One of the unquestioned assumptions in the Iraq debate has been that war would be over quickly. The political importance of this has increased with the likelihood that the UNSC will not authorise a war, so that a drawn out war would pose big political risks, particularly for Blair.
So what is the evidence for a quick war? The standard US strategy in recent wars has been a month or two of bombing before sending in ground troops. In the Gulf War, the ground attack was preceded by five weeks of bombing. In Kosovo, bombing lasted almost three months. In Afghanistan there was five weeks of bombing before Kabul fell. In every case, there were incidents where bombs went astray with large-scale civilian casualties. The obvious reason for this approach is to minimise US casualties.
A ‘quick-war’ strategy with the name “Shock and Awe” has been mooted. Apparently, it involves massive bombing of both military targets and civilian infrastructure, designed to break the enemy’s will in a matter of days. This is an old strategy – Guernica, Rotterdam, the Blitz, the Allied bombing of Dresden, ‘bombing Vietnam back to the Stone Age’ etc., and would almost certainly involve the commission of war crimes on a major scale. As the name indicates, it relies on the psychological assumption that bombing can terrify opponents into submission, an assumption that has proved unreliable in the past. I find it difficult to believe that Bush would adopt such a strategy, or that Blair would go along with it. Even Howard might balk at it.
A lot of readers are better-informed about military matters than I am. Is there a plausible US strategy that doesn’t involve either a lengthy period of bombing or an all-out blitz with massive civilian casualties?
Update Today’s SMH asserts that there is, claiming a large-scale, but ‘precision’ bombing of Baghdad that would spare civilian infrastructure will be accompanied by an immediate ground invasion.