Tuesday, October 15, 2002

Several bloggers are pointing to a rather scary column by Robert Novak, a man not ordinarily thought of as a left-wing softie, which describes Rumsfeld's war planning as based on a best-case scenario --- specifically, that native Iraqi Shiites will do most of the fighting, and that the Republican guard won't put up any stiff resistance. This, in turn, is based on advice from a small circle which includes the likes of Richard Perle and that noted problem solver at the level of civilizations, Newt Gingrich, but does not seem to include many, if any, of his own military's generals. When asked about the US contingency plan for a credible worst-case scenario --- hard fighting in urban areas, with loyal Iraqi troops deliberately using large civilian populations as human shields --- Novak's sources, both in the Senate and high in the Pentagon, say they're not sure it even exists.

Rumsfeld apparently expects the Iraqis to welcome Americans as liberators, as in Afghanistan. Of course, there are just a few differences from the Afghan scenario. Like the bombs we've been continually dropping on Iraq for, oh, the last ten years or so. And the domestic privation which Saddam Hussein's government is blaming, fairly or not, on the American-driven sanctions regime. And the nature of our putative Shiite allies, who are likely to remember in a pinch that their Iranian coreligionists have backed them consistently, while the United States left them in the lurch after the Gulf War. When Saul Landau reports

The last day in Baghdad . A woman with dyed blond hair and tight pants runs a shop. She tells me she has just returned from a vacation with her Algerian live-in boyfriend to Barbados and Martinique and "I could hardly wait to return home. I love it here."

I ask her how she will respond if war comes. She shrugs. "I am Christian," she declares, "and I love my president because he is strong and protects us. Without a strong president like him, we would be persecuted. All of Iraq would be chaos, disorder. I stand with him against Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Bin-Laden and George Bush." Her Algerian boyfriend grins in agreement.

...I'm not sure her views are representative --- it's hard to tell for many reasons, not the least of which is government minders on the trip --- but it's equally hard to be sure they aren't. (The line about bin Laden bears a little explanation --- Iraqis remember that in the Gulf War, Osama bin Laden offered to manage a Saudi campaign against Iraq, even if the Americans, who Saudi royalty called in instead, do not).

Meanwhile, back on the home front, the Novak column is just the latest in a fairly long series of hints that the American military is not working hard to figure out how bad a worst-case scenario could get, or preparing itself as well as it might. We've had the persistent reports from unnamed sources that intelligence analysts are under heavy pressure to suppress evidence that an invasion might be unexpectedly prolonged, or even unnecessary. We've had the rigged war game. And, prefiguring the Novak column, we've had the Newsweek article which wound up by describing Rumsfeld's battle planning:

In a scene that has repeated itself more than once, Rumsfeld, an impatient questioner, demands to see a plan of attack. The generals respond that they can't plan without knowing exactly what they are planning for and with what tools, i.e., what bases and what forces. Rumsfeld becomes vexed and insists on "out of the box" thinking. The generals look perplexed or exasperated and fall back on traditional notions of the American way of war, which is to overwhelm the enemy with superior firepower. Such a campaign takes a long wind-up and a massive attack, which prompts the basic questions --- from where? with what forces? --- all over again.

It's not the first time that the generals have come under that kind of pressure from the White House. William Burton points out that General Schwarzkopf came under pressure from the administration during the first Gulf War to attack without the chance to adequately prepare. He resisted the pressure and got his forces in place, with generally satisfactory results... offering no thanks at all to the administration officials who compared him to General McLellan in the Civil War. (He doesn't name the "high official" who made that comparison, but he makes a note, some twenty pages later, of an "inspirational" gift from Cheney --- tapes of Ken Burns' Civil War series).

But it's not as if Cheney and Rumsfeld are just Bush I retreads trying to redo the Gulf War. It's important to remember they're older than that. They are, in fact, Nixon administration retreads trying to redo Vietnam --- a war where technical superiority and early large set-piece victories (the lonesome cry of the cold war hawk: "The Tet offensive was a military defeat for the Viet Cong!") didn't exactly prefigure success...

Of course, you could try to write off the dissatisfied noises from the Pentagon as disinformation. Then again, the point of disinformation is to deceive the enemy about the nature of your preparations. Which means that if the Novak column, say, is disinformation, then the American military actually wants to fight an urban battle, and is trying to gull Saddam into fighting one by making him believe it is ill prepared for that. I'll leave it as an exercise to the reader to figure out why the Pentagon might want to be thrown into that particular briar patch...


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