Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
May 8, 2006
WAR: The View From The Other Side
It takes two sides to have a war; unfortunately, once started, it takes two sides to stop one. The Bush Administration and our military planners have been criticized, and not always unfairly, for planning the Iraq War and justifying it to the public without consideration of the enemy's strategies, in particular Saddam's careful pre-war preparations for a guerilla insurgency to be led by Ba'athists and by foreign Al Qaeda fighters under Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. As streiff notes, even when proper care is taken to anticipate such moves, the American press and public tend to be unforgiving of the impossibility of projecting how things will develop when the enemy puts its own plans into action:
[W]e demand that our wars, like our commercial projects, arrive on time, under budget, and meeting specs. We ignore the advice proffered by von Moltke, "No battle plan survives contact with the enemy" or as rendered into American English by Gen. Tommy Franks, "The enemy gets a vote."
All of which is to say, in assessing both our progress in this war and how close we are to accomplishing our objectives, we need to step back sometimes and see how things look from the other side. As it happens, CENTCOM released today English translations of documents captured from Zarqawi's Al Qaeda-in-Iraq ("AQIZ") that were captured in an April 16 raid. Coming on the heels of Gen. Barry McCaffery's assessment (see here and here) of the war from the US perspective, it's interesting to see almost a complete mirror image of the strengths and weaknesses of the other side and the lessons we can draw therefrom in determining how to sufficiently demoralize the enemy to bring about a decision by the other side to throw in the towel and move its resources elsewhere:
Most of the mujahidin power lies in surprise attacks (hit and run) or setting up explosive charges and booby traps. This is a different matter than a battle with organized forces that possess machinery and suitable communications networks. Thus, what is fixed in the minds of the Shiite and Sunni population is that the Shiites are stronger in Baghdad and closer to controlling it while the mujahidin (who represent the backbone of the Sunni people) are not considered more than a daily annoyance to the Shiite government. The only power the mujahidin have is what they have already demonstrated in hunting down drifted patrols and taking sniper shots at those patrol members who stray far from their patrols, or planting booby traps among the citizens and hiding among them in the hope that the explosions will injure an American or members of the government. In other words, these activities could be understood as hitting the scared and the hiding ones, which is an image that requires a concerted effort to change, as well as Allah's wisdom.
In other words, AQIZ looks weak and knows it. But is there a war plan in place to change this?
There is a clear absence of organization among the groups of the brothers in Baghdad, whether at the leadership level in Baghdad, the brigade leaders, or their groups therein. Coordination among them is very difficult, which appears clearly when the group undertake a join operations.
So, if their capabilities are limited and their organization is dysfunctional, what do they have going for them?
The policy followed by the brothers in Baghdad is a media oriented policy without a clear comprehensive plan to capture an area or an enemy center. Other word, the significance of the strategy of their work is to show in the media that the American and the government do not control the situation and there is resistance against them. This policy dragged us to the type of operations that are attracted to the media, and we go to the streets from time to time for more possible noisy operations which follow the same direction.
This is such an obvious point that it's amazing it needs to be repeated: the United States can only be defeated by bad press. Which is, I should add, why I loved the recent effort to mock Zarqawi for fumbling with a machine gun - not every tactic used in domestic electoral politics can be seamlessly transferred to the theater of war, but the Zarqawi video was exactly the sort of tactic Karl Rove used to great effect against Al Gore and John Kerry, mocking them as poseurs for, among other things, their hunting photo-ops. So what does the enemy think of our strategy?
At the same time, the Americans and the [Iraqi] Government were able to absorb our painful blows, sustain them, compensate their losses with new replacements, and follow strategic plans which allowed them in the past few years to take control of Baghdad as well as other areas one after the other. That is why every year is worse than the previous year as far as the Mujahidin's control and influence over Baghdad.
In May 2003, we had won - but the enemy hadn't lost, and so the war continued. Today, maybe it's hard to see victory - but if the other side sees defeat, then defeated it will be.