Analysis: U.S. Hopes to Subdue Iraqi Regime Without Devastating Iraq

Strategy aims to break Iraqi will, without the full use of force; all but Saddam, his sons and closest aides can still escape American wrath.

There is no doubt about the result of the war in Iraq - America will be successful in bringing down Saddam Hussein's regime. From the moment President Bush decided to open this campaign, it was certain to be pursued to the end - until the demise of the Iraqi regime.

There will be no bargaining about the product, only the price. The first three days of the war indicated how hard the U.S. is trying to keep this price to a minimum. The maneuvers, on the battlefield and in Washington, reflect a sophisticated perspective on the nature of war, in general, and of warfare in the 21st century, in particular.

Top priority is being given to strategic considerations on the national level, while also taking into consideration alliances and implications for other parts of the world. This dictates how operations are managed in the field and, consequently, determines the tactics employed by the commanders of the various forces.

The entire plan is aimed at striking against Saddam and his loyalists, while making a distinction between this group and the rest of the Iraqis. The idea is to try to break the will of the Iraqis to resist the irresistible force the Americans threaten to employ. That is, to subdue the Iraqis without having to devastate Iraq. According to this strategy, the American threat of destructive force could be used to erode the Iraqi will to resist; this force would only be employed if this effort to "persuade" fails.

By bombing government targets, the Americans are making it clear that it will employ force in a selective manner, distinguishing between good and evil Iraqis. Moreover, the evil still have time to repent. The only ones for whom no mercy will be offered are Saddam, his sons and the most criminal of Saddam's henchmen. Thus, instead of debating how Saddam would act with "his back to the wall," the idea is to bring this "wall" crashing down upon him.

The assassination attempt against Saddam and his top commanders, executed by a pair of Stealth bombers and dozens of Tomahawk missiles, clearly exemplified this American approach. Three main developments contributed to this strategy: 12 years of analysis and innovations since the war in 1991; two years of teamwork by Bush's national defense staff; and the learning curve of the Central Command during the months of planning for this campaign and following the trials and errors in Afghanistan.

As head of the Central Command, General Tommy Franks is - in IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon's words - "the Operator." That is, he is the professional expert responsible for adapting the forces and missions in the region under his responsibility. This is an important job and his superiors should not get involved in the small details of directing the operations. But Franks must also be flexible and attentive enough to realize that, in exceptional circumstances, the high command will take the reins in its own hands.

Such circumstances developed at dawn on Thursday, when it was learned where the regime's leaders would soon be meeting. This was an unusual bit of intelligence, with a very short shelf-life. In this special situation, and after consulting with Franks on the possible impact of the quick strike on war plans, Bush made the operational decision himself.

This situation is only possible when there is an ongoing and open dialogue between the various echelons: political (Bush, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice), military (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Myers), intelligence (CIA Director George Tenet), and arena command (Franks). The significant innovation in the assassination attempt was not necessarily in the intelligence, but rather in the quickness with which this information was translated into a deadly strike.

In the past, the Americans lacked the ability to process intelligence (whether garnered electronically or from an agent) in time to pull the trigger. In April 1986, when President Ronald Reagan decided to assassinate Libyan leader Mu'amar Qaddafi in response to a Libyan attack against American soldiers in Berlin, cruise missiles had been programmed to hit Soviet or Chinese targets in World War III. It required several days of complicated work to reprogram the data and transfer it to submarines. This time, the data was transferred to the missiles on ships and submarines in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean within minutes.

The normal chain of command for the first vessel to fire the missiles - the USS Cowpens cruiser - leads from the task force attached to the USS Kitty Hawk aircraft carrier to the Fifth Fleet, the naval arm of the Central Command. But the command this time came directly from Washington. In fact, many of those on the ship learned of the order only after witnessing the launch.

Bush to Iraqis: Trust meIn essence, Bush is telling the Iraqis: I'm from the West, not the East; I keep my promises; I'm predictable and systematic; don't expect any surprises from me - you can count on my word, a deal is a deal. An American infantry soldier might prefer bombarding the Hammurabi Division defending Baghdad before moving toward the Iraqi capital, but the logic of U.S. strategy dictates that this option be sacrificed in order to maintain a chance of avoiding the battle altogether.

The terminology used - "Iraqi Freedom" and "Shock and Awe" - is meant to serve this goal. They suggest that there is no reason to resist and that any resistance would have no hope of succeeding. Sending Marines and special forces to protect oil assets is also intended to show that armies can be used to defend as well as to strike and that these oil resources are being protected for the benefit of the Iraqi people.

The media is helping the Americans in these two areas. It accentuates the impressive might the U.S. military can choose to display, while emphasizing the military's efforts to minimize damage and casualties.

The American campaign has achieved good progress so far, though it has not broken the Iraqis yet. In contrast to the successful functioning of the Americans, Israeli decision makers have entangled themselves in a web of their own making, which is preventing them from admitting that they were mistaken in so frightening the citizenry.

On Thursday afternoon, military intelligence experienced a temporary crisis, when one senior officer suddenly decided that Iraq was about to fire a missile at Israel. It was a minority assessment, but the entire defense establishment was sent into a momentary frenzy. When the western part of the Iraqi war is over, it would be appropriate to investigate how this happened and what should be done to prevent a similar mishap in the future.