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Strategic Effects of Conflict with Iraq: Post-Soviet States

Authored by Dr. Stephen J. Blank. | March 2003

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Concluding Remarks.

The upshot of the previous analysis is that a fast, decisive, exclusively conventional war followed by a successful and rapid reconstruction of Iraq?s overall economy and polity will allow the United States to minimize the risks and costs associated with the possible rise of a ?second front,? presumably terrorist attacks on American and/or allied assets, forces, or interests. The United States probably cannot escape some of these attacks, but victory of this kind can reduce the cost and allow the United States to maintain other troop deployments in the FSU and elsewhere at current levels. Conversely a long, unconventional, and/or highly destructive war magnifies the costs and risks the United States runs not only in Iraq but in other ?theaters,? including the FSU, and could easily oblige the United States to send more troops. The United States need not undergo the full range of those contingencies for this conclusion to hold. Any one of the three conditions of prolonged or highly destructive war could require greater force deployments. Many of those forces, given the nature of U.S. vulnerabilities, assets, and threats to them in those theaters, would necessarily be ground forces.

Regardless of how the United States wages war with Iraq, the war on terrorism is not and will not end soon. Hence opportunities and incentives for striking at U.S. interests will not immediately decline subsequent to victory over Iraq. But they may well increase if the war does not follow the ?rosy scenario? offered by many. War with Iraq will almost certainly intensify the terrorists? desire to strike at American interests and targets. A short, decisive war, followed by Iraqi public rejoicing at liberation, will give some people second thoughts about doing so. But a long, unconventional, and highly destructive war will only confirm existing predispositions and encourage others who might have been dissuaded by the more optimistic scenario to join in that cause.