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ND professors note unique nature of Iraq War

Kate Gales | Thursday, March 25, 2004

Smart missiles have replaced muskets and atomic bombs and a “coalition of the willing” has taken the place of a truly global battle. Conflict in Iraq has been full of firsts and, according to experts, several lasts. The crossroads reached in military technology marks the Iraq War as different not only from wars before 2003, but also proves that it will be unique from future conflicts.Notre Dame political science professors offered a variety of analyses on the Iraq War but agreed on one thing – the battle that began one year ago in the Middle East was truly distinctive.”The revolution in military affairs has advanced a lot,” said Dan Lindley, a political science professor. “Communications integrated with targets are more effective than ever before. However, the classic problem remains … the classic problem of battlefield intentions.”Keir Lieber, another political science professor, agreed that while it is only natural to see war evolve as military education improves and technology advances, the differences in intentions and goals of the two Iraqi conflicts were especially significant.”There was a major difference in objectives,” said Leiber of the distinction between the first and second Gulf Wars. “The first was simply to move the Iraqis out of Kuwait – the second was regime change. … The result was the same, a quick and decisive victory in conventional war.”Lieber said that despite the speed of the United States’ victory in Iraq, he didn’t anticipate the use of similar tactics in the future.”In some ways, this was the last war of the 20th century,” he said. “No one else is going to fight [a conventional war].”Lieber ex-plained a conventional war as “total conflict,” such as World Wars I and II, with “two sides fighting in traditional combat ways, with a military victory through defeat of military forces.”Indeed, war has changed in the last half-century – both in its technology and its intensity.Since 70 to 80 percent of the missiles used in the Iraq War were “smart munitions,” Lieber said, the death toll in the conflict was far lower than in the past.”Many predicted a huge number of U.S. military and Iraqi civilian casualties,” he said. “Neither of these things came to pass.”However, George Lopez, a professor with the Kroc Institute for Peace Studies, pointed out that although many war supporters called today’s weapons technology more humane, the collateral damage number could be misleading. “You go from high-intensity war to low-intensity war,” he said, noting that the already weak Iraqi infrastructure suffered – a trial that has taken a toll on civilians. The toll on civilians remains an open threat in the area, and the postwar rebuilding period in the aftermath of the Iraq War is another aspect in which this war has been completely unique. Many have argued that the rebuilding process in Iraq has been perhaps more exhausting than the war itself.”The idea of an old war was that you’d go in, you’d win, [and] the people are standing on the sidewalks waving flags or hiding under their beds,” Lopez said. “There was no resistance.”He added that over $87 billion in aid had gone to 22 million Iraqis – and the end is not in sight. But the end is in sight on the home front. Twenty-four hour access to press coverage about the war has changed the public perspective on fighting.”The pliability and availability of the media gives military and political people a [public relations] potential they haven’t had before,” Lopez said. “Since Gulf War I, we live in a media-frenzied environment about war. … This is 24 hours a day.”That is strikingly different from the newspapers of World War I and the newsreels of World War II, progress that has made the public more informed but less sensitive, Lopez said.”It has dulled the sense of most populations to the nature of war,” he said. “More Americans know more things, but feel them less intensely.” In a time of change in public knowledge, military weaponry and tactics, history has been made in the Iraq War – a war unlike any fought before, and that is sure to be unique from future conflicts.