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While the U.N. inspectors play Sneak & Seek with Saddam Hussein’s cheaters and retreaters, our Air Force and Navy Top Guns are picking away at Iraq’s defense systems, and our grunts are quietly encircling Saddam like a hangman’s noose.

“Will we win?” is the question I’m asked most often these days.

My reply: “If push comes to shove and the military solution’s employed, it’ll be slam-bam goodbye Saddam.”

Figure on a match similar to Mike Tyson vs. Mini-Me – one that, relatively speaking, should be over almost as soon as Uncle Sam and pals finally climb into the ring with the Mustached One.

Not only will a new generation of Star Wars stuff make the super-smart weapons from Desert Storm look like metal morons, we’ll also see battle tactics that will no longer be variations on the standard two-up-and-one-back favored by U.S. generals from George Washington down to Norman Schwarzkopf.

Instead, the objective of our attacking units won’t be to destroy Saddam’s army in the traditional sense, but to cripple it by techniques as brilliantly innovative as the blitzkrieg concept the Germans introduced early in World War II, until most Iraqi soldiers – already prepared by extensive psychological warfare – break out the same white flags we saw them waving with such enthusiasm the last time we had a duel in that desert.

During Desert Storm, 93 percent of the weapons were World War II dumb, while today more than 80 percent of our munitions are smart bombs. In 1991, one aircraft carrier could whack only 162 targets in a day, as opposed to 700 during the same period today – and the current Order of Battle for the war with Iraq calls for four U.S. carriers. And one B-2 bomber – from today’s fleet of 21 of these giant stealth aircraft – can do the work of 24 Gulf War I fighters, striking 16 different targets with 2,000-pound satellite-guided bombs.

There are a lot of other new war toys, such as the Army’s Apache Longbow helicopter, aircraft-delivered carbon filaments that shut off a city’s electricity by shorting out power transformers, targeting devices that allow grunts down in the sand to bring in precision airstrikes from miles up in the sky, and unmanned surveillance aircraft that provide senior commanders with live video feed – permitting their strike forces to hit harder, move faster and fight smarter with much smaller units than during Gulf War I.

For sure our forces will follow the example of Civil War genius Nathan Bedford Forrest – who routinely whipped his Northern opponents by following his bold dictum of getting “thar fustest with the mostest” – with by far the greatest gadgets ever used in battle.

Just as there were doubting Thomases when George Patton said, “To hell with my flanks” and used his version of blitzkrieg to boldly race toward Berlin, there are platoons of uniformed skeptics who fret that all the whiz-bang Buck Rogers stuff will fizzle.

I think that’s the least of our worries.

But having learned the hard way never to force a tiger into a corner, I do lose sleep over NBC (nuclear, biological and chemical) weapons. As Sun Tzu wrote 2,500 years ago, “Soldiers in desperate straits lose their sense of fear.”

If Saddam does opt to throw chemical and biological weapons at our troops when he senses he’s about to become part of a trophy wall, I’m fearful to the max about how well our NBC – or as the troops say, “No Body Cares” – protection-detection gear will function.

My second-biggest worry is whether our leaders will “haul ass and bypass” and play it George Patton smart by encircling Iraq’s cities, shutting off all water and power and starving out the bad guys. Or will our troops be ordered to fight house-to-house in places like Baghdad and Tikrit?

In terms of both bucks and bodies, city fighting is prohibitively expensive and should be avoided at all cost. Ask the Russians, who recently went at it in Chechnya, or our Marines, who slugged it out in Vietnam at Hue.

Let’s hope our military commanders stand tall to ensure our Joes and Janes are well-protected from both the ravages of NBC and the mean streets of Iraq’s cities.

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