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The Rediff Interview/Richard M Bennett
'War is now just another arm of diplomacy'

March 23, 2003

Widely recognized as an expert in global intelligence, security, terrorism and defence matters, Richard M Bennett is an intelligence and military analyst since 1966.

He founded AFI Research, one of the leading providers of expert information for the world media in 1971. A member of the world's oldest and most prestigious military research centre, the Royal United Services Institute for Strategic Studies situated in London, he edits the internationally acclaimed AFI Intelligence Briefing.

From a military and naval family, with his great grandfather having fought in the Crimean War, another grandfather in the Boer War and father in the 1st Royal Dragoons Cavalry Regiment in India, Bennett now lives near the South Bevan coast in the United Kingdom.

In an email interview to Senior Editor Sheela Bhatt, he said the fear the United States must have is that the Iraqi armed forces could turn Saddam Hussein's eventual overthrow into the final act of a martyred hero for a future Arab revolution.

What is the United States' strategic plan behind the war against Iraq? Is it the control of Iraq's oil wells or to change the regime and region?

I firmly believe this is the first obvious example of a new and far more interventionist policy by the United States and one that will bring fundamental changes not only to the Middle East but elsewhere.

The United States appears to believe that unless it projects its power and influence worldwide, its long term interests and security will eventually be seriously threatened. Gaining a geo-strategic position of military dominance in an oil rich region and one that is also seen as the home ground of virulently anti-American Islamic terrorism can only benefit Washington's long term ambitions.

Since the US claims this is a war against terrorism what tangible evidence does it have to link Saddam Hussein with 9/11 and other acts of terrorism against the West?

Nothing that would stand up to close scrutiny by international law officers or probably by intelligence analysts. Iraq has long been a Westernized and largely secular bulwark against the fundamentalist Islamic movement. Washington's support for Saddam Hussein in the 1980-1988 war against Iran confirms that position.

However, the charge of supporting terrorism by Palestinian groups against Israel has proved a useful tool to further blacken the Iraqi dictator's reputation. If the United States wishes to use the same tactic during the build-up to any confrontation with Libya, Syria or Iran then they would have a far greater basis in fact to work on.

Do you agree with the stereotypes of George Bush and Saddam Hussein: one an arrogant president and the other a despotic ruler?

No. For while there are indeed invariably some elements of truth in all stereotypes, both men are far more complex. Bush often appears of only limited intellect through his previous and very obvious lack of knowledge of current affairs and his rather stiff and inarticulate speech. However, George W Bush won the presidency of the world's only superpower one way or another and has built around him a fearsome team of highly motivated and extremely tough advisers with robust political and military views on the international situation.

Saddam, despite the propaganda, cannot have survived for a quarter of a century on fear alone. He does encourage great loyalty among many in Iraq just as he creates enormous fear and loathing amongst others. He has proved himself a brave, astute and endlessly adaptable survivor. Besides his obvious cruelty, his one major weakness has been an inability to judge the reactions and actions of the international community correctly. That ultimately is the main cause for his downfall and the invasion of Iraq.

Isn't it true that Iraq is a moderate Islamic regime in the Gulf? Wouldn't destabilising it fan the flames of terrorism across a larger swathe in the region?

I have always seen Iraq as playing an important role in the Middle East and as potentially one of the West's most important friends in the region. The fall of Iraq may not in itself directly lead to an upsurge in terrorism, but the military power displayed by the United States and the invasion and to many, the humiliating occupation of a historically important sovereign Arab/Muslim nation most definitely will.

What is the immediate threat to the West from this war against Iraq? Which are the vulnerable nations? What is the fallout they can anticipate?

The immediate threats are the potential for political destabilisation of pro-Western regimes; the fear amongst many Arab countries of what many see as a Christian-Zionist 'crusade' against them and indeed the disquiet over Turkey's intentions. Jordan, Egypt and the Gulf States must be seen as the first under threat if there is a serious Islamic backlash.

There is a view that the first shots in World War III were fired on 9/11 and the latest action is a continuation of the war. Where will it end? And how?

To a very large extent the high hopes that followed the collapse of Communism and the end of the Cold War have been cruelly dashed by the conflicts in Somalia, Colombia, the Balkans, in the Israeli-occupied territories, Afghanistan and now Iraq.

Whether we can see 9/11 as the opening shots of a Third World War is doubtful, it may, however, be seen as a defining moment in a process that began towards the end of the Cold War with the Soviet involvement in Afghanistan.

In truth there is a new war that involves much, if not all of the world in conflict. However unlike 1914-1918 and 1939-1945 there are no clear lines or obvious battlefields. Nor are we likely to see it won or lost quickly. Indeed (US Secretary of Defence) Donald Rumsfeld is reported as saying that the war on terrorism may last fifty years.

Sadly, the 21st century is likely to be a re-run of the last 100 years, the proving ground for a whole new and extremely dangerous way of fighting.

Will the war be short and intense or will it be a long and protracted affair?

A war with Iraq is unlikely to last more than a few weeks at most if the United States is prepared to use all the weapons it has available in its armoury. There has probably never been a more unequal conflict, at least on paper, in history.

However, the fear the United States must have is that the Iraqi armed forces put up a better than expected resistance and turn Saddam Hussein's eventual overthrow into the final act of that of a martyred hero for a future Arab revolution.

Which are the new trends expected to be added in the well-developed science of war?

High technology has finally achieved near total dominance on the modern battlefield. From space-based surveillance and intelligence systems; stealth bombers; advanced electronic warfare; communications monitoring and interception; highly effective modern weapon systems; ground-penetration bombs to destroy bunkers; highly accurate GPS and laser-guided bombs; cruise missiles and much more give the United States an overwhelming military advantage.

Just as important has been the giant strides taken in profiling the 'enemy' to discover his weak points; psy-war; disinformation and the clever use of the news media to spread propaganda to the opposition. Improved or original tactics have revolutionised military thinking; war is now all about speed, power and doing the unexpected.

Can the Iraqis do a Vietnam in Baghdad?

The simple answer is no and particularly if the United States and Britain are prepared to accept a growing number of Iraqi civilian casualties.

How do you rate the coverage of war by the US and British media? Do they really know the facts and ground realities in a war zone? Are they independent?

The United States and Britain have very effectively learnt the lessons of Vietnam, the Falklands and even the first Gulf War. With few very notable exemptions the world's news media are now just the 'creature of the military.' Most reporters have no military experience, cannot make an expert judgment of their own and rely on press handouts or unattributable briefings. No doubt many journalists are deeply unhappy and disturbed by the virtual elimination of genuine war reporting, but if they want to keep their press accreditation and perhaps even their well paid jobs, there is little they can do about it.

How do you analyse the Islamic nations that have registered feeble and meek protests against the US action?

Because of the deep fracture lines of the region's history, the hostility of the different religious groupings and the political enmity between Arab nations, it has proved relatively easy for first Britain and now the USA to divide and if not conquer, then certainly control the Middle East.

Matters of aid, of economic and military stability and the fear of extremist anti-Weston religious movements has proved a stumbling block to the creation of any form of genuine pan-Arab power block. Washington would never admit it publicly, but privately they dismiss the significance of the Arab and much of the wider Muslim world as a military or political threat and see them as only being capable of committing acts of terrorism.

Will the majority of Iraqis rejoice like the Afghans after the fall of the Taliban?

In the short term who argues with a conquering army? Of course, most Iraqis will be pleased to see the end of both Saddam Hussein and the US bombing raids. But the Iraqis are a proud people who will undoubtedly begin to resent the occupation of their country by the United States or even the United Nations if it is prolonged for more than six months or so.

Half its population are Shias and Iran will undoubtedly be tempted to stir up trouble amongst its co-religionists to hasten America's withdrawal. While in the north, Turkey's movement of forces into Northern Iraq to pre-empt any possible establishment of a Kurdish Republic bodes ill for the future.

What's America's calculation in risking its image by going to war?

Arrogance; belief in the superiority of the American way of life; intolerance of opposition and the intention to establish a worldwide Pax Americana have all been put forward as explanations. However, this is really all about the ability of a modern high-tech armed forces to actually carry out the wishes of a government. War is now just another arm of diplomacy. The United States will only care about Muslim opinion, when that opinion represents a viable military and political community.

Can you give us an idea of the damage, destruction and deaths this war will inflict on Iraq and its people? Do you expect it to spread?

The destruction wrought on Iraq's military, intelligence and political infrastructure is devastating. Despite the appearance of total warfare, the advance in weaponry has succeeding in providing the military command with an ability to target very accurately and this, with few unfortunate exceptions, should ensure that the number of civilian casualties is kept thankfully to a minimum. This must be taken in the context that there will be no use of chemical or biological warfare agents by Iraq.

What will the new emerging world order be after the war?

The military dominance of the United States will be near total for the foreseeable future. However, the most defining effect will be to encourage proliferation of missile, nuclear, chemical and biological technology.

The simple lesson to be learnt by Syria, Iran, North Korea and others from the US assault on Iraq is that had Saddam Hussein had an advanced strategic capability, Washington would in all probability not have initiated war.

I think it is fair to say the world may live to bitterly regret a war that has been conducted without the unanimous support of the United Nations and as a unilateral pre-emptive strike.



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