Note: Part 2 of a six part series. Return to Part I
MAKING THE DIFFICULT CHOICE
Even if President Bush wasn’t completely certain that Saddam had WMDs at the time he made the choice to topple Saddam, he was certainly behooved to err on the side of caution. Prior to 9/11, erring on the side of caution might have meant redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking the other way while France, Russia and China all undermined the sanctions designed to keep Saddam in containment.
After 9/11, however, with a regime guilty of mass-murdering hundreds of thousands of its oppressed citizens, utilizing banned chemical weapons, harboring known terrorists, funding terrorist organizations and homicide bombers, invading two neighboring countries and defying countless U.N. resolutions, erring on the side of caution may indeed involve regime change and military action. In fact, after 9/11, I would regard a president who chose not to act in this situation as a traitor and completely derelict in his duties.
That’s the difference for President Bush between 9/10 and 9/12, that we can no longer look the other way while threats gather. Something tells me that if you were to ask Senator Kerry “What’s the difference between 9/10 and 9/12” he would respond “48 hours.”
BLUEPRINT FOR AN INVASION
On the lead up to war, the plan was hatched to drive the 4th Infantry Division in from Turkey on Iraq’s northern border and the 3rd Infantry Division in from Kuwait on Iraq’s southern border. The 4th ID and the 3rd ID would drive to Baghdad and cordon off the city. If and when the decision was made to take over Baghdad, there would have been two mechanized divisions right in the heart of the capital.
With assurances from both Turkey and Kuwait, we commenced the build up. Unfortunately, a little more than a week from the target invasion date, Turkey’s parliament surprisingly voted to deny U.S. invasion of Iraq from their territory. Even if our administration could have foreseen this problem, what could have possibly be done about it?
There’s no way we could have gotten basing rights from other neighboring Muslim country like Iran, Syria or Jordan. So, basically, we had three choices:
We could have called off the invasion, further emboldening Saddam and our terrorist enemies worldwide.
We could have postponed the invasion for more than a month while we moved the 4th ID to Kuwait for a joint invasion from southern Iraq. However, this would have been one of the biggest military blunders in the history of war. Giving your enemy an additional month of preparation, leaving the 3rd ID in northern Kuwait for a month as sitting ducks and then invading through a bottleneck (a relatively small border with Kuwait) would have been a disaster.
We could have done what we did. Begin the war on time with the 3rd ID and the Marines, followed by the Brits to hold southern land while the Americans continued their advancement toward Baghdad. At the same time, the 4th ID would be in the process of moving to Kuwait to be in position to follow behind the 3rd ID within a few weeks.
Because we were forced to enter the country with half of the mechanized force we had planned for, military commanders decided to drive forcefully, but quickly, toward the Baghdad Airport. Once the airport and surrounding area was clear, we would be able to transport additional forces into the heart of Iraq. Additionally, we transported and inserted a smaller force than we wanted into northern Iraq to keep the Iraqi military from retaliating against the Kurds.
On the drive up from Kuwait and the follow-up by the 4th ID, much of southern Iraq was quickly tamed. For the most part, the Shiites were happy to see us. The same was true in the north where the Kurds had been brutalized by Saddam and our insertion force there was welcomed enthusiastically. So, we had a small force in the north and had swept up most of the south, but no troops had worked with any authority in the area between the Kurdish north and Baghdad.
This area, known as the Sunni Triangle, generally extends from Tikrit, to Samarra, to northern Baghdad and on to Fallujah and contained most of Saddam’s most loyal followers. Naturally, this is the area where all of our enemies fled to avoid destruction. By now, you can see where I’m going with this, but more about the insurgency later.
THE IMMEDIATE AFTERMATH
Although many lefties would have you believe that we were not greeted as liberators, we were indeed greeted as such in the Kurdish north. The Shiites in the south, although not as enthusiastic, were relieved to be liberated from the torment of Saddam and quickly returned to their daily lives. And save a peacefully resolved conflict with Muqtada al Sadr’s Mehdi Army in Najaf, most of southern Iraq has been calm and quiet for a majority of the past year. Additionally, the Kurdish areas of Iraq have been calm and quiet since the beginning of the war. That’s a full three-quarters of the country in relative normalcy.
However, once the 3rd ID captured and secured the Baghdad airport, we noticed that just about everyone in power positions within the old regime had fled Baghdad, creating a rather large power vacuum. We had to move and move quickly to take significant positions within the city before the city deteriorated into chaos. That’s just what the 3rd ID did.
So, in the several weeks that the 4th ID was mopping up southern Iraq, the 3rd ID was attempting to maintain a reasonable amount of calm in a city liberated from a murderous tyrant for the first time in over 30 years. Sure, there was considerable looting, but certainly not the type of chaos one could have expected.
This feat was all the more incredible since Saddam had released all of his most violent criminals from their prison cells just prior to the start of the war in an attempt to make the coalition’s mission even more difficult. Honestly, I’m surprised the entire city was not burned to the ground. But our men and women in uniform are true professionals. They performed heroically in managing to maintain at least a modicum of order in the aftermath of Baghdad’s capture.