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Commentary: Possible Worst-Case Scenarios If War With Iraq Occurs

Morning Edition: March 11, 2003

Commentary: War


Retired Colonel Mike Turner was General Norman Schwarzkopf's personal briefing officer during Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm. As part of MORNING EDITION's ongoing series of commentaries on a possible war in Iraq, he outlines a worst-case scenario for a US-led invasion.


There's a saying in military circles: We always fight the last war. It means that too much focus on past enemy behavior can easily lead to misjudging an enemy capability in the future. So I asked myself today which war will this be: Desert Storm or Somalia? In 1991, we had four ironclad prerequisites for war with Iraq: a clear political end state, overwhelming force to achieve a quick and decisive victory, a viable Arab coalition to avoid empowering Arab extremists, and absolutely no Israeli involvement to avoid a global holy war.

In Somalia, we ignored the most critical of these lessons. Mission creep turned our original objective of humanitarian aid into simply `Get Aidid,' the Somali factional leader we were battling. We committed US troops to a high-risk military operation in an urban area with extraordinarily dangerous variables in play on the battlefield, and with insufficient firepower thanks to then Secretary of Defense Les Aspin.

Now we've firmly committed ourselves to war with Iraq, and our political objective? To get Saddam. The uniformed Joint Staff in the Pentagon strongly opposed this plan early on. It requires an attack with a force half that of Desert Storm against an entrenched urban enemy renowned for its ruthlessness in defending its own survival. The uniformed Joint Staff was overridden, yet in so many horrifying ways this operation resembles Somalia, not Desert Storm, only with nerve gas and biological weapons. And without Turkey as a base to launch a northern assault, a dual-pronged attack will be all but impossible.

Perhaps we can pull this off, but here's a far worse scenario that's at least as likely. Within hours of our attack, Saddam launches Scuds on Israel. Israel's right-wing government launches a full-scale attack on Iraq, creating a holy war nightmare. Saddam, threatened with his own survival, uses chemical and biological weapons and human shields just as he has in the past. He torches his own oil fields, thousands of his own people are killed. Photos of American soldiers amid landscapes of Iraqi civilian bodies blanket the world press which aligns unanimously against the US. The US is condemned by NATO and the UN.

The war ends within a few weeks, but the crisis deepens. The US is left to administer a political vacuum in Iraq. Iran is emboldened to help the Shiites in the south. Disease breaks out, food and water are contaminated and the cost of the war skyrockets. The US economy is dealt a body blow, but the administration can find no credible way out. Britain's Prime Minister Blair is voted out of office.

Meanwhile, al-Qaeda, seeing an opportunity due to a shift in US focus, attacks a major US target. North Korea, emboldened by the distraction, ignores diplomatic efforts to restrain its development of nuclear weapons and begins to export weapons-grade plutonium to terrorists.

These are not remote possibilities, but in my view reasonable, possibly even likely outcomes. Thousands of American sons and daughters are about to go to war with Iraq. They will do their duty. They are, without exception, the finest, bravest people I know. May God bless them. I hope their destination is Baghdad and not Mogadishu.

EDWARDS: The comments of Mike Turner, a retired colonel and former policy planner for the Joint Chiefs of Staff on the Mideast and east Africa.

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