Thursday, March 27, 2003

The folks at the Pentagon are complaining to the UPI that retired generals like Wesley Clark (former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, director of combat operations in Bosnia) and Barry McCaffrey (the guy who ran the "turkey shoot" at the Rumaila oil field in Gulf War I) are mere "armchair generals", who don't understand their remarkable new strategic insights. For example:

War chief Gen. Tommy Franks plan employs a stunning, common-sense approach to the hairiest scenario of the battle: urban warfare. He doesn't want his people involved in bloody street fighting -- for their own sakes and for the civilians inevitably caught in the crossfire. So he directed the leading edge of the ground forces to largely skirt the cities, focusing their urban fighting on securing roads, bridges, waterways and airfields to allow food and water to be delivered to people increasingly at risk.

The plan envisions that any Iraqi fighters remaining in the bypassed cities after the demise of the regime would lose their motivation to fight.

Now, let's remember who the opponents in street fights are, in even the administration's own view of things: members of security services who are closely identified with Saddam's regime, who are hated by the local populace behind their backs, and whose positions and honor, liberty, and perhaps their lives are most likely forfeit under any successor regimes. So their choice -- as members of a culture that stresses honor -- is to either go down fighting, or just to go down. Some of them may think they are fighting for Saddam's regime -- but a lot are probably just fighting for honor, and happy to fight just as hard for that.

Not only that, but the plan presumes a quick victory -- though, as I mention below, Franks' superiors at the Pentagon are now talking about a conflict that could last for months.

It's as if they expect that dedicated fanatical streetfighters in places like Basra and Nasiriyah can be defeated by having the Third Infantry Division link hands around the cities and sing Kumbaya. Envisioning this strategy in effect at, say, Stalingard is left as an exercise for the reader -- and for the student of Stalin who remains in power in Baghdad as I write, who no doubt finds the exercise pleasant.

To be fair, the anonymous Pentagon officers quoted by UPI do make a more reasonable point -- that the American supply lines, a point of extreme concern here and elsewhere, are a lot less vulnerable than they look on the map because they are, in effect, continually guarded from above by American air power. But the failure to anticipate the need for nasty street fights -- something that, ahem, more prescient commentators have been talking about for months -- has got to raise eyebrows...


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