Monday, December 01, 2003

Smoke and Mirrors Versus Gunsmoke Part 2

It is sometimes instructive to compare a real genius to an amateur in order to illustrate a point. In Smoke and Mirrors Versus Gunsmoke, the Belmont Club asserted that Saddam Hussein, or whoever is running the Ba'athist show in Iraq, was no sort of strategist. In order to see this clearly, consider Vo Nguyen Giap and his two most famous battles, the destruction of Groupement Mobile 100 and the siege of Dien Bien Phu. Readers may wish to read Street without Joy and Hell in a Very Small Place for further reference.

Giap's destruction of an entire French armored cavalry regiment, the Groupment Mobile 100 was the culmination of a carefully thought out strategy. Long before attempting Groupment Mobile 100, or even knowing he was going to attack something like it, Giap prepared the ground. He first won the "Battle of the Borders" in which he forced the French to withdraw their outposts on the Vietnam-Red China frontier. This was actually the decisive battle of the Indochinese war. With this, Giap opened a secure supply line to China, which served as an arsenal and sanctuary in which he could raise his divisions and regiments at leisure. From this point on, really, the French had lost the war. With the basic preparation in hand, he set up the tactical situation by attacking a series of French-controlled towns in the highlands which forced the French to send the Groupment Mobile 100 to escort the civilians, with bag and baggage, to a more secure location. It was this overburdened and straggling column which he attacked and completely destroyed. Nothing Giap did was disconnected. He was an artist.

Nowhere was this clearer than his textbook siege of Dien Bien Phu. It started innocently enough with Giap threatening French positions in Laos and Cambodia. The French responded by putting a force astride Giap's line of attack, airdropping 10 battalions of paratroopers into Dien Bien Phu. Giap did nothing but secretly haul over a hundred artillery pieces into the vicinity of the fortress, ensuring all the while not to unduly alarm the French, who never once wondered how they would support 10 battalions from a single dirt airstrip if land access were cut. They simply did not think about it. When all was ready, Giap cut the roads and shut the airfield with artillery. He then pounded the isolated French garrison to pieces by fire and annihilated the flower of their army. Each step was enabled by the previous; ever higher until Giap reached his pinnacle. He fought war in the Western way. Rationally. The French, for their part, fought on airy concepts of elan, on junk military science. In strategic concept, logistics and operational execution, the French were outgeneralled by Vo Nguyen Giap. It was a strange reversal of roles. The Asian fighting like a European and the French fighting like Easterners.

In contrast to Giap, Saddam's Ba'athist strategy could have come straight from the pages of the Republic Serials. Episode to episode with nothing leading to anything else. His donkey rockets, so beloved by the Western press, did not help his fancy uniformed feyadeen in the slightest when it attempted to ambush the 4th ID. His earlier campaigns against Iraqi infrastructure in their turn had no connection with the donkey rockets. His attacks on Iraqi policemen did not materially assist his campaign to shoot down American helicopters. And his campaign against the helicopters no connection with the attacks on the police. You can almost imagine the stupid working of his mind: 'after I kill the Spaniards and the Japanese and the Koreans, I will crown it all by destroying two 4th ID columns like Groupment Mobile 100'. But no military thread ran through them; simply a media thread. Giap knew that strategy has meaning only if it is cumulative. He would have asked, 'how will killing Spaniards help me destroy a 4th ID column?' without which he would have left the Spaniards alone. But then Giap was a genius, whereas Saddam is ... well, his donkey rockets impress the media.