For those following along at home, the following portion of this w/u was originally under the title "The United States might actually LOSE the war in Iraq" but it has since been moved to this more appropriate location. Enjoy!
In this media-soaked conflict, it's sometimes difficult to get a big picture of things. You have American and British reporters, most of whom have never seen combat, embedded within American and British units. You have daily televised briefings and press conferences at CENTCOM and the Pentagon. You hear about every attack the enemy mounts, whether it's a major ambush or an explosive-laden taxi. Every time a bomb goes off in Baghdad, it's posted on all the major news websites and appears on the news crawl on the TV.
The problem with all of this is that when you're inundated by breathless reports of how things are "more difficult than expected" or our forces are moving "slower than anticipated" or resistance is "heavier than normal", you start to lose your sense of perspective. Imagine, if you will, that this kind of coverage was available in World War II. German resistance was almost always tenacious, vicious, and determined. They killed our men in droves but we were able to win through, not because we had better fighters or better equipment, but mainly because we were able to out-produce our enemy. We were able to use the sheer might of our massive economy to out-gun the Germans and Italians and Japanese. The reports of the day could easily have said "We might LOSE" and it would have been believable. It would also have been immensely unpopular, of course, because people back then were much more enthusiastic about supporting and paying respect to the people fighting for our nation, but that's beside the point.
Now, for argument's sake, take away the Germans' top-of-the-line equipment. Give them tanks that can't even pierce our tanks' armor. Instead of APCs, give them white 1989 Dodge Dakotas. Take away most of the forest cover and give them inhospitable desert. Take away their food and water, their ability to communicate reliably with central command, and most importantly, take away their small unit autonomy, bringing all major military decisions up the ladder to at least colonel level. Give the allies the ability to fight effectively at night. Give the allies immediate, complete air-supremacy. Give them the ability to hit enemy targets with pinpoint accuracy. (The German military can keep its fanatical, Jew-hating resolve, because it seems that many of our enemy's fighters have the same.) Given all this, how believable would headlines saying "We might LOSE" have been then? Given all this, WWII would have been a rout.
And this is exactly what we've been seeing in Iraq. As much difficulty as US and British forces are having, they're still pushing forward at an astonishing rate. They're meeting resistance, and they're dealing with it harshly and effectively. CNN reports at the time of this writing that some of the Republican Guard units defending Baghdad are already at 50% effectiveness due to the withering bombing they're undergoing. That doesn't mean that they won't fight our troops when we choose to engage them, but it does mean that they will have much less equipment to fight us with.
If we decide to take Baghdad by force (we'll probably use siege tactics first, and try to force a popular revolt) it WILL be bloody. It'll be nasty and dangerous. But it is by no means impossible. The American and British militaries ARE trained, and trained well, for urban warfare, and even though they don't like to engage in it, they will be very good at it. Better than the Russians ever were. They have excellent equipment, excellent leadership at all levels, excellent logistical support, and excellent communication. The enemy has none of these things, and while being the defender is a distinct advantage, it does not make one invincible. If we decide to send men into Baghdad proper, the smart money is still on the Americans and Brits.
Opponents to the war often claim that the Iraqis would rather keep Saddam Hussein and his forces in power than accept American rule over their nation. I find this rather hard to believe after reading reports of what has been happening in the cities that are under siege by coalition forces. The average Iraqis in those cities cannot afford to be political, because they are starving. To the average Iraqi in these cities, coalition forces mean food and water, and Fedayeen forces mean execution, torture, and hunger. Here's a particularly nasty quote from the Times1:
More than 1,000 men, women and children from Iraq’s second city were caught up in deadly confrontations yesterday. The first incident involved small arms fire being trained on them.
The second came on the other side of the city when mortar rounds were fired from Basra as a crowd were halfway across a bridge separating them from the Black Watch. A young woman fell, hit by shrapnel. Then a pick-up truck broke cover, the machinegun mounted on its roof spewing bullets at the crowd.
On the British side, a tank lurched forward, the gunner training his sights on the truck a few hundred yards ahead. One shot and the truck was blown apart, the three people in it killed instantly.
This is what we are up against. Not millions of angry Iraqis speaking with one voice against the evil coalition aggressors. Not millions of potential suicide bombers
enraged by the invading infidels. They are people in need of food, water, and medicine for themselves and their children. Read it again: a thousand
people trying to get away from the city. Why would they do this if they knew Saddam's paramilitary would try to gun them down? What could make them so desperate?
Is this the strong resistance which the Iraqi government continually calls upon? If not, where is it? Why are the huge mobs in Umm Qasar, where humanitarian aid is finally starting to get through2, grabbing desperately at food and water instead of throwing rocks and firing guns? It's because in mighty Iraq you can't get food any more. In mighty Iraq the cities still harbor Fedayeen who will execute anyone who speaks out against Saddam, along with their families. The people there won't resist us much, but they won't help us much either until we can guaranatee their safety. But the point remains that this does NOT constitute strong resistance from the Iraqi populace.
I've seen mention of some possible scenarios, however unlikely, that might predicate a loss for coalition forces. Let me tell you how unlikely they are, and why they wouldn't cause us to lose, anyway:
- Iraqi forces successfully cut coalition supply lines:
To cut coalition supply lines, the Iraqis would need either a defensible position along the supply corridor from which they could stage effective attacks, or they would need a substantial, highly mobile, well-supplied force that could somehow evade air strikes. To seriously cripple our attack force, the Iraqis would have to take out literally hundreds and hundreds of trucks. They would need intelligence about where these trucks are, equipment and ammo with which to destroy them, and they would need to somehow remove the trucks' ability to communicate with nearby forces before they could call in air support. It is highly doubtful that these capabilities will somehow materialize. A hundred guys with AK-47s and hand grenades might be able to take out a few trucks (in fact, they have) but they wouldn't be allowed to just run off to attack again later. Upon hearing the call of a convoy under attack, helicopters and planes with FLIR systems would be on the case almost immediately, looking for any suspicious heat signatures in the area. It's very hard to hide from this kind of thing in the desert night. The fact of the matter is that once an Iraqi force makes itself known, it is hunted ruthlessly until it is destroyed completely or captured.
- Coalition forces get stuck in a quagmire caused by fierce Iraqi urban resistance:
"Quagmire" is a favorite word for opponents of this war. Last week I saw a CENTCOM briefing in which a reporter for a Middle Eastern paper asked if the commanders were seeing signs of this war turning into "a quagmire, another Vietnam" after 4 days of fighting. Won't he be surprised to learn that Vietnam actually lasted more than 10 Years! What many who hope the coalition will pack up and pull out before victory is achieved don't seem to realize is that capitulation will give the impression that the US and UK and friends are weak, empowering our enemies in Iraq and in the various terrorist organizations. This is a Bad Thing, and the Bush administration understands that. If this war were truly going to be a quagmire, we'd still be trying to cross the border of Kuwait. In a quagmire, you do not advance to within 50 miles of the enemy's capital city in 2 weeks. And even if the war effort does get bogged down somewhere, don't underestimate the conviction of the American people. I can't personally speak for the British or Australians, because I know that they don't have as strong of a pro-war majority in those countries. For all the opposition's use of the negative "cowboy" image, they sure don't seem to be taking into account the positive sides of America's "cowboy" spirit, i.e. their bravery, their honor, and their dedication. A majority of the American people understand that this war will bring down a major supporter of international terrorism who, as a bonus, is a murderous dictator who stands against everything we hold dear in life. There will be no backing down.
- Arab allies bring their militaries to bear against coalition forces in defense of Saddam's regime, and/or they refuse to sell any more oil to the United States:
Syria, as a fellow Ba'athist dictatorship, has been Iraq's staunchest supporter, and, according to the U.S. State Department, they have been quietly trying to funnel supplies and equipment to Saddam's military. Staunch allies that they are, though, they won't even admit to doing this.3 For these reinforcements to actually matter, they would have to be pretty huge, and, thusly, easily detectable. If they are detected, they will be destroyed, just as we have destroyed numerous large Iraqi battle formations. Iraq's neighbors know this, of course, and most likely they'd rather keep their militaries intact rather than spend them trying to save a doomed regime and attract the coalition's wrath. As for cutting off supplies of oil, why would they cripple their own economy for Saddam's sake? Depriving themselves of US oil money would be suicidal, and, no matter what many extreme and moderate-right mullahs say, not all Muslims are (or should be) willing to destroy themselves to hurt America. Saudi Arabia is still calling for Saddam to step down4, so it's unlikely that they're going to suddenly do an about-face and decide to snub their biggest buyer in order to protect him.
- Iraq Uses WMD's:
If it has them, it has missed the best opportunity to use them, i.e. before our troops had left their staging areas in Kuwait. The next best time would be when we have encircled Baghdad and, presumably, secured the rest of Iraq. Even then, they will not hurt us enough to gain victory, unless perhaps they have 10 or 20 nukes, reliable delivery methods for said nukes (notice how good our Patriot missiles are this time around?), and good intelligence as to the location of all of our forces. Given that they have not already launched such an attack, it is more likely that they do not have enough nuclear capability to stop us, if they have any at all. As for chem and bio attacks: they simply don't cover a wide enough area, and, just as important, our troops are equipped to handle those types of attacks. The real damage done by chem or bio attacks would be to the nearby civilian population, which does not have such protection. The use of such weaponry will be truly horrible from a humanitarian perspective, but it would not significantly affect our chances of winning the war unless it was mind bogglingly huge and amazingly accurate. Update! e-hadj writes: "If Iraq uses WMD's, ironically, isolated and ineffective use of them could be more silver lining than cloud. It would be the smoking gun in spades; Europe would rally to us, and it would make it easier for Arab governments to come out in support of us. Nevertheless, I hope Iraq doesn't use them, for the sake of the troops and civilians."
- North Korea Steals the Show:
We actually already have a sizeable force in and around South Korea. Along with the 2nd Infrantry Division which is permanently stationed there, we now have the USS Carl Vinson, several F-117 stealth fighters, and a wing of F-15 fighters 5 in the area under the pretense of joint war games with South Korea's military, which is substantial. Along with that, remember that other countries, particularly Japan, who has a sizeable air force (about 100 F-16's), will take a keen interest if North Korea decides to start acting funny, and will surely find a way to donate some forces to South Korea's cause. Update! wonko writes: "A quick bit of trivia re. American F-16s in Japan: Misawa Air Base , where many of the F-16s are stationed, is home to the 14th AMU, which I believe still holds the record for the highest operational readiness evaluation score in US Air Force history. If force becomes necessary in N. Korea, you can bet those guys will be on the ball. Right now we only have one third of our entire carrier force in the Persian Gulf, and many more military units are being held in reserve outside of the Iraqi theatre. Make no mistake; there's enough to go around. The forces in Iraq will stay in Iraq, whether the DPRK mobilizes or not. Need more convincing? Donald Sensing, who served with the 2nd Infantry in South Korea in the 70's, presents his own take on the issue in his blog at http://www.onehandclapping.blogspot.com/2002_12_29_onehandclapping_archive.html#86723527,
I'd like to address some more aspects of common opposition doom-sayers. First, the notion that, even if successful, we will always have to deal with guerilla insurgency in Iraq, much like the Soviets did (and we still do) in Afghanistan. I can't really argue with the core idea of this; insurgency will
occur. Of course, the likely severity and effectiveness of that insurgency is debatable, but let's face facts: guerilla insurgency is what Middle Easterners DO. And not ALL Middle Easterners; don't be an idiot by thinking that's what I mean. But there's a nasty combination of things out there: hungry, angry, displaced people with bones to pick; a religion which, in its (frighteningly common) extreme manifestations, is very prone to hatred, zealotry, and militancy; lots of free-floating guns and ammunition; a smattering of very rich, very powerful, and often very corrupt royalty, military officers, and oil nobility with political agendas. Put all of that together in any
place, and you're going to get tons and tons of guerilla insurgency. However, one has to believe that our planners have already thought of this, and that a major portion of the post-war plan for Iraq will deal with a number of those factors. The people will be fed and public works will be instituted to get them housing ASAP. Extreme religion (the kind espoused by the spittle-flecked mullah
on the loudspeaker commanding passers-by to KILL the INFIDELS) will not be tolerated; the guy will be thrown in jail and the ACLU
will be told to go suck a nut for a few years. The guns will be rounded up in exchange for lots of money and food. The corrupt government officials will be removed from power, and for a time Americans and approved Iraqis will be put in their place until such time as Iraq is deemed ready for popular elections. And remember: every person with a full belly and a home is a possible informant. The insurgents will have to tread very lightly, indeed, because our military is still going to be there, and they won't hesitate to hose down anybody who tries to bring back old Iraq.
Second, the opposition gleefuly observes that our forces have not been welcomed with songs and flowers. If you don't know why already, it's because they will be executed if they do so before the Fedayeen Saddam is dispersed. These paramilitaries hide within civilian populations, in civilian clothes (blatantly defying the Geneva Conventions) and promise swift retribution to anyone who so much as waves at passing coalition troops. American propaganda? Maybe; anything's possible. You can ignore these reports all you like (at the cost of your own credibility) but disgusting human rights abuses akin to this are well-documented in Iraq, and the reporters embedded within our forces have no reason to lie. When we finally root out the last of Saddam's zealots, the Iraqi people won't have to be afraid any more, and they'll be able to say what they please. How many do you truly think will have kind words for Saddam and his forces on their lips?
Third, in general I find that people who are against the war are much too casual about their use of the imagery of American and British casualties decomposing in the Iraqi desert. There are people on E2 who are even ecouraging Saddam to do whatever he can to kill our troops! They seem to be reveling in the idea of the death of our service people, the people who volunteer to put their lives on the line to protect us and our freedoms. This lack of respect for them and the sacrifice they freely make for us is execrable. In fact, that's the biggest under-statement I've made all year.
Fourth, I don't know how the Battle of Baghdad will turn out, but I know that the American people won't accept anything short of victory. If siege tactics don't work, then our men will have to go in and fight, but they won't be fighting against a determined populace. They'll be fighting against a force of civilian-clothed fanatics who know that if they lose their grip on the city, their own people will turn on them and tear them to ribbons with their bare hands. They'll also be fighting against conscripts who have been forced to fight under threats of violence to their families6. Those unfortunate men will have a few choices. They can fire upon coalition troops and face immediate death. They can give up, hopefully before they are gunned down by the Fedayeen. They can run away and try to blend back in with the populace, again at the risk of being killed by the Fedayeen. They can turn their weapons against the people who are threatening their family. It'll be the hardest choice they will ever have to make in their entire lives. Which would you do?
Fifth, there have been rumors about Donald Rumsfeld interfering with the war plans, trying to fight the war "on the cheap" as one anonymous colonel has been recently quoted. They say that this interference could end up costing us the war, but I have yet to see evidence of that. The only reason to bring this up would be to discredit our military as being micromanaged or "red-taped" to death, which is obviously not the case as it was in Vietnam. The people actually involved with the war planning have vehemently denied that this rumor is even true, and have publicly stated that spreading false statements like this can only harm our troops. Of course, this could be the intention, which, again, is absolutely dispicable.
Sixth, the United States will not insert a "puppet dictatorship" once the Ba'athists are removed. What part of "Establish a broadly representative government of the Iraqi people"7 do people not understand? The coalition has made a committment to the Iraqi people and to the world at large, and it can do no less than to live up to that committment. We're out to show that America and the UK and Australia and all the other 40-odd countries that support us care about the Iraqi people. We're out to show that the Iraqis can build a better life for themselves with the help of a government that actually cares about them.
Instead of saying nasty things about George W. Bush and calling upon the indomitable Iraqi spirit to rain down destruction on the unsuspecting Americans, perhaps, people should seriously start considering supporting the effort in the hopes of providing a better life for those 23 million people. You can hold the US and the UK up to the highest humanitarian standards if you like; you can make suggestions all you like and do your best to get them heard by those in control of the operation. I encourage you to scrutinize every decision made by the administration in post-war Iraq, because the way they handle that is going to decide how history judges our countries in the years to come. If they screw things up, the world will become even more enraged, terrorists will continue to successfully recruit, and the world will continue to go down the toilet. (And, among all that, they'll lose my vote in 2004.) If they do things correctly, popular support for terrorists in Iraq and the Middle East at large will start to dwindle as people see that America is finally giving a crap about the Middle East and is honestly trying to fix the damage done by years of colonialism and by years of the West trying to fight communism and the formation of Islamic fundamentalist governments.
What I'm saying is that maybe you're wasting your time if you have to quote The Guardian or the Los Angeles Times (which has recently admitted to doctoring a front-page photograph to make it appear as if a U.S. soldier is pointing a gun at civilians, when in fact his gun was pointed away from them and he was moving his hand in a "calm down" type of motion) as your primary source of information. Maybe you're wasting your time when you pray for the deaths of thousands of allied troops and the pullout of coalition forces and the subsequent empowerment of terrorist forces. Many people's words convince me that this is exactly what they are hoping for, whether they realize it or not. Lots of the rhetoric I've seen (especially in The Guardian and, shamefully, on E2) exudes an almost gleeful certainty that America and the UK will get bogged down, suffer horrendous casualties and, even if they do win, they will always have to deal with determined insurgency, apparently no matter how well post-war Iraq is administered.
Maybe you, like 1/3 of the French8, are wasting your time hoping that Saddam Hussein, one of the most despicable dictators in recent history, will win through.
If you are against this war, fine. But please be aware that your opinions on the matter have ceased to be of import. You can't stop what is happening no matter how many nodes you write or protests you attend or despicable "Bush = Hitler" signs you display. The best thing that you can do now is to think about what you want to see in post-war Iraq. Start thinking about how the administration should behave towards the Iraqi people, and how it should set up the new Iraqi government. Make it clear to your Congress people that you won't accept a "puppet dictatorship" and, even better, make clear what you WILL accept. Too many war protesters don't have alternatives; I've even seen footage of one guy saying "... that's the government's job to figure out... but, uh, war is not the answer."9 Give your Congress people alternatives. And, even better, give ME alternatives, because I'm tired of the lack of constructive critcism from the left.
Ohh look! Resources! I heartily advise you to visit #9.
1"Iraqis shoot at desperate crowds fleeing Basra" -- http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,5944-627270,00.html
2"U.K. Ship Stocked With Relief Docks at Umm Qasr" -- http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,82431,00.html
3"Syria backhands US for threats over Iraq" -- http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/s823419.htm
4"Saudi Foreign Minister: Saddam Should Leave for Sake of Iraqi People" -- http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,82765,00.html
5"N. Korea may be easing stand: U.S." -- http://www.cnn.com/2003/WORLD/asiapcf/east/03/26/nkorea.kelly/
6"Iraqi soldiers ragged, scared " -- http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/iraq/2003-03-31-pow-usat_x.htm
7"Cheney Outlines Iraq War Objectives" -- http://www.guardian.co.uk/uslatest/story/0,1282,-2484697,00.html
8"'Half of French' want US-UK victory" -- http://www.expatica.com/france.asp?pad=278,313,&item_id=30081
9"Protesting the Protesters" Video by Evan Coyne Maloney -- http://www.brain-terminal.com/video/nyc-2003-02-15/index.html