Pity Charles' poor, neglected post here....Charles, you've learned the first rule of talk radio and pundit media in general.....don't ask people to actually think a lot. Or, to quote Auto Parts king Ray Zilinsky, "What the American people don't know is what makes them
the American people."
But your premise is strong and I find it mentally challenging. So here goes:
The most likely scenario I see is 1) After no action by the UN, Iraq is invaded unilaterally by the U.S., along with perhaps Britain and a few other allies in early spring 2003.
. What follows afterward? Anyone's guess. It would make life so much easier to paint a clear picture, and as First Worlders I'm sure you'll agree that we become mentally selfish on things like this...after all, we can predict the weather, health issues, the ride to work, even something as archaic as the stock market. We are a society that craves 'ballpark figures' and that's what makes the coming storm so ominous. It could be over in a week, with an epic Blitzkrieg to Baghdad, a violent dispatch of Saddam by his own men, and a Nuremburg-style filming of those ridiculous giant swords Saddam fancied riding under being blown into dust by the conquering foe.
By all practical purposes, the Iraqi military machine has banked on the fact that attempting to fight in the open desert will mean lots of flaming tanks and carbonized soldiers. Their forces will withdraw and are likely even now encamping in the cities. Basra. Baghdad. Tikrit. Tanks bivouacked next to apartment buildings, schools, hospitals. Places they won't be quite the hopeless targets they were in Gulf War I. Soldiers hiding amongst the concrete. Come in and get us. With that in mind, I will foward a personal opinion that may be a shocker....if we're going to do it, and I am vehemently against doing it, we have to do it now. No politics. No pandering. With every passing day we get closer and closer to the Iraqi summer....lots of daylight to kill in, lots of heat to stifle in. Each passing hour is a tactical waste. Hans, baby, you did your best, but you had too many masters who would settle for nothing else. No sit, rest and watch.
Our first response will be to drain Iraqi cities of power, guaranteeing darkness, which will be our single biggest tactical advantage. Cruise missles carrying EMP producing 'pinches' will overfly and saturate the big cities, frying the simple electronics and capacitors used to run the electrical grid....as well as most things electrical themselves. Development of this weapon has been very secret, and it has not been used wholesale in actual combat. The more successful it is, the more we'll be.
If the Allied military hopes to close the urban combat environment as quickly as possible, it will abide by the notion that the entire city is a war zone. It will not purposely target civies and non-combatants....but it will not radically alter its' tactics to avoid them either. And this is probably not going to happen, which will mean a huge, life-consuming tactical disadvantage for us. In an effort to keep a lid on Iraqi civillian deaths and the inevitable gruesome video footage that will enflame Arab & world opinion even more, Allied generals will rely on tactics and 'smart' weaponry to pinpoint their targets, with minimum collateral damage. Very unwise. In Mogadishu in 93, cut off US forces found that the only way to survive was to shoot at everything. Estimates put the Somali death toll at well over a thousand (versus 18 US soldiers). Clearly not all of those dead Somalis were carrying AK
-47s. So if the fighting is to be house to house, lots and lots of people are going to get in the way. And lots are going to die. If the Iraqi tank that's picking off Humvees and troops is hising secure behind a class full of kids, the M1 sent to kill it must shoot through the school. That's war. That's why
so many people from Pentagon analysts and retired military people to Dutch teenagers are squirming, grunting and protesting the 'no other option' attitude going into this one.
One other tried and true military demon will be back to haunt the cities, this time used in a way it was never intended...but with shocking effectiveness. Should the Iraqis in any way dabble in chemical warfare, they will feel once again the wrath of the Daisy Cutter. This time the massive fuel air bomb will be used in an urban setting, over the highest concentrations of Saddam's forces. Indeed, chemicals or not, I wouldn't be surprised to see Daisy Cutters used in benign areas on city outskirts, purely for psychological effect.....the message to Iraqi civies: get out, even if Saddam's guys say you'll be killed if you try leaving. Cause clearly you will if you stay.
So now we're grinding through the cities, probably faster than expected, and victory is near. Personally, I cannot fathom the punk, thug and world class coward Saddam making one last martyr's stand in his bunker. He may be spirited out of the city, east to the Iranian frontier, where, with a shave and a clothes change, he becomes just another swarthy dude, off into hiding with his brothers in blood and sadness, Osama and Omar. He may try an airborne escape, and end up in a smoking heap of what was once a Lear Jet. He'll most likely, at a time when misery is thick in the streets of his cities, make a desperate deal to end it all if only one of his fellow Arab countries agrees to take him in. The other countries may be all for it. But by that time, though, you may be looking at upwards of one to two thousand dead Americans coming home in bags, and tens of thousands of dead Iraqis. Allied forces will have one goal....to visit upon Saddam the personal kind of justice that eluded us on Omar and Osama.
Then what? Iraqi is now a wholly owned subsidiary of 'Coalition Forces' (provided no one else got involved....another VERY ominous prospect is just one chemical tipped Scud landing in an Ariel Sharon-run Israel. What happens after that? I don't know. At best, a 'spirited' Israeli response could mean a 1970s style shutoff of mideast oil to the West...which may yet happen anyway. At worst? It may be the final check off on the list towards World War III).
A post-Saddam Iraq will be a teeming soup of animosity and payback. In an effort to try and maintain peace, Allied forces may find themselves killing the same people who helped them just a few days before....rampaging Kurds or Shiites hell bent on exacting years of pent up vengence on Saddam's Baathists, military elements, tribe. Friedman in the Times is right when he says post-Saddam Iraq will be a 'Balkanized mess'. It will also be an environmental mess, with Saddam already promising a 'scorched Earth' retreat of sabotaged oil wells and heads, destroyed dams..... any jolly free marketer pining about free flowing Iraqi oil opening up the economic morass we sit in better realize it may actually take years to bring that oil to market in the West.
This brings us to your larger question, Charles, of what the Middle East will look like in 2008. Answer: Not much different. The shieks are wont to protect their oil cash-drenched equillibrium, and since we'll by all accounts in 2008 still be very dependent on oil (in classic American shortsightedness, watch a surge of SUV
buying once Iraq is settled...and talks of hydrogen power or fuel efficient hybrids will be drowned by the cynical pompousness of the right wing media. Back to 'tree hugging', you wackos)....the shieks will still have their power structure.
Oh, there may be an Iraq struggling at making democracy work, having been become almost entirely addicted to the aid flowing from the States, like Afghanistan has. There might even be a new and fresh voice of reform in the region, spear headed by the success of burgeoning democracy in the Gulf States, and visionaries like King Abdullah in Jordan. But not much will have changed. There's nothing happening in Israel right now to lead me to believe that any of the core issues are even near being approached again. The Settlements will continue gangbusters under Sharon, and the violence will be the hopeless, empty response. Israelis may be getting hopeful at the early prospects of 'The Palestinians-after-Arafat', but they shouldn't get their hopes up. The Palestinians will accept nothing less than 'Israel-After-Likud' dominance. Let's just hope the big walls will be built by then.
No, the real question I'm fascinated with is not what the Middle East will look like in 2008, Charles. It's what the United States will look like.
At some point in the next few weeks, those 30 to 40 percent of the population in this country who have a problem with George W. Bush's governance from the far right of our national spectrum are going to wake up and turn on CNN to find that US forces are rumbling towards Baghdad. "He actually went and did it..." will be the first response. Liberals and moderates are living in this street demonstration fantasy world that maybe such an overt display of opinion will change Hopalong's mind. Please. There's bidness to be done.
Now, if the best case scenarios transpire, anti-war grumbling will simmer down and be forgotten. But if the body count of young Americans goes beyond a few hundred, things will start to become ugly. If it hits a thousand, welcome to 1968. Over a thousand? Then that seeting hate for liberalism that lives inside every staunch rightie will grow proportionately in a larger and larger symphony of liberal & moderate voices towards Bush-brand conservatism. The streets of Paris & Berlin today could become the streets of Atlanta & Denver tommorow. The marches this weekend were peaceful. When a new generation of young people watches their brothers, sisters & PlayStation II
buddies come home with a toe tag, you may rest assured the ornreyness of the Baby Boom in the 60s will return tenfold. One year from today we could be living in a country returning to some sense of balance after a banner Iraqi campaign. Or we could be living in a culture tearing itself to shreds, split evenly and unmovably as to whether George Bush remains their President or not. And all of this is based on there not being another 9/11 style attack on America, for I guarantee you that the national unity that followed that Tuesday morning is gone. After 9/11 all of America united behind George Bush. After the next one, half of America will be calling for his impeachment, feeling he's unable to protect the country he swore to defend , too busy with a personal(and, after another major domestic terror attack, moot) crusade in the Iraqi desert and his never ending quest to satisfy his right wing and super-rich cores. All of this will hinge on those body bags.
As much of a soothsayer as I have attempted to be, there are, in this modern world, any number of variables that could radically throw off this time line. Kim Jong Il put out another
exhortation of victory over America over the weekend. He clearly is using the fear of the Great Satan to glue together what may be a society even closer to hopeless implosion than anyone guessed. Many very intelligent people from all across the poilitical spectrum are demanding that the North Korea issue be dealt with.....right now. We're sending 250,000 soldiers to deal with Saddam and leaving 30,000 to the mercy of Kim, who may decide to steamroll into Seoul on the very day we tiptoe into Baghdad. This could be a bitter spring.
And after all that, I'm exhausted at the possibilities, except to say this, and I say it without malice or slant towards or away from any opinion or sense of right that my fellow Americans may ascribe toward.....whatever does happen to us, whether as an action or response to action, happens to us all courtesy of a leadership we deserve.