Jewish World Review Jan. 7, 2002/ 4 Shevat, 5763

Wesley Pruden

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The dog bites when the hissing stops | Saddam Hussein's soldiers, like most Arab armies, have much to be modest about, but his speechwriters don't. George W. could use one or two of them.

Saddam will be remembered most for the imaginative and gruesome ways he kills women and children, including members of his own family, but it's his skills as a phrasemaker that will get him into Bartlett's Quotations. He famously boasted that the first Gulf war would be "the mother of all battles," but in the event, it was only "the mother-in-law of all battles." The war was over before the Americans could get all their gear unpacked.

There's every indication that Saddam's soldiers are considerably less ferocious this time, but there's no falloff in the quality of the bloviating. He told his army yesterday that he was confident that they would dispatch "the friends and helpers of Satan" (that's us) without popping a sweat. He urged them not to be afraid of "the hiss of snakes and the bark of dogs."

"Their arrows will go aimlessly," he told his soldiers, "while your arrows will hit them."

Well, perhaps. What he didn't tell them was that the friends and helpers of Satan won't be using arrows, but weapons of incredible ferocity, effectiveness and reliability. The weapons work.

Saddam's bloviating was a bit of counterpoint to remarks in London by Jack Straw, the British foreign secretary, trying to calm the bedtime terrors of 150 easily frightened British diplomats called to a conference in London. British embassies everywhere, invoking the spirit of Neville Chamberlain, have been showering Tony Blair's government with frantic appeals to appease Saddam before it's too late.

Mr. Straw, with the politician's talent for saying nothing while appearing to say a lot, assured them that "war is not inevitable," and put the chances of war with Iraq at "roughly 60 to 40 against." This is not far from 50 for to 50 against, maybe yes and maybe no, which is of course meaningless.

(You could ask your neighborhood bookie.)

"The final decision about whether these U.N. resolutions are enforced is one for Saddam Hussein," he said, dismissing with understated scorn Saddam's claims that the inspections are mere subterfuge for espionage. "We have heard this sort of stuff before."

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, George W. can keep Saddam guessing. The commander in chief is deploying troops swiftly enough to give him the option of going to war any time after Jan. 27, when Hans Blix and his inspectors must file a preliminary report with the United Nations Security Council on what they have found, if anything, in their cursory searches of Saddam's innumerable hidey holes.

Senior British military officers raise the possibility that the snakes could continue to hiss and the dogs continue to bark until early summer, giving George W. ample time to arrange the political and military factors more to his liking - much in the way of the coach calling a timeout to let an opposing placekicker have an excruciating minute or two to think about it before he attempts the game-winning field goal.

U.S. planners have fretted over planning a summer war, when daytime temperatures in the desert reach a scalding 120 degrees, dehydrating troops even if they aren't wearing heavy chemical- or germ-warfare suits, stalling tanks and motorized artillery pieces and grounding tank-killing helicopters.

But the new technology gives the Americans the option of fighting at night, when the desert temperature drops quickly at sundown to 70 degrees or below. George W.'s soldiers are each equipped with night-vision goggles, which turn the night battlefield as bright as at midafternoon, and laser gunsights guide an infantryman's rifle to a target with unerring precision.

Tanks, fighter planes and helicopters are equipped with similar night-vision systems. "The U.S. has the best night-vision equipment in the world," a senior British officer tells the London Daily Telegraph. "It is light, sturdy and gives a crystal-clear image with real depth, which allows the soldier to engage the enemy with phenomenal accuracy."

Moreover, U.S. troops train extensively for night fighting. This gives President Bush an option the Iraqi army, which has no such technology, does not have. Though Saddam has one of the world's largest armies, with 400,000 front-line troops and another 650,000 reserves, there's a lot less than meets the eye. Only the 60,000 men of the elite Republican Guard have the Russian T-72 tanks with night sights. Other troops must depend on flares and artillery rounds to light the killing ground.

If the past is the usual reliable guide - the Gulf war was effectively over in four days and the Israelis usually dispose of their Arab tormentors in a week or less - the only training Saddam's soldiers need is instruction in how to surrender. A decade ago Saddam's troops tried to flee into the arms of reporters, photographers, medics and anyone else with a friendly face.

"This isn't going to be El Alamein, with fighting for weeks and weeks in desert heat," says a senior British officer. "It will be short, sharp and brutal." No hissing and no barking.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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