On the War
War has begun, and noders may want some early, and indirect, measures of how it is proceeding. The Bush Administration is looking for a quick knockout with very little fighting. They are doing so for two very good reasons. First of all, fighting will kill people.
American soldiers will die in combat, and while the administration has spoken of war it has waited until the very day of war to mention that "there might be casualties".
The Administration's silence isn't accidental. Polls show that most Americans support the war, but with UN backing the Administration did not get. A quick, relatively bloodless victory like we enjoyed in 1991 will play well for the Administration. A longer, bloody conflict will likely turn the public against the President.
But what does America consider quick and bloodless? The recent air campaigns have led many Americans to hold unrealistic expectations of low combat losses. I heard one man say he thought 25 American deaths would be a disaster. That number was atypical, but most Americans really don't understand what they're getting into. Many regard 150 or 200 American deaths as disaster! Some consider 4-500 Iraqi deaths a reasonable estimate. Those numbers are achievable when you're invading Grenada. For Iraq such numbers are delusional. To win America will have to occupy one of the world's larger countries and fight its way into that nation's capital. Urban warfare is truly difficult, because clustered buildings provide many excellent ambush sites. American may suffer over a thousand deaths in this fighting, and Iraqi casualties might reach six figures, as they did iin the first Gulf War.
The President never mentioned the potential bad news for good reason. First of all, he probably believes American losses will be low, that most Iraqis won't fight. Second, mentioning such large casualties would have almost certainly eroded public support for the war. It would have given Congressional Democrats plenty of ammo to use against him.
Of lesser importance (to the Administration) is that there will also be Iraqi casualties. Dead Republican Guards are not a problem. Dead Iraqi civilians are, and with al-Jazeera and other TV networks the entire Islamic world will be watching. If the conflict drags on and Iraqi civilian casualties are seen every day the Islamic world will seethe with anger. An explosion is possible, and the most likely casualties are pro-American governments, like those in Jordan and Egypt.
One of the unspoken, but real, reasons for pursuing this war is the hope that an overwhelming victory will discourage Islamic extremists from using violence. The problem with that is that expectations are already so low that if Iraq holds out a month it will be seen as an Iraqi victory by many Arabs. Saddam will be rehabilitated in many eyes, and his murderous nature forgiven for his bravery in the face of "crusader imperialism". That will put even more pressure on pro-Western governments. It will also make it easier to recruit suicide bombers.
With a quick, overwhelming victory of paramount importance you'd think the Bush Administration would have made every effort to secure one. But they have dispatched less than half the ground forces used during Desert Storm.
That's because of the second reason the Bush Administration wants a quick win. Wars cost money. The first Gulf War cost around $100bn, and estimates of $85bn are being tossed around for Gulf War 2. fighting is expensive. And the Administration has made no attempt to prepare the American people for fiscal sacrifice. Fiscal discipline might threaten the new tax cut proposal. The upshot of his libertarian tax policy and neoconservative foreign policy is that the Bush administration seems to have dropped any and all concern with budget deficits, the Democrats have not, and a very large deficit can and will be used against the President, and Republicans in general in 2004.
Moving a force of the size used in 1991 would be very expensive, much more so than the smaller force dispatched today. So the military must do more with less. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld has argued that is possible for two reasons. First that Iraq is much weaker than 1991. Second, that the US military is "ten times tougher" than it was during the first Gulf War.
There is no argument that Iraq is weaker. The economic sanctions against Iraq have worked. Despite black market deals and arms smuggling, the Iraqi military has a lot less equipment than in '91 and a lot of what it does have is inoperable due to lack of spare parts. Parts shortages have curtailed many forms of training. Iraq is still a danger, but it's a shadow of what it want was. Turkey alone could take Iraq apart at will.
But saying the US is "ten times tougher" is a much more difficult sale. The US has more, and more sophisticated smart weapons. Communications and data sharing gear his greatly improved. That sort of gear isn't very glamorous, but can be a signficant force multiplier. However, my opinion is that Rumsfeld has been reading too many Tom Clancy novels. Training standards have slipped some since 1991 thanks to heavy international commitments. And a lot of our gear is the same as it was back then.
Moreover, the job is more difficult. In 1991 the job was simple, liberate Kuwait. That job was accomplished by a simple and elegant envelopment maneuver. Putting our troops behind them destroyed Iraq's defensive strategy without combat. They had two choices, run or surrender, each of which gave the UN forces victory.
This time the object is regime change, which forced the US to conquer and occupy the whole of the country. The US and Britain have more than enough firepower on hand to defeat the Iraqi army, but securing supply lines and guarding prisoners will suck troops like a Hoover vacuum, greatly weakening the front.
Military planners teach that the strength of an offensive is inversely proportional to the advance. In other words, the farther you go, the weaker you get. The reasons for this are simple. The equipment you had in good shape at the start of the offensive now needs maintenance. The supply lines and bases you set up at the start of the campaign are stretched thin and need to be resited and restocked. Your soldiers are getting tired, and need rest. Units are out of position as faster units outrace their slower support. A great example of that was when Patton's troops ran out of gas during World War II.
So this is going to be a more difficult conflict than 1991 even if US and British troops didn't have to take Baghdad. Which they do. It is for this reason that the President spoke directly to Iraqi soldiers, reminding them that "your life is not worth losing over a failed regime". Bush would like them to surrender.
Perhaps the Iraqi footsoldier will pack it in. Saddam's regime gets by primarily on fear, and one cost of a regime maintained by terror is rather limited loyalty among the terrorized. Certainly most Iraqi soldiers expect to lose. Especially those veterans of the first Gulf War. Nationalism will fortify many. However, the amount and effectiveness of the aerial firepower they will taste in the opening days of conflict are guaranteed to produce fear. While dying in a losing cause is celebrated in Japan, it is not very popular in most of the world. Including secular Iraq.
But I keep thinking back to Karl von Clausewitz's dictum "The moral is to the physical as three is to one." Certainly the Iraqi army is outclassed. But behind them are waits their homes and families. And Saddam may convince his people to fight for Iraq, if not for him. In World War II that strategy worked for another murderous dictator by the name of Joseph Stalin. The "shock and awe" campaigned planned by the Pentagon may convince many that surrender is the best way to save what they have. But if they do not, and the Iraqis fight, it will be a long bloody war. And George W. Bush will prove a one term president.
What to look for
In the early days of the war the best indicator I can see is the conduct of regular iraqi army units. Saddam deployed these units forward because he has the least faith in them, and can most afford to lose them. But he wants them to fight, otherwise he would not have dispatched political officers
to ensure their compliance.
However, soldiers have guns and unwanted officers can be 'fragged'. It seems certain that some units will surrender, or put up only token resistance. Some will fight. The key is what the majority do. If most of the regular units go down fighting, this war may drag into late April, or even May. I'm encouraged that a few Iraqi soldiers have already surrendered but it's too early to say if they'll have much company. So watch the briefings carefully. If the briefers show some swagger, and talking about large amounts of surrenders, things are going well. If you see pursed lips and talk of "pushing back' more tha a few isolated units Baghdad will be rough.
But keep in mind Clausewitz's dictum: "The Enemy is someone who reacts". The Iraqis themselves will chose how they will fight. If I were Saddam I'd look very hard at having his frontline units pretend to surrender, go where the Allies tell them to go. Just keep their guns, their ammo, equipment and units intact. Tell them to pretend to roll over and play dead. Then order them to wait until US and British units are engaged inside Baghdad , and then start rolling with the objective being Allied supply lines. Sure they'll be wiped out, but that action will cause a lot of problems, and might even force the temporarly withdrawal of a frontline unit to take off the pressure. If Saddam can compel the withdrawal of even one division he'll be regarded as another Saladin on the Arab street. He'll be hero and all his murderous sins will be forgiven, particularly as he'll be too dead to commit any new atrocities.
Remember that the Battle of the Bulge was an act of desperation, and not particularly wise from a military point of view. It weakend the German front tremendously and hastened the Wehrmacht's collapse. As Casey Stengel put it, "It ain't over until the fat lady sings" . The fact that she's warming up backstage doesn't mean the play's done.
A Machiavellian Moment
At the end of the war the US and Britain will have to decide what to do with Saddam Hussein and his sons. I doubt we'll take them alive, but if we do we'll face an interesting dilemma. We might try sending Saddam and his henchmen to the International War Crimes Tribunal. Giving him to international justice would take the responsibility off our hands and give the US actions some badly needed international legitimacy. Except this is the same court the George Bush pointedly refused. And the Administrations thoughtless and insulting rhertoric might have left the international community not very willing to bail the Bush Administration out. Many conservatives would worry that foreigners might be less vulnerable to hostages than us Yanks.
If America tries him, then the responsibility is all ours. And we too will face hostage takings and threats designed to free the hero Saddam. So I'd like to suggest an alternative Give him to Iran In fact, give him to Iran's moderate president Mohammad Khatami. The Iranians hate him for what he put Iran through during the Iran/Iraq war. The Iranians will take care of all the rough stuff. It will award the Great Satan style points with Iran, and giving him to Khatami will strengthen Iran's moderates at the expense of the hardline clerics.
I know Bush won't do that, but it would be fun if he did.
French intransigence on the war probably helped the President. By matching America's bellicose rhetoric, France gave the Administration an excuse to not to hold a vote it was sure to lose, and a foreigner to blame.