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Each day now, more American troops, ships, fighter jets and other military equipment head toward the Persian Gulf. Approximately 65,000 American troops already are in the region, 67,000 are on the way and more are expected to follow. US diplomats prod allies to allow American forces to use their bases. The Pentagon is sending its war planning staff to Qatar. (Royal Navy photo)...





War: Is There A Way Out?

As U.S. Buildup Accelerates, Experts Say Military Conflict Likely, Not Inevitable

January 13, 2003
By MICHAEL REMEZ, Courant Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- Each day now, more American troops, ships, fighter jets and other military equipment head toward the Persian Gulf.

Approximately 65,000 American troops already are in the region, 67,000 are on the way and more are expected to follow. U.S. diplomats prod allies to allow American forces to use their bases. The Pentagon is sending its war planning staff to Qatar.

President Bush says he has made no decision to go to war. But can anyone or anything stop it now?

Many military experts think war is likely but not inevitable. It still could be averted, they say, most directly by a coup that ousts Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein from power.

Analysts interviewed late last week see the buildup as a clear sign to Hussein and the world that the United States is deadly serious. Iraq must come clean to United Nations inspectors on its weapons programs - chemical, biological and nuclear - and disarm, or it will suffer the consequences.

"None of this would be even happening right now, with inspectors or anything else, if we didn't have those forces there," said retired Brig. Gen. David L. Grange, a military analyst who is among those convinced the United States eventually will go to war.

So far, inspectors have found none of the weapons of mass destruction that the United States says it is certain Iraq has. And though the Iraqis reportedly are providing incomplete information, they are allowing the inspectors to do their work.

Regardless, Ralph Peters, a retired Army intelligence officer who now writes about defense issues, said he believes war is likely. But he said the United States would be smart to take its time and let the process play out, even though allowing the inspections regime to run its course could take months.

"War is probable, but it is a question of timelines," Peters said. He would prefer an overwhelming attack on Iraq - when the time is right - to oust Hussein's government quickly.

Peters said that maintaining the military force in place could prove expensive - troops probably would have to be rotated, equipment would have to be maintained - but that the benefits would outweigh the costs.

"Even if we are forced to wait until autumn, that is still better than being precipitous," Peters said. "Time is on our side. Saddam is on the ropes. We benefit if the world sees us as being rational and patient."

Most important, that would help build allied support for military action, Peters said, especially among countries in the region such as Turkey that would be essential to mounting the large-scale, multifront assault that Peters advocates.

Grange said he expects the United States to have the forces and equipment it needs in place by the end of January.

Maintaining that force at peak readiness could prove a challenge, Grange said, but having it in place means intense and constant pressure on Hussein.

Hussein, who says he no longer has weapons of mass destruction, appears to be trying to avoid any action that would solidify opposition to his regime or guarantee an American response.

What would happen if he throws out the U.N. inspectors?

"All bets are off if he does something like that," Grange said. "That would be the green light [for allied forces]."

There has been some talk that Arab countries may be trying to arrange for Hussein to flee Iraq to save himself and his family, though analysts are divided over whether that could work, or is even likely.

Some ask whether any nation would be willing to provide a safe haven and whether Hussein would risk arrest and trial as a war criminal. Others say Hussein always has been adept at self-preservation and might put the chance to stay alive above other considerations.

But Charles W. Freeman Jr., ambassador to Saudi Arabia under President George H.W. Bush, said the hawks in his son's administration ultimately will win the debate over whether to use force, no matter what the inspectors find.

In the hawks' view, "if Saddam has weapons of mass destruction, that justifies invading. If he denies he does, he is obviously lying, so that justifies invading," explained Freeman, who opposes an invasion. "In the end, there is no apparent circumstance that would not justify invading for this group of people."

Freeman, now president of the Middle East Policy Council, a Washington think tank, said he thinks Hussein can be deterred, and boxed in by the United States and its allies. He said he fears that if Hussein is pushed to the wall, he will try to use whatever weapons of mass destruction he has, on American soil.

Judith Yaphe, a Middle East expert at the National Defense University in Washington, said it is unclear whether all the American rhetoric and the buildup mean war is inevitable. She counts herself among those who think it is likely.

Yaphe, who has studied Iraq and the region for 30 years, said Hussein has shown an ability to manipulate the diplomatic process - making moves that throw off or divide the opposition - without truly changing his stripes.

That's why she sees the continued buildup as so important. "Saddam Hussein has to believe there is a credible show of force if he is going to change strategy," she said.

Joseph Cirincione, an expert on defense and proliferation issues with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said he is not convinced that a war is imminent and unavoidable. He knows that defies conventional wisdom.

"I think there is a misplaced fascination with the military buildup and a tendency to ignore the diplomatic situation and the inspection process," Cirincione said. He added that the administration cannot ignore the potential destabilizing effects of launching a war at a time of grave terrorist threats.

He said Bush is hearing from people - including trusted advisers to his father - that he now has Hussein in an iron box.

"Saddam is not going anywhere so long as inspectors are swarming around his country," Cirincione said. "He is frozen. He cannot do any large production or development of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. You've got him exactly where you want him. There is no need to risk war when there could be dire consequences."

But he said the buildup has widespread support.

"There are those who see it as a necessary stage for war and those who see it as a necessary step to convince Saddam he must comply or be removed," Cirincione said. "That unity breaks down when you go from building up to going to war."

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