Well, against my
, and a lot of other peoples', the vaunted Republican
Guard around Baghdad did put up less of a fight than the Iraqi regular
army in the south; as of this morning, all reports are that Saddam's
Baath regime in Iraq has collapsed.
So, what does this mean for the critics?
First off, there's one critique which seems, at this point, to be
mostly right: that army troops aren't trained to deliver aid and
restore order, don't like to do it, and aren't much good at it. The
case is presented
in detail by Jeanne D'Arc, but you can see a precis of it in some
of the news stories -- the ones featuring widespread looting, amid
general indifference from the troops, and shortages of critical
supplies, including water. The British troops in Basra even refused
a request to defend the hospital from looters, from a doctor who
has been trying to protect it since the conflict began -- and
remember, the Brits are supposed to be better at this sort of thing
than the Americans, due to their experience in Northern Ireland.
A sudden victory is what coalition forces were planning for; I would
have hoped they'd have been better prepared to deal with it.
Just as clearly, another critique was mostly wrong -- the conflict
was not doomed to turn the cities into meat-grinder urban
battlefields, à la Stalingrad. The post-mortems on
that will be interesting reads.
Which leaves the questions that time has yet to settle.
First, there's the question of what sort of government will be set
up -- will it be Iraq for the Americans, or for the Iraqis? At his
press conference in Ireland, Dubya was emphatic that the Iraqis would
choose their own government, and the US wouldn't be putting anyone in
particular in power. And yet, we also have stories about Americans
awarding contracts to operate Iraqi infrastructure, Americans
designing a new currency, American congressmen debating their cell
phone standards, "Wolfowitz of Arabia" trying to get his favorite
people into their government, and an American satrap in waiting in
Kuwait, with experience as a defense contractor and ties to Israel.
Clearly, there needs to be some kind of a American administration
of the territory in the short run, because the American armed forces
are the only authority in most of the country. But if it looks like
we're trying to set up a colonial regime and stay a while, rather than
set the country back on its feet and get out, that will be trouble,
inside Iraq (with the Shia majority, whose leaders have already been
vocal on this point), and with the larger Arab world. This will have
to play out over months, though there will be some early soundings --
the cell phone bill is just a disgrace.
That, in turn, plays into the reaction from the Arabs and the
larger Muslim world. Already, Tom Ridge is talking about lowering
the terrorist alert level, as if the major terrorist organizations
were agents of Saddam, without command structures of their own.
Terrorist response will play out, not over months, but over years.
Bin Laden wanted this war badly -- not as a trigger for
operations, but as a recruiting tool. Recruits need to be trained.
They need to be organized. They need to be infiltrated into their
target communities. All that takes time -- after which, they will
act. The terrorist response to Gulf War I came after -- years after.
Of course, it makes a difference what we do, or don't do, in the
meantime, to keep them motivated -- events in Iraq and elsewhere in
the middle east will be critical here.
And one last note, on the criticism of the war plan. In the end,
it succeeded, and that will be taken by some as vindication. But it
was a closer-run thing than it needed to be. Consider, for instance,
the pause, about a week in, in the rush towards Baghdad. The third
division had to pause -- it was low on supplies, and its troops were
exhausted. If this war had been fought according to standard Army
doctrine, as I understand it, there would have been another force
coming up behind them, fresh, and ready to keep up the fight.
Instead, the American ground forces were just stuck in the desert, immobilized by
exhaustion, unable to take advantage of their own successes by
pressing the battle further to the enemy, or to vigorously defend their own
And in the end, none of this mattered, because their opposition was
literally the gang that couldn't shoot straight -- the headline on this reporter's
diary is "Thank God the Iraqis can't aim". Which, you'll recall,
is why the hawks wanted to go for Baghdad first, as opposed to, say,
North Korea -- they were perceived as a pushover.
And the last army that was defeated by Rumsfeldesque strategy was
the Taliban, an even worse trained force that we conquered, to a great
extent, by bribing
their army out from under them. (Or did we? They'rrre
If the neocons continue on their plan for conquest,
we won't always be so lucky in our choice of opponents... witness this
of an encounter with much better trained Egyptian and Syrian forces,
who suckered Marines into a costly ambush, and fought to the death.
In short, Barry McCaffery still looks to me like a more informed,
more cogent and incisive commentator on this battle plan than Steven
But, like most war opponents, I wasn't opposed because I feared
defeat, but because I feared the price of victory -- the literal price
in terms of the cost of rebuilding, and the diplomatic cost in
friction regarding other problems in the world, expected an
unexpected, some more urgent than Iraq. Time will tell.
Late addition: Oh yes, one more thing. I almost forgot. Weapons of mass destruction. The failure of Saddam's regime to use whatever it had in its own defense, even in extremis, has got to count against American claims that they were anything like an imminent threat. And I doubt anyone will shed terribly many tears for Saddam's regime in any event. But if we can't build a credible case, even with full control of the country, that will be an embarassment at the very least...
Yet more: For a more sanguine, and perhaps less sanguinary, whack at a post-mortem on the military strategy, from a retired professional military officer to boot, see Bruce Rolston's (except his permalinks are busted as I write, so go here and scroll down). He winds up praising the plan a lot more than I do, but also regards the Americans as being fortunate in their choice of their opponent. As does John Keegan, who, drawing on his vast, magisterial knowledge of military history, gives Saddam's war plan a kind of military Golden Turkey award as "one of the most inept ever designed"...