campaign. The worst outcome he can expect is painful strikes that lead him to send a message via the Russians or Chinese that he is willing to allow some serious form of Unscom inspections.

 The bombing is then "paused" while the inspectors resume work. At first they will concentrate on visiting sites already destroyed. While the weeks drag on and Western forces are stood down, Saddam will explore how to slow-up the inspections, eventually taking us back to where we are today.

 That scenario looks more like a draw than a victory for either side.

 The reality, unpleasant as it seems, is that a bombing campaign cannot ensure continued full compliance with Unscom. 

The Allies capitulate

 Not very likely, at least not for a while. If it becomes clear that Saddam is not prepared to let the Unscom inspectors back in, and the US and UK have not hit all the sites they want, then there is more reason than Saddam supposes to keep on hitting him.

 The coalition backing military strikes is already reduced to a hardcore of believers and most are ready for a longer haul. In truth, the US could carry out this campaign virtually on its own.

 The two main powers - the US and to a lesser extent Britain - are the least likely to crack under adverse publicity. President Clinton has a Republican-controlled Congress calling for tougher, not weaker action. Britain's Prime Minister has enthusiastically cast his lot with the Americans and the British public is not known for being squeamish about the realities of war.

 It is therefore not hard to envisage that the US and UK stay in the ring, hitting Saddam every day for months. The media will tire of the story and the cost in materiel will not be huge. 

Stopping the bombing short of at least a face-saving return of Unscom inspectors is, at least at the moment, unthinkable for Washington and London. The failure of the bombing campaign will be the virtual death of efforts to build a post-Cold War order to control weapons.

 Nato will be deeply wounded, the US will be seen as a paper tiger and the likes of China and Iran will feel freer to defy the Western system of order and prosperity. Iraq will be free to rebuild its power and threaten its neighbours. In short, this sort of Day After is too nasty to contemplate, at least not without further exertions. 

Someone miscalculates

 This is an all-too-possible outcome. We may be into a few weeks of bombing and Saddam is starting to hurt. He sees the Western powers are not packing their bags so he dares the West to escalate. He fires a missile with a conventional warhead against Israel, but it happens to land in a schoolyard and kills a dozen toddlers. Suddenly the ante is much higher.

 America proves unable to restrain a token Israeli strike on Baghdad and off we go up the ladder of escalation. Is Saddam prepared to use his chemical or biological weapons? If he does, no one should assume that the Israelis would turn the other cheek. The US will also take far more chances if it is in a war with weapons of mass destruction. 

What the West will settle for

 No Western leader will fly into war with Saddam Hussein with anything but a heavy heart. America and Britain in particular know they cannot just sit on their hands, but they also know that they will emerge with blood on their hands.

 A good result, and it is unlikely to come in a few days of bombing, will be the return of Unscom. The perfect result, full inspections for the foreseeable future, is not available. A bad result - the abandonment of Unscom - is possible but we will not get there for several months. The length of time depends a great deal on how people in Britain and the US react to those two sets of contrasting pictures we can expect the day after the bombing begins. 

© Associated Newspapers Ltd., 12 February 1998
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