General's Desk: Debunking Doomsday

Soldiers of the Heavy Machine Gun Platoon of the 1st Battalion Royal Irish Regiment of the British Army move across a landscape of burning oil wells Saturday March 22, 2003 as they proceed through a breach in the Iraqi border defences made earlier in the night by US forces.
CBS News Analyst Gen. Perry Smith examines the worst-case scenarios for the war against Iraq, and tells why they may be based more on fear than fact - especially as the allied advance pushes closer and closer to Baghdad.

Many pundits and "experts" have predicted a number of scenarios that would make the war against Iraq especially difficult.

Most of these predictions have not come true in the first few days of the campaign and, in my judgment, are not likely to come true as the war continues to its end.

Let me outline these predictions and provide my best judgment on why these Iraqi actions have not occurred and, more importantly, are unlikely to take place in the future.

  • Lighting off the oil wells. With most of the oil wells, oil refineries and oil distribution centers now under the control of coalition forces, it is too late for Iraq to take much action in this area. Very fast action on the part of special operations forces and regular Army, Marine and British units precluded Iraq from torching the wells within the first couple of days of combat action. I don't think Saddam fully understood how quickly he would lose control of these oil facilities.
  • Use of chemical and biological weapons against coalition forces. If Saddam Hussein was going to be effective in significantly slowing the progress of coalition forces towards Baghdad, he should have used chemical or biological weapons (or both) in the first few days of the attack. As each day passes, it is less likely that he will use them since his forces are becoming less loyal as they endure heavy bombardment from the air. Also, his commanders will be more and more reluctant to follow his orders when they realize how soon the war will be over. Even if a few chemical or biological weapons are used, it is not likely that they will be effective in stopping the march to Baghdad.
  • Using Iraqi civilians to slow the advance. Another doomsday scenario which has not come to pass has been the forced evacuation of the cities of civilians, who, as refugees, would have seriously hampered the fast movement toward Baghdad.
  • Blowing the dams to flood large portions of Iraq. This has not happened and is now quite unlikely to happen since Saddam's ability to execute that option diminishes as more and more Iraqi territory comes under the control of coalition forces.

    It is quite difficult to analyze why Saddam has not taken the actions outlined above.

    However, some knowledgeable analysts feel that Saddam chose not to take these actions prior to the beginning of hostilities or during the early days of the war because he thought he would win the war by inflicting heavy casualties on the Americans and causing the U. S. to give up the cause.

    I agree with these analysts. After observing the Americans leaving Vietnam in the 1975, Lebanon in the 1984 and Somalia in 1994, Saddam made the judgment that American governments have a very low tolerance for U.S. casualties and will cut and run quite quickly when combat deaths mount.

    Hence, thinking he was going to win the present war, there was no reason to take these actions.

    When the end is near, his options will become fewer and fewer and it will be less and less likely that his commanders will follow his orders in any case.

    When I asked an expert on these matters, CBS News Analyst Steve Black, when Saddam will realize that he will lose this war, Black answered, "Thirty seconds before we kick down the door in his hiding place."

    Major General Perry M Smith, USAF (ret.) is a consultant to CBS News. He is the author of six books including Rules and Tools for Leaders, Assignment Pentagon, A Hero Among Heroes and The Air Force Plans for Peace. His email address is

    By Perry M. Smith