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Jewish World Review Nov. 19, 2002 / 14 Kislev, 5763

Bill Steigerwald

Bill Steigerwald
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“It's best to contain Saddam”: Ten minutes with … Col. David Hackworth | Col. David Hackworth, one of the country's most decorated soldiers and fiercest advocates of military reform, knows better than most men how horrible and insane war is. That's one reason Hackworth is in favor of containing Saddam Hussein, not going to war with him.

Hackworth, who commanded special forces units in Korea and Vietnam, is a former Newsweek contributing defense editor and Gulf war correspondent. He writes a syndicated newspaper column and one of his books, ''"About Face: The Odyssey of an American Warrior," was a 1989 best-seller. With war plans for Iraq in the air, I called "Hack" at his office in Greenwich, Conn., this week, before Saddam agreed to allow United Nations weapons inspectors to return:

Q: Let's say that President Bush put you in charge of the Iraq campaign - how do you fight it?

A: Well, I would use the military solution as the final option. I would fight it exactly as my country so brilliantly fought the Soviet Union, and that would be to block their further aggression, contain them from making any more encroachments to the west, and then, like a tree, I would chop its roots and watch it die.

The best way to fight a war is not to have to use arms, because of the incredible casualties, the incredible costs. There's another way to skin the cat, and my way of skinning the cat regarding Saddam Hussein, who is a brutal dude, is to contain him.

Q: How do you think we will actually do it?

A: My analysis of Saddam Hussein is that he's a survivor. I think at the last moment he will blink and he will say, "Let the inspectors in." I think the inspectors will go do their thing, and instead of finding factories for weapons of mass destruction - which will have been recently moved or disappeared - we'll probably find a kosher delicatessen.

But my experience on battlefields, and in barroom fights, is that once you draw the fist back, it gets used. I would say that in the beginning of next year, unless there is a provocation short of that, you will see the fist being thrown.

Even though Saddam Hussein will try to oblige the United Nations in every way, and will allow the weapons inspectors to do their things, he'll either be caught hiding something or someone who is interested in the military solution will get him into an entrapment situation (laughs) where that fist gets thrown.

Q: Are you confident that when we throw the fist we will throw it the right way?

A: I think if it comes to a military solution, the generals will win in terms of the size of the force. A politician that knows nothing about war fighting, such as the president or the secretary of defense, would be criminally negligent if he didn't listen to his uniformed experienced leaders, who are saying let's go in heavy.

The thing that we learned in Vietnam, which is incorporated in the Powell Doctrine, is to go in with sufficient force. I think bottom line, if the military solution is employed, Saddam Hussein will be hit every way but loose with air, ground, sea, Special Forces, insurgents within his country. … And this will be done with incredibly smart weapons - far harder, far smarter and far meaner than Desert Storm I.

Q: What has changed with the U.S. military since 2000, when in a speech you characterized it as an "obsolete, bloated, top-heavy force structured to fight the Cold War" and unprepared to fight the wars of the 21st century?

A: None of the above! (laughs) They're still bloated, organized for World War II. They're not organized for the kind of warfare that we have coming down the line.

Q: And these new wars of the 21st century that we're unprepared to fight will look like what - Afghanistan?

A: As I see it, the final charge of the light brigade - better yet, the final charge of the heavy brigade - will be a couple tank columns streaking to Baghdad and Tikrit (Hussein's home region), which are the two essential centers of gravity of Saddam Hussein. Once Iraq is passed, then future warfare is what we have on our plate - this long war with terrorism.

Q: This fourth-generation kind of war they're talking about?

A: Yeah. It's going to be a war of us against them and not big massive armies but little, lightweight, hard-hitting terrorist groups that we've got to prepare for.

We've got to gear ourselves to where we are fast moving and we've got really top intelligence. I offer as a model what the CIA did in Yemen when they took out a Mercedes-Benz filled with six terrorists who didn't know what hit them until they woke up dead. That's the kind of message you want to send to the terrorists - "You're not safe anywhere, buddy."

Q: Is there anything good or glorious about war?

A: Not a damn thing. The only benefit of war, and it's kind of talking backwards to get into it, is the brotherhood that it does foster. You really find out the goodness of human kind. You find out the great strength of men who will die for you in a minute because you're his brother.

Q: What are your politics - how do you describe them to people when you meet them?

A: "Ain't… got… none." The problem with the world is politics. If we could eliminate them, it would be a damn good thing. If I belong to a party, it's the independent party.

Q: You have said your personal mission is to "ensure that American troops do not go into war without the right training, right equipment, right leadership and the right mission." Do you think what is going to happen in Iraq meets those criteria?

A: Not yet. But we have until now and when we hit the trigger in February to really improve the training, the equipment and getting our soldiers ready for battle.

What I have experienced in the last 57 years of being on this beat is that we never learn from the past. I've seen this death wheel go around and around and around. In every generation we make the same mistakes as we made before World Wars II, as we made in Korea, as we made in Vietnam, as we made in Gulf War I.

So let's hope sometime that with all the sophistication we have these days, with computers and all the rest of it, we can learn from the past. Because we sure haven't done a very good job in the history of this country of learning from the previous fight.

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JWR contributor Bill Steigerwald is an associate editor and columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Bill Steigerwald