Friday, March 28, 2003

A few days ago, I linked to a piece by Barney Gumble, his "Vietnam War II preflight checklist". With some trepidation, though, because for all the parallels he lists, there is at least one signal logistical difference between our current conflict and Vietnam -- I figured that no one was going to be resupplying Saddam, so worse come to worst, American forces would be able to just grind him down. Which is why I've been ever so slightly worried about Saddam's neighbors getting involved -- as they well might, since, per Josh Marshall's account of the neocon hawks' strategy, they're the dominos that are supposed to be toppled next after Iraq.

Well, surprise, surprise. Rumsfeld himself says they're getting involved.

One more thing. An interesting number of Iraqi dogs have not yet barked. While there has been fighting at the river crossings, Saddam has not actually blown any of the bridges, nor the dams. Bruce Rolston notes that Iraq's new T-72 tanks are suspiciously absent from reports from the front, which feature only the 40-year-old T-55s. And then there's the question of the Iraqi air force -- which was flying outside the no-fly zones before the war, and doesn't seem to have done much since.

And, well, maybe American and British special forces and air power have taken care of all those threats. I hope so; because if not, then he's holding that all in reserve, for something that no one commenting to the American press seems to expect...

So, the latest on our tough-talking Ambassador to Canada, who recently called for, among other things, the silencing of members of the Canadian government that he viewed as "anti-American", is that Canadian MPs are calling for him to be censured or expelled. And he wasn't just shooting his mouth off, either; the message came straight from the White House.

We're setting a new standard for diplomatic lameness here: we can't handle Canada.

Well, at this point, even some of the generals are admitting that they blew it in planning this one:

The removal of the Iraqi government is likely to take longer than originally thought, Lt. Gen. William Wallace, the commander of the Army forces in the Persian Gulf, said today.

"The enemy we're fighting is a bit different than the one we war-gamed against, because of these paramilitary forces," General Wallace said. "We knew they were here, but we did not know how they would fight."

And Michael Gordon's anonymous sources at the Pentagon go further:

The Pentagon understood from the start that Mr. Hussein's forces would opt for an "urban-centric" defense. What the Pentagon did not understand was that the Iraqis planned to expand that strategy to include Nasiriya, Najaf, Samawa and other towns in southern Iraq.

The result was that after the American military raced north toward Baghdad, it discovered that it had a difficult and unexpected threat in its rear areas.

Of course, there were other generals, who had a rather different view, at least as early as last October, when Robert Novak wrote that

Hawkish civilians, in and out of the government, have been suggesting that Saddam Hussein's elite Republican Guard will throw up its arms in surrender. No serious person believes that. The question is whether an uprising of the persecuted Shia majority will be enough to overthrow the Baghdad regime without heavy application of U.S. force. If there is no effective revolt, the generals and their friends on Capitol Hill worry that the unknown plans may not call for sufficient U.S. forces.

So current circumstances were entirely foreseeable, and, in fact, foreseen. Rumsfeld just didn't want to hear about it. (As, in fact, are certain nasty future scenarios. Diana Moon thinks that a last-ditch streetfight through Baghdad is a "nightmare scenario"; in fact, it's the best reasonable case that I can see for the US, as Saddam's government has made it plain that they're not going down without that kind of a fight, and the population in Baghdad generally is far friendlier to his regime than the folks in, say, Basra. The question, at this point, is whether he somehow manages to drag us into something worse -- by dragging in some of his neighbors, for instance, or precipitating some kind of blowup with the Turks in the north).

This is bound to have some effect on the conservablogger cult of Dubya the deep strategist. But I'm sure they'll find an explanation. Even the Guardian is wondering... could the Dubya we've been looking at the last few months be one of his infamous body doubles?

Update: Michael O'Hanlon thinks the US has some tricks up its sleeve for making urban combat a bit less of a nightmare. Let's hope they work better than "shock and awe"... (via Matthew Yglesias)

And more: in the WaPo, the CIA says its analysts "thought there was a good chance we would be forced to fight our way through everything". The same article has a bizarre quote attributed to a "senior intelligence official", that the Fedayeen could take on more importance "if the media turns them into the equivalent of the black pajama Vietcong". As if, were the media not reporting that the Fedayeen were a hindrance, it would not be so...

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...

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Have you gotten the feeling, listening to the nearly ritual assurances from everyone from Dubya on down that "things are right on schedule, according to plan", that they doth protest too much? (Particularly since their plans for the north had such a public change). Well, consider this, from the Washington Post:

... the 3rd Division this week was alarmingly low on water and was also in danger of running short of food, the sources said. Heroic efforts have been made by truck companies and other logisticians, but a certain amount of chaos has developed, exacerbated by sniping and immense traffic backlogs from the Kuwaiti border. That traffic jam also has undermined Bush administration plans to quickly follow the U.S. military advance with tons of food and other humanitarian relief to win support among Iraqis. "There's tremendous fog out there," an officer said, referring to the confusion of wartime operations, with logistical commanders struggling to figure out where various supply items are in a system that at times resembles "just a bunch of guys out there driving around."

Things are messy enough that "senior defense officials" cited in the article (unnamed, as per usual for this administration) are now talking about a campaign lasting months.

And that could start to get a little inconvenient, what with all the other little problems cropping up around the world. Like North Korea, for instance, which is now variously threatening to launch new ballistic missiles, and "take a new important measure as regards the armistice agreement". (None of which keeps Dubya's ever-hopeful State Department from detecting "signs of softening" in the North's position). Or India and Pakistan, which have traded missile tests over the past few days, amid generally rising tensions. Or, if you take a slightly longer view, China, whose leadership is now openly talking about preparing for direct conflict with the US in the not too distant future -- a change in policy responding directly to Dubya's belligerence.

But we might not be worried so much about any of that with the problems that a few months' delay might cause closer in. For starters, it would likely make the game that at least two of Iraq's neighbors (Jordan and the Saudis) are playing -- quietly aid the US and hope the population doesn't notice -- unsustainable. Indeed, it's conceivable that past a certain point, some of Iraq's neighbors might stick an oar in themselves -- particularly the Iranians, who already have ties to the Shiite population which has conspicuously failed to welcome the US with open arms.

So, for all sorts of reasons, it's best for the conflict to end quickly. And I don't exclude the possibility that it might -- for instance, by sudden action from some force which public comments to date haven't even hinted at. Which is, in fact, how they got a quick end to the last Gulf War -- but in this case, it's not nearly as clear how that force would have entered the country. And which would make the whole WaPo piece I started out with is disinformation from start to finish -- as it might well be.

But the Third Infantry Division's mad dash north would strain supply lines under the best of circumstances, and the dust storms we've seen are hardly the best of circumstances. Which suggests that there may be a bit of truth to it -- in which case, if CentCom can't pull a division or two out of a hat in the next few days, we may have some awfully hard slogging coming up after that...

If there was any doubt, we are definitely into the "fog of war". Witness, for instance, the reports of current actions in Basra. Last I heard (via NPR, about two hours ago), the official British reports were that they had seen mortars firing from positions in Basra into other positions in Basra, which they were guessing might be intended to suppress an internal revolt (if, that is, someone hadn't just screwed up with the map). From this, I have seen towers of speculation -- that there really is an internal rebellion, that the "internal rebellion" consists of "coalition" special forces, or by Shiites trained by the Americans or Brits, or that it's happening with logistical support from the Iranians -- or alternatively, for people with bitter enough memories of the Northern Ireland conflict, that the Brits just wanted to fire on the city, and made up an excuse. At best, we won't know for days; at worst, maybe never.

So, you just have to look at peoples' records, their sources, their sources' records, at how plausible it is that their sources are what they claim they are, and decide what, if anything, you want to believe. Assuming that you don't just curl up into a ball for a few days, and ignore the war completely, which may be the more rational course of action.

An example: There's a site I have seen cited with interest on several comment boards --, some of whose reports are available in English, e.g., here; they claim to be based on both a distillation of open source intelligence (i.e., journalistic and other reports), and selective leaks from Russian intelligence. Or not so selective -- many reports are attributed to communications intercepts from American and British units in the field, and the report I linked to actually goes further, claiming to summarize meetings at the Pentagon, and even an "online meeting" including, among others, Rumsfeld and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Worrisome as it is to suppose that Russian intelligence could actually listen in on that sort of "online meeting", whatever that means, it is difficult to believe that anyone in Russia who had possession of those sorts of intercepts would allow them to be posted on a public web site -- translated back into English, no less.

Or at least, you have to hope. Because if those intercepts are even close to accurate, we are in deep, deep trouble.

More on Republican commitment to open discourse and democratic values:

The U.S. ambassador to Canada took the unusual step on Tuesday of openly criticizing Ottawa for not backing the war on Iraq and urged Prime Minister Jean Chretien to muzzle anti-U.S. sentiment in his government. ...

Several members of Chretien's ruling Liberal Party have uttered anti-American comments and Cellucci said he was upset that no one had reprimanded Natural Resources Minister Herb Dhaliwal for a "totally inappropriate" comment last week that President Bush had failed as a statesman.

Celluci, known to Massachusetts residents as the former governor who flew the coop for the Canada, leaving the state's finances in a mess (in other words, in all respects a typical Republican governor), also implicitly threated trade retaliation for Canada's lack of support, telling reporters that "security will trump trade, there is no doubt about that".

Do these guys know how to deal in anything other than threats?

Monday, March 24, 2003

I'm trying not to be a warblogger, really, but like a lot of folks, I guess I'm just a bit preoccupied at the moment. So, here are a few war-related items which are worthwhile, but a perhaps bit off the beaten path:
  • The Daily Kos, posting before the war, about our supply line problem, and some hair-raising technical discussion of the same attributed to an anonymous American tank officer.

  • The ugly reaction on the "Arab Street" to even the current antiseptic campaign, which would surely get worse in an atmosphere of sustained streetfights, or even the health emergency that's coming if the citizens of Basra don't get their water back. (It's been cut off for nearly three days now, though the Red Cross has jury-rigged a system that's providing limited water to some of the residents).

    Already the American embassy in Pakistan has had to close up, though it's reopening Tuesday.

  • North Korea cancelling talks with the South, explicitly citing the Iraq crisis as part of the reason. And you thought Dubya wasn't trying to do anything at all to change that ugly situation.

  • And lastly, after all those overheated diatribes about the use that Saddam Hussein's forces might make of weapons of mass destruction, the Pentagon is now complaining bitterly about the use of white flags as ruses in combat -- calling it "among the most serious violations of the laws of war". Legalities aside, I don't think that's going to go down too well between interviews with wounded civilians on al-Jazeera.

One more thing -- a few days ago, some overrated warblogger described an Iraqi kid eating a chocolate bar as "the 'peace' movement's worst nightmare". Well, speaking as an anti-war blogger, my worst nightmare right now runs toward a humanitarian crisis in the South, followed by a "humanitarian" intervention by the Iranians, who have already got armed proxies in country in the north of Iraq, and who may already be taking potshots at coalition forces that stray too close to their border.

Not that I think that that's likely -- the most likely outcome is a nasty set of streetfights, probably dragging on for weeks, and gradually transitioning into a hell of a pacification job (so long, that is, as the American forces manage to keep their supply lines in order). Which would be plenty bad enough.

That's war, the war party says now. But as Mahabarbara reminds us (no permalinks or I'd link to her piece), some of them were saying before the war that it would be a cakewalk.

Sunday, March 23, 2003

So, I'm getting a little confused about this "shock and awe" thing. The original buildup involved comparisons to Hiroshima -- the original idea was to try to stun the enemy into surrender the way that the nuclear bomb did, or maybe it was the German blitzkrieg.

But the campaign as it unfolded seems to have been accurately described by "buffpilot", a poster who announced himself as a B-52 pilot in the comments to this post on the Daily Kos (and endured a bit of ribbing until people finally figured out that the handle was a reference to his aircraft -- "Big, Ugly, Fat..." -- and not his physique):

This was precision bombing (I know your laughing but give me a minute). The western part of Baghdad is the military complex and bases. Also some key government buildings. The multiple blasts were either secondaries (like ammo dumps/fuel storage going up) or multiple strikes on bunkers to literally dig them out. The S & A is that we could do this all over the country all at the same time. I hope they can control the fires before they spread to civilian areas. (Note the lights are still on and the fire response should be unhindered except in military areas)

So, the Iraqis are supposed to be shocked and awed thing that we flicked the firing switches on a few hundred missiles that they knew we were going to send to a few hundred predictable targets all at once?

What was shocking and awesome about blitzkrieg was that it overwhelmed enemies that weren't expecting it, leaving them without support, in an army that was disintegrating, before they even knew what was happening. Hiroshima shocked and awed by showing the Japanese leadership the realistic prospect that Japan might be completely annihilated. And this. We hit a bunch of predictable targets, that were probably empty already, and figured that doing it all at once, with the most expensive fireworks show in the history of the planet... well, it was spectacular, to be sure, but once the dust settled, you can almost imagine the Iraqi leadership wondering at the end, "So, was that it?"

At any rate, they don't seem to be shocked and they certainly aren't awed, at least not by anything they've seen yet.

And by the way, for those who believe that the rigidity of the Iraqi troops, and their slavish devotion to the command chain, are a major weakness of their army -- please consider that elements of the Iraqi 51st division are apparently continuing to fight around Basra after their commanding officers surrendered. [Update: according to this post from The Agonist, the commander hasn't surrendered either, despite reports that he had in the mainstream press. I'm trying to figure out how they could have blown it on something like that.]

(But let's not pretend Dubya's crew accomplished nothing with their fireworks show, on which they spent over $100 million in cruise missiles alone. However few civilian casualties there are -- and there are certainly civilian casualties; the smartest bombs set dumb fires which are spread by dumb winds all over the neighborhood -- he has given Osama bin Laden, and his heirs and followers, recruiting film which they'll be using for the next fifty years).

I just did something I'm trying to avoid, by the way; I cited a news story about the comings and goings of the armies. At best, that reportage is highly unreliable; with each side doing its damnedest to deceive the other about what's going on, most of that is likely to be seriously misleading -- as in the first Gulf War, where there was what appeared to be thorough reporting from the Western press, which gave barely a hint of the large force to the east which ultimately showed up as Schwarzkopf's "hook maneuver". How bad could it be this time? Well, how much have you heard about the American force coming in from Jordan?

"Shock and Awe" isn't the only thing not going according to plan; Digby finds reports from ABC news (via Tacitus) and elsewhere that someone seems to have forgotten to convince the Iraqis we're liberating in the South -- Shias, by the way, who were among the groups Saddam's regime was particularly hard on -- that we're actually the good guys.

This could get ugly...

From the police blotter of the Back Bay Courant, a neighborhood gazette serving Boston's elite, I give you:
Newbury Street Crime --

On Sunday, February 23 at 6 am District Four officers responded to 360 Newbury Street, Eclectic Decor, for a report of a breaking and entering. Upon arrival the officers spoke with a store employee who said that he found the store's rear door open. A box of silverware was in the hallway near the door, and the cash register drawer was open and empty.

Now there are some decorators who prefer the minimalist look. However, even my feng shui advisor wouldn't have to think twice when it comes to the calming, serene effects of a well-balanced cash register. A search of the area was fruitless, but the boys in blue will be doing their best to restore a sense of harmony to the area.

Also featured, an aspiring oenophile who sought to economize at a Tremont Street wine shop by absconding with a couple of bottles of Moët somehow stuffed into his sweatpants.

But the streets of Boston are not entirely given over to anarchy. I am pleased to report that the French Cleaners on Tremont Street, near the Cyclorama, is so far unmolested...

Scene: Copley Square, Boston, last Saturday afternoon.

Point: A few hundred demonstrators, of various ages and descriptions (one carrying a sign proclaiming her a "grandmother against the war"), chanting such slogans as "Money for jobs and education, not for war and occupation", and "Support our troops, bring them home".

Counterpoint: About a half dozen teenage kids, most waving American flags, one carrying a sign advertising These guys had only one chant that I heard: "Traitors!".

It's good to see that in troubled times, the freepers still have their minds on what matters: not attacking Saddam, but attacking their fellow Americans.