It makes no sense for the United States to take offensive action against the Iraqi forces in the gulf now or in the near future. Taking such a step without clear provocation would destroy the consensus at home and fracture the alliance in the gulf.
Without support in the United States and the United Nations, President Bush cannot undertake a bloody campaign in the gulf successfully.Violating the spirit, if not the letter, of the U.S. Constitution and the U.N. Charter is not the way to lay the foundation for the new world order.
Ironically, there is almost no pressure from home or abroad to go to war in the gulf. Both the American people and our partners in the gulf coalition want to give the congressionally endorsed and U.N.-sanctioned blockade and force deployment to Saudi Arabia time to achieve its objectives.
Those who support offensive action in the near future argue that Americans lack the patience and wallet to support a protracted military deployment to the gulf.
As President Bush stated Thursday, "There is a ticking of the clock," domestically and internationally that limits the time available to wait for Saddam Hussein to bend to non-military action.
This argument is contradicted by the history of the past 40 years.
When it comes to patiently supporting overseas deployments, the American people are second to none. It took 40 years of deploying more than 300,000 troops in Europe to break up the Soviet empire.
Since 1953, 40,000 Americans have sat in Korea to contain North Korean's Kim Il-Sung, a leader much in the mold of Saddam. Americans also fought bloody wars in Korea and Vietnam for 15 long years, suffering 500,000 casualties and 100,000 deaths.
Does this sound like a nation that demands its leaders bring the Iraqi crisis to quick and decisive conclusion?
The 25-nation coalition that Bush masterfully put together in the gulf shows no desire to go on the offensive, nor have any of its members set a deadline on their participation. In fact, some of our partners, like Syria, Egypt and France, have indicated that they will not join in offensive actions against Saddam; and all of our major partners, except Great Britain, have asked us to allow time to let the embargo work.
The costs of the intervention are easily managed. The Pentagon must pay the salaries of its personnel wherever they are. Nearly all of the equipment and material for our deployed forces has already been bought and paid for. The incremental costs of the operation, $1 billion a month for 200,000 people, can be offset by reallocating some of the $50 billion in operating funds the armed services routinely spend each year on military operations around the world, and from the billions of dollars our allies are contributing.
For the first three months of the operation, Bush managed the operation skillfully. He moved about 200,000 people, 65 ships, 800 tanks and nearly 1,000 planes into an area about 10,000 miles from home. And he put together a defensive coalition of nations that added another 100,000 troops, 1,000 tanks, 300 planes and 75 ships.
Then suddenly, without warning, without provocation from Iraq, and without the support of Congress, the people, or the international community, he doubled the size of the U.S. force and announced that there would be no troop rotations.
His aides say that the president did this because Saddam is not taking our current deployments seriously. To get Saddam to respond, the president needs to show him we are there for the long haul. Clearly the Iraqi leader thinks he can outwait us.
But with each passing day, Iraq grows weaker militarily. Within six months its Soviet-made aircraft will have to be grounded for lack of spare parts. To demonstrate our patience, and to regain the support of Congress, the American people, and the world community, the president should announce that the troops arriving over the next two months will replace those that have been there for six months.
Rotating 300,000 troops out of Europe for 40 years forced the Soviets to leave Eastern Europe without a single American casualty. Surely it's worth spending even a few years rotating 200,000 American men and women in and out of the gulf to force Saddam to leave Kuwait without suffering thousands of American casualties.
(Lawrence Korb is a senior fellow in foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution.)