Strategy For Success? – Or For Failure?
Time and time again, we are assured that the strategy of the war against Iraq is to remove the Saddam Hussein regime, destroy only military targets with precision weapons, and avoid at all costs civilian casualties.
In essence this strategy is reminiscent of the flawed strategy of the Vietnam war; a war which deeply divided America, left both physiological and psychological scars which are still visible, and finally resulted in ignominious withdrawal and defeat. We lost in Vietnam.
We lost because the Vietnam War planners, including the late President Johnson, waged the war with a large amount of their attention focused on the Soviet Union. Simply put, they feared that the Soviets would, under certain conditions, intervene. If this happened, we would be engaged in World War III, complete with nuclear weapons.
They acted upon those fears, convinced that they would avoid such a war at all costs.
Certain axioms grew out of the wars of the last century. General Douglas MacArthur said “There is no substitute for victory.” General Dwight Eisenhower said “take not counsel of your fears.” Yet, the Vietnam War planners and tacticians sought a substitute for victory, this in daily counsel of their fears.
Based on those fears, American fighting forces were required to conduct a limited war; a war guaranteeing the enemy safe sanctuary; a war which featured a weekly parade of neutral vessels docking in Haiphong harbor to offload critical supplies for the North Vietnamese army; dozens of strategic targets in the north off limits; a war which stagnated into a war of attrition – “body count” – in the flawed belief that, having lost too many of its young men, the enemy would come to the conference table.
But no war can be won; victory cannot be assured by committing troops to battle piecemeal; offering the enemy safe rear areas and sources of supply.
Today, Americans and Britons are becoming increasingly anxious over the progress of the war. First, they were told Basra had fallen; that southern Iraq was securely in Coalition hands. Then, they were told that, contrary to earlier reports, whole divisions which had supposedly surrendered or “melted away” had in fact simply withdrawn into the streets of Basra.
This morning, as I write, I am informed there are “about fifty Iraqi tanks” in Basra; that the city is not secure. But now, Basra is many miles in the rear of troops advancing toward Baghdad. If our forces are able to count those tanks, why are they not able to attack them with precision weapons? Probably because they are in and around civilian homes and buildings!
During World War II, when German submarines were operating off the shores of New York and New Jersey, commanders were amazed to see our large cities brightly lit. Secure in the thought that our vast oceans protected us, there were no blackouts. Postwar documentation proved the German U-Boat commanders were actually able to silhouette tankers and freighters in the lights, and sink them with impunity.
It was underestimation of the enemy and false assumptions that caused dozens of ships to be sunk; thousands of lives to be lost, and hundreds of millions of dollars lost.
Strangely, the strategies of our military planners are likewise underestimating the enemy, and operating on false assumptions.
Those assumptions have been broadcast and rebroadcast to the public, both here and in Britain – that whole divisions of Iraqi soldiers would surrender en-mass; that the bulk of the civilian population will welcome US and UK soldiers with hugs and kisses; that the Iraqi people realize this is a war of liberation and not a war of aggression.
While the strategy is clear, the fact that coalition forces are allowing Baghdad TV to remain on the air; have not taken out public utilities, so the city is lit up at night; water flows freely; daily life in the capital is described as “usual,” with people huddled in their homes nightly in the secure knowledge that the sound of distant explosions indicates precision targeting of government or military targets, and that they need have no fear.
The strategy, of course, envisions the plight of the public without electricity or water; the terrible tragedy of hospitals unable to function; of people starving.
No such niceties were observed during World War II.
Recognizing there was no acceptable outcome short of total victory, the allied powers sought to break the will of the German people to fight. “Unconditional surrender” was the maxim; quickly, the war developed into total war against total populations for total stakes.
There was no such thing as safe sanctuary. Cities were carpet bombed by day and by night. Many suffered loss of life on a mind boggling scale; Dresden, Hamburg, Essen, Dusseldorf, Koln, Wuppertal, Berlin, Mainz, Frankfurt, Schweinfurt – dozens of cities were virtually leveled to the ground. Then, there were no attempts at “surgical strikes” aimed at “changing the regime” in Nazi Germany.
Now, several surprising developments (and they should not have been surprising to the military or political planners) are casting doubt on the strategy being pursued.
(1) Divisions have melted into the civilian population instead of surrendering, probably under Saddam’s personal orders.
(2) Those men have kept their armor and equipment intact, and are now inside Basra and other “pockets of resistance.”
(3) Many soldiers have discarded their uniforms for civilian clothing, and have begun fighting as guerillas.
(4) For decades, Saddam has built military infrastructure within, alongside, or below civilian infrastructure. Key military installations, including Command and Control centers, are in residential areas, above child care centers, in hospitals, schools and universities.
(5) Iraqi TV in Baghdad is located atop a child care center.
(6) The civilian population is far, far more loyal to Saddam, either through actual misguided nationalistic and religious fervor, or through fear, it doesn’t matter, and are prepared to “resist the invaders.”
The trouble is, much of the Iraqi military has been ordered to deploy themselves in, around and among the civilian population. With coalition forces told to do all possible to avoid “collateral damage” ; civilian casualties, the problem becomes painfully obvious.
Those “civilians” and “irregulars” have already killed some of our troops.
The question becomes: Will the strategy of avoiding “collateral damage” at all costs result in far too many coalition casualties? Notwithstanding the continual proof on American television that precision weapons are destroying military and regime targets, while leaving nearby civilian infrastructure unscathed, hundreds of millions of Islamic people do not see American television, but watch, instead, the continual onslaught of lying propaganda from Al Jazeera and Arab news media. Those media focus entirely on civilian casualties, and continually claim the US is targeting “schools and hospitals.” Recently, the few journalists still in Baghdad were taken to a Baghdad university where they were shown blast damage.
What do those Islamic people believe?
Their own propaganda, of course.
As a force of approximately a quarter of a million approaches a city of five million, defended by fanatical divisions of Saddam’s elite “Republican Guards,” what can be expected?
Saddam’s obvious strategy is to draw the coalition forces into a house by house battle, where millions of armed civilians, alongside Iraqi forces dressed as civilians, will attempt to kill as many US and UK troops as they can.
Another part of his strategy, recently reported, is allegedly to unleash chemical and biological weapons against coalition forces as they near the actual city limits of Baghdad.
Chillingly, American officials have said they know Saddam is capable of unleashing such weapons against his own citizens, and then blaming the deaths on the United States.
While the coalition strategy is admirable; while it is honorable, moral, and compassionate, one must wonder whether it is a strategy leading to success or failure. The history of our war in Korea, where troops were committed piecemeal in order to bring an enemy to the conference table; a war allowing the enemy safe sanctuary; a war which did not seek to destroy the enemy’s ability to wage war, is a sad, yet instructive history.
Yet, we repeated the same mistakes in Vietnam.
Is the US and UK determination to avoid at all costs “collateral damage,” given the ploys in place by Saddam Hussein, going to succeed? Only time will tell.
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