Monday, December 01, 2003

Smoke and Mirrors Versus Gunsmoke

Those who may have suspected, now know Saddam Hussein's quality as a military strategist. The Ba'athist attack on Spanish intellgence officers, Japanese diplomats and Korean soldiers, now crowned by a catastrophic attempt to ambush 4th ID units in Samarra will be studied by historians long into the future. To fully understand these tactics, one must go back to the beginning of Saddam's campaign to drive out American troops. In those early days, six months ago, Iraqi infrastructure were the prime targets. Oil pipelines and electricity grids were attacked, leading the press to breathlessly proclaim that the reconstruction was going badly, even backward. But the campaign never achieved decisive results. Today, oil production exceeds two million barrels per day and even the press admits that electricity is increasingly available throughout the country. Plan A forgotten, it was on to plan B.

Then Saddam turned to murdering individual American soldiers, shooting soldiers as they bought soda pop or shopped in a Baghdad bazaar. The press darkly predicted that no American could walk the street. He put a bounty on American soldiers, causing the unemployed criminal element to attack US supply vehicles with RPGs and machineguns. But after sustaining heavy casualties, the Iraqi criminals began to demand increasingly higher sums to risk their lives. The Ba'athists began to use trained men to lay mines and improvised explosive devices. But despite some successes, the campaign never even came close to shutting down or even seriously inconveniencing American movement. That being a dead end, it was on to plan C.

This was a murder campaign calculated to intimidate Iraqis working or cooperating with the new government. A prominent Shi'ite cleric was blown up in Karbalah. A female member of the Iraqi governing council was ambushed and slain. Iraqi police academy graduates were attacked. Iraqi police stations were hit by car bombs. The press predicted once again that no Iraqi would "collaborate" with the Americans. Ted Rall wrote a paean to those who slew Iraqi "collaborators". Yet despite this, and suffering casualties all the while, the Ba'athists were wholly unable to stop the reestablishment of the Iraqi police and army, who now number in the tens of thousands, numbers which are growing literally by the minute. They could not prevent the new Iraqi government from being recognized internationally, nor even delay the scheduled transfer of sovereignty to any degree. Foiled yet again, it was on to plan D.

The next thing tried was standoff mortar fire. A number of mortar attacks were launched at US bases, the Green Zone; and some rockets were even fired from donkey carts at Baghdad's leading hotels. Although many Ba'athist died in the counterfire and the military effects of the standoff attacks were negligible, the press darkly muttered that the end was near. But Baghdad continued to bustle. So it was on to Plan E.

When the Ba'athists began to shoot down some American rotary wing aircraft, the Belmont Club at first feared that Saddam had found his strategic footing. At last, he was doing something militarily sensible. Not just a headline grabber, something that would enable other operations. He was going to deny the Americans the use of airspace below 2,000 feet. And that was going to open up a world of possibility. But Army aviation adapted. The Ba'athist counterair was attacked or evaded. The Americans tackled the problem. The Ba'athists moved on. The air corridors remained secure enough to allow President Bush to fly into the Saddam International Airport to serve turkey to troops -- over the supply lines that the press predicted would be interdicted, could they remember their own forebodings. And since the Ba'ath manifestly couldn't keep the US from delivering turkey and cranberry sauce to its troops, let alone ammunition and fuel, then it was clearly time to move to Plan F.

The last box to arrive from the Acme terrorist supply company was the "drive out the allies" kit. The United Nations building was blown up; British military policemen were lured to their deaths; Italian carabinieri were struck by a car bomb. Spanish intelligence officers were ambushed; Japanese diplomats were killed and South Koreans targeted. This is Plan G and the press believes it will succeed like all the others.

In each case, Saddam Hussein has invested time and resources to achieve an indecisive result. He has not materially affected the function of the targeted system in any single case, be it infrastructure, logistics, air transportation, or the organization of Iraqi government agencies. Every thing America has attempted has been sheeted home, despite the churnings of his genius campaign, though much admired by the press. The Saddamite insurgency bears all the hallmarks of his previous erratic campaigns, with their reliance on showy military effects to achieve a political result. To Saddam the battlefield is a theatrical prop to support a political gesture. (Remember Khafji? Remember the intentional oil spills?) But CENTCOM to the puzzlement of the media, fights to win. It has been boringly predictable. It captures enemy personnel, including key officers in the Ba'ath, seizes arms caches, intelligence documents by the truckload and ceaselessly sows informers among the enemy ranks. It has a touching belief in power of arithmetic, especially subtraction as applied to the numbers of foemen, coupled with a traditional attachment to the adage that it is better to do unto others before they do unto you.

Serious historians may recall the fate of combatants who gadfly over the battlefield without achieving serious or decisive results while being pummelled in their vitals by their enemy. It will be the fate of Saddam. The Belmont Club's fearless prediction. CENTCOM by a knockout.