Washington — The president's State of the Union address linked the regimes of Iraq with those of Iran and North Korea in an "axis of evil." It was reminiscent of the Axis Powers (Germany, Italy and Japan) in World War II and of President Ronald Reagan's description of the Soviet Union as an "evil empire." But there are differences.
First, what is the president's objective? Clearly, it is to topple those regimes.
How? Are American and allied forces going to invade each of those well-armed nations? Yes and no.
What makes the most sense is to go after Saddam Hussein in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, because once he falls, the mere threat of attack is likely to change the calculus in Iran and North Korea.
So the most immediate question is how best to take on Iraq. Allied forces already control two-thirds of Iraq's airspace in what is called the no-fly zones in the North and South. And control of the air is the necessary first step. The problem comes with an invading force.
The Southern Iraqi Shiite Muslim rebels rose up after the Gulf War in 1991 only to be slaughtered by Saddam's forces while U.S. and allied forces stood idly by. The Kurds in the north were also attacked by Saddam's forces, but there, American and allied forces created a sanctuary. However, the Kurds are engaged in an ongoing struggle with Turkey, a strong U.S. ally and NATO partner.
As a result, neither the Southern Shiites nor the Kurds are strong enough to do in Iraq what the Northern Alliance did against the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Taliban was never so strong as the Iraqi Army, and the Northern Alliance had an army in the field constantly engaged in combat.
It was a force with equipment, leadership and experience. So a repeat of the Afghan experience is unlikely.
Other options must be considered. A long conflict of attrition while the Southern and Northern rebels are armed and trained must be ruled out. The problem is that Saddam's development of weapons of mass destruction continues, making time our enemy. Another Desert Storm-like invasion would take months to mount and would be upsetting to Iraq's neighbors. Saudi Arabia, having forgotten that America saved it from Saddam's clutches, has already asked the United States to reduce its military presence in its country.
Perhaps the best solution is to insert overwhelming forces directly into Baghdad. Control of the air makes it possible. And the objective Â Saddam Hussein and his upper-echelon loyalists Â would be targeted, rather than the Iraqi people or even the Iraqi Army, which would quickly disintegrate into confusion once its leaders were on the run. Certainly, this is a scenario just witnessed in Afghanistan, when both Omar and bin Laden became more concerned for their own safety than the safety of their troops.
Interestingly, the new film, "Blackhawk Down," about the U.S. attempt to capture a warlord and his lieutenants in Somalia, shows what happens when insufficient troops are sent into the center of a hostile city. It was a disaster.
What needs to be noted is that that disaster would have been a success had enough troops, proper equipment, and better planning been involved.
But regardless of the method used, removal of Saddam Hussein and his regime in Iraq could have only a chilling effect on the leaders of Iran and North Korea and, more importantly, upon the people they rule.