Herald JournalWinsted-Lester Prairie Journal, Nov. 4, 2002

Former servicemen agree action is needed in Iraq

By Julie Yurek

"Iraq is a festering boil," said former serviceman Chip Guggemos of Winsted.

Guggemos was one of three veterans who were willing to give their opinions about Saddam Hussein and the situation in Iraq.

The men had a roundtable discussion at the request of the Journal.

"He (Hussein) is a cancer. If we let it go, it'll get worse," said Pastor Gerald Boldt of Winsted. "I'd hate to see (what happens) if we didn't do anything."

"President George W. Bush sees a threat. He is right to eliminate the problem," Boldt said.

Boldt was in the Army and Marine Corp for 23 years. He served in Panama from 1988 to 1991. He attended the seminary after he was discharged, he said.

"Bush is correct in taking the hard line with Iraq," said Chris Otto of Lester Prairie. "Hussein has used biological and chemical weapons against his own people, he had an eight-year war against Iran, he invaded Kuwait, and he sponsors and financially helps Palestinian terrorist organizations."

"This is not about oil," he said. "This war is about America doing what it feels is right and what is, I think, right. We cannot have the world run by terrorists."

Otto was in the Navy for 21 years. He served in Lebanon and the Persian Gulf War. After being enlisted for nine years, he was commissioned. He retired about 10 years ago as a lieutenant commander.

"The Bush administration should not have to link Iraq to al Qaeda. We have reason enough to go in," Guggemos said.

The United States and United Nations (UN) has tried democracy with Iraq, he said. "We are in an even more justifiable position than in 1990."

"I think Bush is willing to back up what he's talked, and go it alone if necessary," Guggemos said.

"But I am convinced that he probably was trying to force the issue on the table of the UN to try to get the inspections going again and to have a big stink if the inspections are stopped."

"I don't think he's as anxious to go in there as some folks think. I think he wants to give diplomacy and the inspections another chance, but he knew it wouldn't happen unless he says he's willing to go it alone, because that kind of forces the issue to the UN. That's my suspicion, but I'm not a fly on the wall in the oval office either," Guggemos said.

"It's going to be a US effort," he said.

Guggemos is a West Point graduate. He served for 13 years and retired as an army captain infantry.

"I think most military do support Bush," Boldt said. He added that "from the perspective of former servicemen, we support the president." Otto and Guggemos agreed.

"Bush is being a leader ­ a national leader and a world leader," Otto said.

"We elected him, we'll support him," Boldt said. "As a nation we have an obligation to consider what our president is doing. I think our president is right in his consideration to eliminate the problem (Hussein)."

Otto, Boldt, and Guggemos agreed that if protocol is followed and Hussein does not comply to UN resolutions, action must follow.

"The first time he screws up and won't let us into a location, we go," Guggemos said.

"I think the American people back Bush on this. However, I feel we should give the inspections a chance, though I'm not very optimistic that they are going to work. I also feel that we need to bring on board as many allies as possible," Otto said.

The issue was given considerable thought and reflection by the men. "We're talking about men and women dying over this, and that is never to be taken lightly," Otto said.

Our side or their side, Guggemos added. "Just because they are wearing a uniform doesn't mean it was done voluntarily."

How do we attack?

The question of how to go into Iraq was not so cut and dried, though.

Guggemos feels that Iraqi troops will not fight any harder or even less harder than they did 10 to 12 years ago, he said. "I don't think they're going to die for him anymore."

"We could have completely destroyed their army easily 10 years ago, but if we did that, they would have been left open to invasion from Iran, in particular, or Jordan and others possibly," Guggemos said.

"So we chose to leave them somewhat intact for their own defense."

From what he's read about and seen on TV, Guggemos said many Iraqi citizens do not support Hussein.

"What is bombing going to do to the country for the next 10 or 20 years?" he asked. "Do we need to do this to that area?"

Otto and Boldt disagreed with using troops.

"Bombs are more accurate," Boldt said.

"The 'smart bombs' they (the US government) have are so effective," Otto said.

Guggemos later agreed with where Boldt and Otto were coming from. "I think it (bombing) pertains more to mountainous areas, like the bunkers in Afghanistan," Guggemos said.

"The only mistake we made there was not having troops on the ground to stop the Taliban from crossing over into Pakistan instead of relying on the Afghan soldiers," Otto said.

"I think the battle in Afghanistan will be looked back upon as a turning point in the way we approach conflict in that part of the world," Boldt said.

The military uses the assets available to reduce the number of American lives lost, Boldt said. "Peace through fire superiority: eliminate the problem with as few American lives as possible."

Guggemos agreed, saying the military does "an awful good job trying to minimize civilian casualties."

"Afghanistan and Iraq are two different places," Boldt said. Guggemos and Otto agreed.

"Iraq is not nearly as strong militarily as they were during the Gulf War," Otto said.

Otto brought up the subject of North Korea and asked Guggemos and Boldt what they thought the difference was between North Korea and Iraq.

North Korea was found to have nuclear weapons in its possession approximately one month ago.

"North Korea hasn't attacked a neighbor for 50 years," Guggemos said.

That's exactly right, Otto replied in agreement. "Also, Iraq is much more do-able."

"In diplomatic circles, each country is different," Guggemos said.

North Korea is a pimple compared to Iraq, which is a "festering boil," he said.

"Another difference between the two is the US worked diplomatically (with Iraq) for 10 years after a war, knowing that they had weapons of mass destruction, to no avail," Guggemos said.

Now it's time to do something, he said.

"Whereas, with North Korea, we only found out about it a few weeks ago, so we have to give diplomacy a chance," he said.

"It also brings out the idea that we need inspectors on the ground (in Iraq) with absolute impunity," Otto said.

Is there fear of a nuclear retaliation from Iraq if the US attacks?

"I think they (the US government) know the threat and potential there, and I think our intelligence sources would be able to identify a threat and it could be eliminated," Boldt said.

Otto doesn't think our intelligence is that good over there, he said. "UN inspectors won't find anything because the Iraqi government is an expert at hiding this stuff," he said.

Though it is not certain whether Iraq has gotten a hold of nuclear weapons, it is known that it has biological and chemical weapons.

"Twelve years ago there was some suspicion that Iraq may have used biological and chemical warfare. Some soldiers are having health problems now," Guggemos said.

"Currently though, I understand it's reasonable to consider that if the order is given for something like that, Iraqi soldiers just might not carry it out," Guggemos said.

"Bush has put the Iraqi commanders on notice that if they authorize the use of biological or chemical weapons, they will be considered war criminals," Otto said.

"Hussein is an evil man," he said. "Given time, what's to stop him?"

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