If you are my age, you probably remember the Saturday movie serials. Not because you saw Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers at the local Bijou, but because they were standard fare on Saturday morning TV shows. Even if your memory doesn’t stretch back that far, I’m sure you are familiar with the expression "cliffhanger". A cliffhanger is the final moments of the episode (so excellently satirized in the old Batman TV show) where the audience is beguiled into thinking that our hero or his girlfriend are in imminent peril of death. The villain is usually dancing a jig of triumph and the audience is commanded to be there next week to see the denouement.
Not surprisingly, the next week the hero unveils a knife he hid in his sleeve or he adapts some mundane objects (MacGyver was not the first hero to make a chain saw out of two cans and a wad of chewing gum) and escapes destruction. Living to fight again he pursues the villain only to be tripped up at the end of the episode when he discovers that Sweet Polly has been tied to the railroad tracks.
So, where is this going, you ask? (Don’t you always!)
Imagine George Bush as Buck Rogers. Each and every time he maneuvers Emperor Ming into a corner, Ming manages to turn the tables on him at by end of the episode. The best laid plans come to naught. In the movies it’s usually something Buck overlooked, or maybe a bit of pixie dust that Ming tosses in his eyes. And the next thing you know, Buck is strapped to a table as the death ray begins its inexorable advance. (Do you think James Bond invented that?)
But unlike the movies, Bush is pursuing a multi track strategy to resolving the dilemma of Saddam Hussein. While the audience sits in the dark munching on popcorn and the French boldly declare they are for peace (And who is not?) there are forces off the screen that are being marshaled for Die Gotterdammerung. What the audience sees is a President who knows where he wants to go, but who has committed his administration to working through the United Nations. And as the times elapses until G Day, the audience has become ever more persuaded that Bush has fallen into a trap of his own design. As the Lilliputians of Europe tie their knots, and gleefully rub their hands in anticipation of victory, they fail to see that they are standing directly on the path of at least one of the other tracks.
Very soon, within weeks to quote the current line from both the White House and places like Vilnius and Rome, something will be done. Our forces are not yet fully deployed. Turkey appears to be vacillating about troop deployments. The Saudis and others are working like beavers to get Saddam out. And all these activities have potential to cut the Gordian knot. But ultimately it will be US military power that unseats Saddam. Whether it is the threat of, or actual use of combat forces.
The diplomatic maneuvering is just that. At the end of the day Bush wants to be able to say that he left no opportunity unpursued. That the UN had more than ample time, evidence and reason to act. Whether the French and others choose to do so is an entirely different question.
And the first thing that we will learn about the multi track approach is that US forces can fight and win in Iraq when the weather is warm. In fact, I’m inclined to think that the very idea that we can’t fight in hot weather is being used to mask our intentions and capabilities. Perhaps the French and Saddam think that if they put off things until April that we will be forced to wait until the fall. I think not. I think that everyone will be surprised by the speed, violence and decisiveness of the first day of operations.