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Since Vice President Dick Cheney said he saw the war in terms of “weeks rather than months,” I wish I could report that Tommy Franks’ grunts were beating Desert Storm’s 100-hour-war record set by Stormin’ Norman’s studs. But because Saddam got the message in 1991 that his army couldn’t stand toe-to-toe with our military machine and walk away the winner, that’s sadly not the case.
Instead, Saddam’s sadists took a page from the post-World War I German Command, which came up with a smart new way of doing war business after waving the white flag and subsequently blitzkrieged its way across Europe in just over a year.
The vanquished tend to question why they lost and adjust their battle tactics and gear accordingly. The victors seldom bother to mess with success. Which is probably why, given Desert Storm’s easy score, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld felt comfortable going back to the Gulf with four combat divisions – even though the president authorized eight. Especially when air power’s “shock and awe” promised a quicker, cheaper win.
Now we’re stuck in the Iraqi quicksand in a soon-to-be burning desert with guerrillas tearing up our rear, doing unto our troops whatever unconventional fighters did to the French at Moscow, the Germans at Stalingrad, the Americans in Vietnam and Somalia, the Soviets in Afghanistan and the Russians in Chechnya.
While Saddam was watching “Apocalypse Now” and “Black Hawk Down” and taking notes, Donald Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard Myers – badly misjudging Iraq’s determination – chose to re-fight Desert Storm.
The Dream Team made three classic mistakes:
- Not understanding the enemy or the nature of the war.
- Thinking smart bombs would do the job.
- Underestimating the patriotism of the average Saddam-hating Iraqi and how fiercely he’d fight for his country.
Sources who participated in the year-long war games prepping for Operation Iraqi Freedom say prescient junior officers – pointing out that Saddam was publicly ordering his people to prepare to fight unconventionally – pushed strongly for scenarios to include: insurgent strikes to soft rear areas with missiles; hit-and-run guerillas cutting our supply lines; and other suicide assaults such as car bombs.
But the brass blew off their paramilitary prophecy as radical thinking. Majors don’t win verbal wars with generals – particularly slick political types under the thumb of an overpowering SecDef who seems to have bet a lot of lives on technology.
A concerned retired general says: “I think the combination of Rumsfeld and the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, an Air Force man, is a dangerous mix. I’m sure Myers is a superb combat pilot, but that doesn’t qualify him for influencing a ground campaign. And there’s never been a war won by air alone. Sure, it sets the conditions for final victory, but until you get the troops on the ground to do the dirty, dangerous work, you can never achieve victory. The final truth is that our soldiers and Marines and airmen always have to take our plans and make them work.”
During the Vietnam War, our leadership managed to violate all nine Principles of War. In Iraq, as in Vietnam, we have control of the air but don’t have Initiative on the ground, Mass, Surprise, etc. And most of the top brass support Rumsfeld’s scary impersonation of former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara by agreeing that victory is just around the next guerrilla-ambush corner.
Talk about denial. Last week, Operations Chief Maj. Gen. Victor Renuart, holding court at Central Command’s prime-time version of the Spinners Club, said a car-bomb attack that killed four soldiers came from “an organization that’s getting desperate” and not playing by the rules. Big surprise!
George W. Bush needs to immediately reassess his war plan, bring in more combat troops, heed the advice of his fighting generals on the ground rather than his team of mainly chicken-hawk advisers and immediately readjust his tactics. He needs to get real and apply the lessons learned from the Russians in Chechnya and the Israelis in Lebanon – and to understand what went wrong in Vietnam.
Hopefully then, he won’t make the mistake of another Texas president who didn’t sack his SecDef and Joint Chiefs chairman straight away for their screw-ups. An error so egregious it cost our country almost 60,000 American lives and LBJ his presidency.