Saturday, August 05, 2006

Strategic Failure in Iraq

Today is Friday, 4 August 2006.

Had one lived in Winnetka, Illinois around 1940, a common sight would surely have been that of boys playing soldier, and surely none more avidly or competitively than eight-year-old Field Marshal Donnie von Rumsfeld.

In war-like societies such as ours, early socialization to the demands of violence invariably involves young boys in such role-playing. Most, of course, as adults, will never progress past the “glamorous” stage of “shoot-‘em-ups”, to the more sophisticated thinking which the context of war demands.

Like Caesar’s Gaul, the theory of war-fighting is traditionally divided into three parts: the tactical, the operational, and the strategic.

The tactical element is that which most people think of as “playing soldier”: the level of individual soldiers, small units, the sharp end of the spear, the immediate confrontation and conflict on the front line of battle.

The operational element concerns the handling of large aggregations of units (corps and field armies), so maneuvered as to attack and overwhelm the opponent’s centre(s) of gravity.

The strategic element concerns the entire constellation of resources (people, materials, transport networks, etc.) which must be properly coordinated in all theatres of operations to achieve the goals set by a nation’s political leadership.

And finally, grand strategy: the political dimension, the goals set by the national leadership which violence is meant to achieve.

Disaster nearly always ensues when the grand strategy is muddled, misguided, or nonexistent. This is the case in the conquest of Iraq, for which the final blame must be assigned to the Triumvirs: Bush, Cheney, and von Rumsfeld.

The goal of the grand strategy in Iraq was to topple the Ba’athist regime, with the expectation that the grateful and fawning people of Iraq would then spontaneously embrace Americanism and create an American-style “democracy”. Only those ignorant and arrogant enough to discount the history of Iraq could have set such a fanciful, nay, delusional goal.

As has been previously pointed out in this column, the circumstances of the creation of modern Iraq were such that a de facto civil war existed from the beginning, pitting against one another Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis. Sometimes the conflict was carried out by political, social, and police repression, and sometimes by military means, as when the Bush 1 regime allowed the Ba’athists to slaughter Kurds and Shiites in the aftermath of the War of 1990-1991.

Anyone not living in cloud-cuckoo-land (in Trevor-Roper’s delicious phrase) understood very clearly that, once the repression of the Sunni Ba’athist regime was eliminated, only overwhelming military force could prevent the outbreak of full-scale armed civil war. “Stuff happens”, indeed, in von Rumsfeld’s G-rated phrase.

By misunderstanding the political reality in Iraq, concentrating only on toppling the Ba’athist regime, and failing to commit the large numbers of troops that might have installed a new regime capable of repressing the latent animosities, the Triumvirs guaranteed that Iraq would immediately collapse into civil war.

Bush, Cheney, and von Rumsfeld never intellectually matured beyond the stage of boys playing soldier, and so assumed that “shoot-‘em-up” was the alpha and omega of war-making. By thinking only tactically, combined with the focus of the military high command on the operational to the exclusion of the strategic, the Triumvirs consigned the people of Iraq to the hell they now inhabit.

History and humanity are already judging them harshly.


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