"In war, the enemy is someone who reacts."
-- Baron Carl von Clausewitz, Vom Kriege
When you study war, one of the first things you should do is to read
Clausewitz. He succinctly and clearly lays out principles of armed
conflict that remain as applicable today as when Clausewitz himself
served as a Prussian Officer working with the Russian army against
In simple terms, Clausewitz means that the enemy will look at what
you are doing, and make up his own mind how to respond. In other words, in war shit happens. This appears to be the case in Iraq.
On the day I wrote this, the US lost fifteen soldiers when a single
CH-47 helicopter was shot down, carrying troops for some r and r.
The Bush Administration will doubtless respond by saying that such things are normal in war, and we are making progress in Iraq.
Both statements are true. They will probably turn out to be
irrelevant. Let me say this now, Iraq is not Vietnam, but it is what they will most fervently deny: a
quagmire. Six months after the end of major combat in Iraq, the US and Britain are in it up to their hips.
When the war began, no one expected the Iraqi military to defeat the
combined military might of the United States and Great Britain. A much stronger Iraqi army had been humiliated in 1991. But many (including myself) thought the Iraqis would put up a much better fight in their own defense.
Part of the poor Iraqi showing was clearly a product of the incredibly
precise firepower allied units were able to bring to bear. For
Iraqis, the simple fact was that once your position was discovered, you either abandoned it immediately or died. Sometimes even right now wasn't fast enough. Soldiers are often prepared to die, but few are suicidal, particularly in a lost cause.
But lately it seems more likely that at least part of that poor fight was
deliberate. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and some allied
commanders expected a harder fight, and many more casualties to be suffered among Saddam's elite Republican Guard. The basic hope was to annihilate enough of them in battle that the survivors wouldn't be much of a problem.
Instead it may be that the nearly bloodless victory may have been partly improvisation on the part of the Iraqis. They may have
decided, since they could not win in open combat against the
Americans, to spend a great deal of time before and during the war preparing for its aftermath: a guerrilla campaign against the US. A really bitter fight would greatly reduce the number of loyal, trained personnel available to fight the military occupation.
In the early days of the war, the Iraqis fought hard
and bitterly enough to make a clear public statement of defiance. When
the Arab world did not rush to their aid, they then chose to accept defeat
and set up shop up in the "Sunni Triangle". They stockpiled arms,
ammunition and gold, made provisions to hide and set up covert command and
Such an approach makes sense if you study history, and soldiers study
history religiously. The only defeat ever inflicted on the US was not
tactical; it was strategic: the sustained defiance that led the US to
leave South Vietnam, setting
the stage for its eventual conquest by the North. Closer to home,
Arab sniping led the
US to abandon positions in Lebanon;
similarly, US units left Somalia in the face of a
It would be unwise to read too much into "American moral weakness" based on
those examples. America stayed for eight years, with 50,000 dead, in Vietnam.
North Vietnamese dead ran into the millions. The only reason the US entered
Lebanon was to bail the Israelis out of the
box they'd gotten into by invading Lebanon in 1982. And Somalia began as a
purely humanitarian effort without any significant US interest involved.
Nevertheless, Iraqi planners must have looked at these events and seen hope.
As guerillas, for the first time they would have the initiative.
Seize, retain, and exploit the initiative is one of the Nine
Principles of War taught by the US Army, and it might be the most
important. In essence, it means that
you fight in such a way that forces the enemy to dance to your tune, to
react to your actions rather than have you react to his. In the "major
combat" phase of this war, the US and Britain held the initiative. Total
air, electronic, and technical superiority allowed the US to pick and choose
how and where it fought, and what forces to apply. As defenders, the Iraqis were far more tied to fixed points, and to heavy equipment, which rendered them vulnerable.
As guerillas, the shoe is now on the other foot. The Iraqis didn't have to do anything at all for a while. They could afford to set up their command and control, do reconnaissance, and bide their time. That's the smart way to react. For the US, simply building up a Third World country is a monumental task, even with total peace. The Iraqis bought Jane's, as can anyone else, and from that looked at the US Army's Table of Organization and Equipment. They knew how many combat units we had, how many were reservists, how many military police, how many public affairs specialists. They probably had a good idea how many Americans speak Arabic.
Moreover, during that time they could observe US Army and Civil Affairs
units. They got CNN and the New York Times off the web. From
those things, it was pretty easy to work out a plan of attack.
So, put yourself in the place of an Iraqi staff officer. You notice that the Bush Administration has proposed budget deficits in excess of $500 billion in order to preserve tax cuts for their rich supporters. And an election year approaches. Before the war, Bush was quite vocal that Iraq's oil money would finance its own reconstruction. So Iraqis bomb the oil pipeline to drop the entire cost of reconstruction on the American taxpayer. Make the occupation as expensive as possible
for an Administration awash in red ink.
The Bush Administration's pre-war arrogance did the Iraqi resistance a lot of favors by making certain America and Britain would have to go this one alone. But it's not wise to count on the charity of others. Might as well give them a reason to stay out. Bomb the UN headquarters in a big way, at a big time. Hit the International Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders. Hurt anybody who might bear some of the American's burdens. Make everyone aware that to send people there is to put them in harm's way. That will help keep other countries out and international organizations from
pitching in, even as peacekeepers.
If you are a resistance leader, you notice that the while the US Army
is extremely tough, it isn't very large. Iraq is a big place, and that means the Americans will be spread thin. All of the Army's civil affairs specialists are concentrated in reserve units. And occupation duty is tough on a soldiers morale under ideal conditions. So you bleed them, a bit here, a bit there. Make it hard to withdraw troops, as Donald Rumsfeld promised. That makes wives and families back home
nervous, and their nervousness will come through in their letters and phone calls to Willie and Joe in the field.
Moreover, combat soldiers make poor police. A soldier is trained, and for good reason, that safety lies in eliminating danger -- violently. But
shooting up homes and killing innocents is a sure way to make more
enemies. Given the shortage of area specialist and language
skills, US troops are bound to make lots of mistakes. And that assumes the political leadership will listen to its area specialists, something the Bush Administration is not noted for.
In the long run, the occupation of Iraq is not supportable without either total pacification or a great enlargement of the US Army. America has just over half of the Army's regular combat brigades currently deployed, and loads of reservists. Reservists used to civilian wages will have trouble supporting their families on Army pay. Occupation duty is hard on morale, even if you aren't being shot at constantly. Soldiers love to train, but deployments this long make havoc of training cycles. Expect combat readiness to drop sharply. Expect re-enlistments to drop sharply, particularly among reservists. Expect recruits to drop sharply in both quantity and quality. Which will make the uniformed military unhappy, and there will be leaks to the press on the topic of readiness. The only way the US can really sustain the occupation is to start enlarging the army now -- by drafting young men. But that would amount to political suicide for Republicans. They know the 2004 election is just around the corner.
This is the outline of a valid guerilla strategy: Do everything you
can to make sure that the US and Britain bear all the costs of rebuilding
Iraq, and bear them alone. Make the rebuilding process as difficult as
possible by assassinating Iraqis who assume government positions. Try to keep foreigners out through regular terrorism. Keep bleeding US troops through attacks at times and places where you appear to have the advantage. Take advantage of Muslim fanatics who will slip into Iraq on the wings of jihad; they're hard to control, but willing to blow themselves up, and you can take advantage of that. Avoid direct combat at all times, because that will prove suicidal. Do every thing you can to separate the Iraqi population from the Americans. Spread rumors blaming everything bad on the Americans.
And remember this, the US and Britain are stretched thin, even with the Shi'iteand Kurdish areas largely quiet. If you can help someone like --
say, Mullah Sadr -- turn the Shi'ites against the Americans, then
the entire US Army won't be enough.
It is entirely possible that the Administration's claims are true, that progress is being made in Iraq, that we must simply stay the course, that these attacks are a sign of fear. It is also equally possible that we stand on the edge of disaster, and we are in a quagmire.
Even if progress is being made, I doubt if the picture is as
rosy as the Administration says. I have heard that civilian officials are
rarely in country for more than a month at a time, which means they're gone just as they're beginning to understand their jobs. The US remains critically short of Iraq specialists and skilled interpreters.
That leads to mistakes. The Bush Administration was so proud when they announced they would get troops to help out from Turkey. They forgot that Turkey used to be called the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman Turks made a few enemies during the centuries when they ruled that part of the world. Another goof came with the decision to take a senior Saddam loyalist's mother into custody in the hopes of forcing her son to the surface.
Granted the leadership is getting better, and our people are learning. A
lot of mistakes have been quickly corrected. But we can't afford mistakes.
once observed, guerillas swim in the sea of the larger
To win a guerilla war you need either a lot of troops or really good
information. Given that we're Americans and they're Iraqis, Saddam's people start out with a natural advantage. This advantage is magnified in the Sunni Triangle where many people owed their livelihood to the old regime. Without good civil affairs, we won't win the people's hearts and minds, and thus we'll lose the information battle. If we can't win that, we'll have to win through brute numbers -- 10 to 1 being the accepted ratio for the defeat of guerillas. Does anyone think those numbers are politically possible?
Now, had the Bush Administration's claims that Saddam Hussein was in bed with Osama bin-Laden proven true, the point would have been moot. A truly strong case would have brought France and Germany into
the war. A truly strong case would have had America ready and willing to sacrifice both her Treasury and her soldiers in the name of peace. Bush could simply have asked Congress for the additional troops, and he'd have gotten them, and an expanded Army to boot.
Instead it has become increasingly clear that the Administration lied to
both Congress and the American people about Saddam's links with
al-Quaeda, and in particular, about weapons of mass destruction. Instead of this being a war to protect America from attack, it looks more like our soldiers' lives have been sacrificed on a wild goose chase. Moreover, the Bush Administration either didn't know the occupation would be resisted, (which means it is incompetent), or it made every attempt to conceal the costs of the occupation. It certainly made every attempt to use the war to influence the last midterm election.
Given such failures and the Administration's partisan bullying, it's now open season on George W. Bush -- the Democrats will come out firing. Our sons and daughters will continue to come home in body bags and no matter how much the Administration tries to spin this or blame the media, the charge won't stick. Given our "jobless" recovery, Bush is in trouble next year.
I expect the Bush Administration to declare some kind of victory in the summer of 2004 with a lot of fanfare, in order to preserve their reelection chances.
In a way, that's a shame. Though I was unequivocal in my opposition to this war, the check's been written, and America has to cash it. Democrats can say all they want about "getting help" but Europe isn't going to send its sons to die just because George W. Bush is out of office. Our president treated them so abusively that in their minds, it's America that needs to be taken down a peg -- After all, we inaugurated the bastard. The UN will stay out until Iraq is pacified, and that will take years.
Yes, years. Iraq's opposition leaders have proven largely
irrelevant in the post-war environment, which shouldn't surprise anyone as they couldn't boast a single Winnie Mandela, much less a Nelson. They are a third world country with a history of the most extreme forms of political violence and major ethnic strife; you can't be sure whose hands aren't dripping in blood. Turning Iraq into West Germany will be a lot harder than it was to turn Nazi Germany into the Federal Republic, and we were willing to spend a lot more after World War II.
Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a
-- Proverbs 16:18
Before the War, Donald Rumsfeld claimed the US would be down to 30,000 troops within 60 days. We were told that Iraqis would welcome us into their country. We were told Iraq was ready to deploy weapons of mass destruction. These predictions have all turned out
to be false. The US and Britain can still reconstruct Iraq into something
that will truly frighten the Middle East's dictators: a viable, prosperous
republic. But it won't come easy, or without a lot of blood and
money, a price the President and his minions made no attempt to prepare the American people for. I don't think the President or the Republican Party are willing to sacrifice themselves for the Iraqi people. I never thought they were prepared for it, because I think they believed this would be easy. An early departure will confirm the views of those in the Muslim world who hate America and Western Democracy and think we're fat, lazy cowards.
Bush advisors thought "shock and awe" would work, that the Iraqis
would just lay down and accept occupation like Japan and Germany did after World War II. They believed the words of the Iraqi defectors and men like Paul Wolfowitz who argued for attacking Iraq on September 12, 2001 on the grounds that "it would be easier". They bought their own rhetoric, and their own eschatological vision of American greatness and power. They thought itwould be easy.
"In war everything is simple. In war, the simplest thing is
George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld forgot that an enemy is one who reacts. But the Iraqis did react, and now we're dancing their tune.
thanks to xiong for help in proofreading, which is not my strength, and apologies to Corran and every Australian for not mentioning that country's contribution to the war effort.