Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
March 24, 2003
WAR: Where We Are Today
I have only limited patience with punditry at present; it is plenty hard enough just to find out what is happening out there, let alone figure out what it all means. Like the song says, theyr'll be time enough for counting when the dealin's done. That said, here are a few of my very un-expert thoughts:
*Those of us who advocated this war argued that the great mass of the Iraqi people would welcome us and gladly throw off their chains, and that at least very large parts of the Iraqi military would not fight. Events so far have neither confirmed nor denied this conclusively -- certainly there have been many surrenders and there were warm welcomes in some of the liberated towns -- but we should not be surprised that there are some bitter-enders who fight on, and perhaps some pockets of the civilan population that resent our coming. In any totalitarian system, there are those who benefit from the regime's depradations, and who rightly fear the coming of the dawn. But the passage of time and opportunities for others to surrender should have a clarifying effect on our willingness to unleash immense violence on those who choose to fight on.
*I would very much not want to be in the shoes of those Iraqi armored columns that are rumored to be assembled to the southwest of Baghdad, unconcealed by mountainous terrain and unsheided by civilian populations. Barring a surrender, like Napoleon's vaunted and battle-hardened Old Guard at Waterloo, they are likely to be shredded by artillery nearly to the last man. I wonder if they are essentially sitting-duck decoys designed to maneuver the Allied forces into fixed coordinates so as to prepare for a chemical or biological attack that will be unleashed on Allied and Iraqi positions alike.
*As far as war-fighting strategy, the world will very much be watching the approach to Baghdad; although American troops have proven highly effective in urban warfare (see Panama), nobody wants to have to resort to street fighting unless absolutely necessary, and Baghdad is a much larger city than Mogadishu or Panama City (I believe it is even larger than Stalingrad circa 1942-43).
*The apparent mistreatment of American POWs and the use of fake surrenders to ambush Allied troops only underscores the ridiculousness of the 'Saddam can be deterred' school of thought. Of course, a regime such as this will violate international norms -- even those, like conventions on the treatment of POWs and the traditional rules of surrender, that are norms defined more by self-interest than by morals or high ideals -- because it cares little for the consequences to its people. The Iraqi regime is willing to encourage such steps for two reasons:
1. It knows that the limits of U.S. reprisal are bounded by our own internal norms, regardless of how badly our enemies behave. We don't use chemical weapons on civilian populations and would not do so even if the same was done to our civilians. The same applies to maltreating POWs.
2. We should expect that it is a critical element of any strategy by the Iraqi regime to make it more difficult and dangerous for Iraqi soldiers to surrender peacefully. Mass surrenders are the worst that can happen to the regime if it wants to go down in a blaze of glory and discredit the invading forces.