Jewish World Review March 31, 2003 / 27 Adar II, 5763
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | The media continue to wail about the U.S. being forced to change its strategy, after early setbacks in Iraq. This proposition -- which is becoming accepted over the facts through mind-numbing repetition -- is compounded from two big lies: 1. There have been setbacks. 2. There was a strategy that didn't anticipate them.
On the first point, there has been nothing resembling a setback. The U.S. and allied forces have moved backwards nowhere, under enemy fire, except in the briefest tactical manoeuvres. They are holding all their bridges and lines, and doing terrible damage to anyone who attacks them. The media have announced that the attack on Baghdad is "stalled" -- but the objective itself, and its timetable, exist only in their imagination.
On the second point, I can actually state that there was, and is, no single monolithic strategy; and if there were it would be monumentally naïve. Such documents as I saw, and such briefings as I received, before the war started, suggested an extremely flexible campaign; possibly more than those for any previous modern or post-modern military assault. There are innumerable plans for innumerable contingencies. And while I have no idea what they all are -- no human being could even read them all if they were freely posted on the Internet -- I have yet to learn of a single event of a kind that was not almost certainly anticipated, at several volume levels.
The one, unified, actual "plan", which exists not in a document but in the human will, can be very simply stated. It is to annihilate the regime of Saddam Hussein, and replace it with one almost infinitely more benign -- whatever it takes; and with the minimum possible casualties to both soldiers and civilians, on both sides.
The U.S. and allies are up against a totalitarian regime that has had 30 years to embed itself in Iraq, and which is ruthless beyond the reach of the common imagination. Moreover, it is a regime that, narrowly escaping collapse in 1991 after the war for Kuwait, spent the last 12 years adapting to new principles of "asymmetrical warfare" -- in the constant expectation that, sooner or later, the U.S. and allies would ride into Baghdad. I am in a position to know that no senior member of the Bush administration was unaware of this hard fact, before launching the invasion; nor any of the eight most senior battlefield commanders. Nor did any of them ever say anything to the contrary.
The people who didn't grasp, and still haven't grasped the nature of this enemy, are the media and the Bush administration's mendacious critics. And if these latter want bad news and good quotes, there are any number of retired U.S. Army generals, whose noses were put out of joint by Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon shake-ups, who also don't grasp it, and will be happy to talk. Very selective quotation from officers and soldiers in the field will supply the necessary updates. (I know this game, I work in it; or rather, whenever possible, around it.)
Mendacity and ignorance aside, the critics fail to capture the basic two-plus-two that is revealed in present circumstances: The allies are in this BECAUSE Iraq's so dangerous. A Saddam content to fight by conventional and legitimate means, without terror connexions and international ambitions, would not have been invaded. This is no mere "live fire" exercise.
There are some allied weak points, however, as one will invariably discover upon entering the field. The worst I have seen is in the allies' communications habits, and specifically I'm sad to say, the British, whose briefings to reporters have been the opposite of terse, and claims the opposite of guarded. They are not trying to mislead; they are passing on good news they have received before it can be properly confirmed. This has unfortunately added fuel to the burning oilfires of media misinformation.
Example: I myself fell initially (though not in print) for the story of the "uprising in Basra", because it seemed plausible, given the huge uprising that occurred in Basra in 1991 after the allies retook Kuwait. It took me several hours of no further information to realize that it was instead not intrinsically plausible, for two main reasons. First, Saddam put that earlier revolt down, killing as many as 100,000 in the course of making his point. The unarmed people of Basra are hardly going to rise this time, till they see the whites in their rescuers' eyes. Second, Saddam completely rebuilt the apparatus of his repression in the Shia south, in light of what happened in 1991.
He rebuilt expressly to prevent another mass uprising from occurring, even if the country were invaded. He reorganized the daily life of Basra to provide close supervision of people, divided into smaller groups. And he can be entirely assured of the loyalty of his minders, for the same system puts each in a position where the people he minds know him personally, and will string him from a lamp-post if he relaxes his guard. The whole city is thus turned into a human minefield: and when it goes up, it goes up. If there were a general insurrection in Basra, we would not be hearing about it in unconfirmed reports: there would be blood, visibly everywhere.
The difficulty of staffing a large, mostly Shia, southern city with Saddam's mostly Sunni, central Iraqi agents -- themselves dispersed among more than a dozen rival security organizations -- makes Basra a "cakewalk" compared to Baghdad. I think the Iraqis were expecting the allies to take it quickly, which they may have been wise not to do; for I fear a nerve gas or other chemical attack may be waiting on the inhabitants once the city falls -- as a warning to Baghdadis of what their fate could be. (Yet another "contingency" I am fairly certain the Pentagon has a plan for.)
That's why no mass insurrections in Basra or elsewhere: the supervision of the general population is on such a level of detail, behind Iraqi lines, that mass action is made impossible, until the allies actually bludgeon their way into the cities. We hear this again and again from the people who' ve broken free. Insurrection became possible in Eastern Europe in 1989 only because the Communists had relaxed their grip; since 1991, and the Kurd and Shia rebellions, Saddam has been tightening his. That's why the U.S. is trying so hard to find and take out the centre of command, before marching into the cities. And why Saddam has gone to such extraordinary lengths to hide his centre -- and so many of his assets amid civilian human shields.
That's also why the U.S. has been so leisurely about getting the local allies, the networks under the umbrella of the Iraqi National Congress, directly involved in the military action. The common front with them is only now beginning to form in the Kurdish north (having been additionally delayed by the Turkish failure to let the U.S. Fourth Infantry pass through). The INC needs to conserve everything it can for the après-guerre.
More generally, we -- not the "Pentagon planners", but outside observers -- have probably underestimated the degree to which the Saddamite regime has become allied, almost integrated with Jihad International in the time since 1991 (as should have been evident from the first World Trade Centre bombing in 1993).
The formal and informal links at the top are less important than the common pool of resources and methods. For what Saddam learned in 1991 was that his defences were almost entirely exposed to precise U.S. bombing -- in the course of having so many of them destroyed. (An attack on Baghdad then would truly have been a cakewalk.) In such burgeoning institutions as the Fedayeen Saddam, we see what he learned from the terror camps of Afghanistan, and the ones he himself hosted. He also discovered that it made more economic sense to buy weapons off the shelf through the underground arms trade -- from Russia, China, North Korea, Pakistan, France, Germany, etc. -- than to manufacture from scratch under the noses of U.N. inspectors. He has now much less traditional explosive punch, but far more, and much cheaper, variety.
To understand such things better means getting acquainted with a great volume of technical literature that is not to the current media taste; and also reading and thinking through what we learn from such independent and well-informed Iraqi authors as Kanan Makiya. It means, for a start, understanding that the schools and hospitals and mosques of Iraq are as much extensions of the Ba'athist Party as any army barracks or secret police headquarters. Saddam can pull more local levers than we can count, until we are right in the thick.
What we see may resemble a debilitating war of attrition. But what is really happening is quite out of view: the search not for the beast's manifold claws, but for its head.
To summarize: I have yet to see any threat from within Iraq that the U.S.
and allies are not likely to have anticipated. The threats that worry me
come, without exception, from outside Iraq.
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