March 30, 2003
By Raffique Shah
SO, the combined forces of two of the world's military superpowers have discovered, to their dismay and at the cost of many lives, that the road to Baghdad is no cake walk, that it's not, after all, lined with masses of jubilant, soon-to-be-liberated Iraqis. If anything, they face thorns in the form of an angry population and a resilient though under-equipped Iraqi military. Now, the coalition's ground forces must suffer some loss of confidence in their leaders who had virtually assured them that the Iraqi military would surrender en masse, and that they would be in and out of the desert in a few days.
Less than one week after George Bush launched his murderous campaign to remove Saddam Hussein from power and disarm Iraq, it became clear that US and UK strategists had grossly underestimated what lay before them. Their intelligence, too, for all its sophistication, has proved to be inaccurate. To compound the woes of the invading forces, with every passing day weather conditions in the theatre of war will grow increasingly worse. The prospect of a drawn-out war, in which casualties on both sides are likely to be heavy, looms large in the desert.
There is little doubt that the coalition forces will eventually overpower Iraqi resistance and seize control of the country, given their abundance of resources and munitions. Bush has asked Congress for US$75 billion only for conducting the war. This mind-boggling sum does not include pre-war costs like the production of "smart bombs" that they are raining on targets (more than US$1 million each). The Stealth and other aircraft cost hundreds of millions of dollars apiece.
Saddam would hardly have US$7 billion at his disposal; he has no air force of note, no helicopters, little armour, and when I look at the weapons carried by his troops I feel as though I am taken back into the trenches of World War II. So at the end of this phase of the conflict, once Bush and Blair persist, once they ignore the numerous calls for them to stop the war, the coalition forces will eventually prevail. But once more we come to the question, at what cost in material and in human lives, on both sides?
Because the conquest of Baghdad will in no way signal the end of the war, as I pointed out last week. That in itself will prove to be a protracted war, and I base this assumption on the fact that such superior forces have not been able to secure smaller cities like Nasiriyah, Basra and the port of Um Qsar. What follows the surrender of Iraq's military will not necessarily be peace. No doubt former US Chief of Staff, now Secretary of State, General Colin Powell, will have studied Carl von Clausewitz's classic, Vom Kriege (On War). Although it was written in the era of the Napoleonic wars, "On War" continues to be a basic manual for professional soldiers, especially commissioned officers. Clausewitz wrote in the treatise that was published in 1832, "War is an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfil our will." Which is exactly what Bush and Blair, neither of whom has had military training or experience, have expounded as their main reason for waging war against Saddam.
But Powell must have forgotten the chapter which deals with "Ends and Means in War". In it, Clausewitz wrote about having forced the enemy into submission, having destroyed its military power and conquered the country, what was likely to follow. "But even when these things are done, the hostile feeling and action of hostile agencies cannot be considered as at an end as long as the will of the enemy is not subdued also. War does not carry in itself the elements for a complete decision and final settlement. War is no act of blind passion, but is dominated by the political object; therefore the value of that object determines the measure of the sacrifices by which it is to be purchased."
In the instant case, most people are convinced that Iraq's presumed possession of weapons of mass destruction is not the political objective of the American president (and let's face it, Blair is a mere "patsy" in this war). The objective must be to secure, in its own national interest, Iraq's massive oil reserves. The other hidden objective would be to disarm the only Arab country with the military capability to wage war against America's client state, Israel. But given that the coalition forces are bogged down on the road to Baghdad, this war could extend well beyond the initial estimate of "a few days" into weeks, probably months. In which case the coalition forces could suffer more casualties from hostile weather conditions than from the Iraqi military.
Worse for Bush, he is stirring up hostile anti-American sentiment in the wider Arab community and in an ever-expanding Islamic world. The prospect of having destroyed the Iraqi military and conquered the country (hence securing its oil reserves), but also having incurred the wrath of more than one billion Muslims, must be of concern not only to Bush, but to Americans in general. True, given the stagnation of the US economy, the spoils of war and contracts already awarded to US companies to "rebuild Iraq" may be the stimulants he needs to move from economic decline to growth. But he may well discover that the price of peace, of "the national interest", is infinitely more costly both in American lives and the vulnerability of its strategic economic interests flung across the world.
For those of us who watched America get embroiled in the quagmire that was Vietnam, it's like déjà vu. As one who was schooled in military strategy and tactics, I choose to close with these telling comments by that other respected military mind of more recent vintage, Captain Basil Liddell-Hart, a Briton who was dubbed "the captain who teaches generals". In his treatise "On Strategy", he wrote: "The atomic bomb in 1945 looked to responsible statesmen of the West an easy and simple way of assuring a swift and complete victory -and subsequent world peace. They did not look beyond the immediate strategic aim of winning the war and were content to assume that military victory would assure peace-an assumption that is contrary to the general experience of history."
Maybe Powell would want to spend some time re-reading these theoreticians of war, hence give better advice to his political bosses who seem to be consumed by the feeling that military prowess is all it takes to rule the world. Might is never right: not then, not now, and not in the future.