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« But They Won't Be For Much Longer | Main | Congruent Goals »

Wishful Thinking

There were two absurd analogies today by those who think we're making a tactical, if not strategic blunder in taking on Iraq. Both of them involve invasions of Russia.

First, in the LA Times, Margaret Atwood says that for us to remove Saddam is equivalent to Napoleon's invasion of Russia.

Napoleon's second big mistake was invading Russia. There's no one clear explanation for this. He didn't need to do it. Russia wasn't attacking him, though it had in the past and might in the future. Maybe he just wanted to add it to his set. In any case, he invaded. When his horse stumbled as he crossed the Dnieper -- a bad omen -- a voice said from the shadows: "A Roman would have turned back."

Warfare at that time meant forcing your opponent to stand and fight, resulting in victory on one side or the other. But the Russians merely retreated, burning crops as they went and leading Napoleon deeper and deeper into the same huge Russian landmass and awful Russian weather that also defeated Hitler.

When Napoleon reached Moscow, he thought maybe he'd "won," but the Russians burned Moscow and retreated again. Napoleon hung around the cinders, expecting the czar to sue for peace, but no message arrived. Thus the retreat, the "1812 Overture" and the decimation of the Grand Army. As others have learned since, it's very hard to defeat an enemy who never turns up.

Where does she think that the Iraqi army is going to retreat to, where it will be beyond the reach of modern spy satellites and precision-guided munitions? Does she think that we will be defeated by the "brutal Iraqi summer" as Napoleon was by the Russian winter, for which he was utterly unprepared and overextended?

It's a laughable analogy.

Even more amusingly, in the midst of her own absurd analogy, she criticizes that of those promoting the liberation of Iraq:

The occupation of Japan after the Second World War has been proposed as a model for Iraq. It's not a helpful comparison.

First, the religious fervor of the Japanese soldier was attached to the emperor, who thus had the power to order a surrender. Iraq will have no such single authority. Second, Japan is an island: No Russian-style, Afghan-style retreat was possible. Third, the Japanese had no neighbors who shared their religious views and might aid them. They had only two choices: death or democracy.

Iraq on the other hand has many coreligionist neighbors who will sympathize with it, however repugnant they've previously found Hussein. A foreign occupation -- not immediately, but in the long run -- is less likely to resemble MacArthur in Japan than Napoleon in Spain.

What neighboring nations share Ba'athist religious views? I ask again, does she think they'll take harbor in Iran, a Shi'ite state that was invaded by Iraq only a decade and a half ago, or secular and modernizing Turkey, or Kuwait, who tasted Saddam's forced brutality a dozen years ago, or the Wahhabist Saudis? Only one nation shares Saddam's Nazi-like ideology--Syria. Will they be willing to bring on the wrath of the US by sheltering him and his minions from justice?

She's living in the wrong century.

The other foolish analogy can be found in this inadvertently hilarious piece in the Independent, in which they compare a siege of Baghdad to Stalingrad.

This too is absurd.

Both analogies fall down on several levels. First, Iraq in summer is not Russia in winter. Second, both the French and the Germans vastly overextended themselves, and ran short of provisions, with no ability to withdraw. Does anyone seriously believe that this will happen to a modern American army, whose foremost (among many) formidable features is logistics?

Even more importantly (not to imply that the aforementioned is not important), both Napoleon and Hitler were dictators, and the Russians in both cases were defending their national sovereignty. In fact, had the SS managed to be just a little less brutal and cruel, the Russians, or at least the Ukrainians, might have welcomed them with open arms, given the fact that they were ruled at the time by the butcher Josef Stalin. But they couldn't even manage to be less vicious than Stalin, which is saying something.

The Iraqi people are under the grinding bootheel of a dictator of their own, and they have plenty of word-of-mouth experience of how surrendering soldiers were treated by Americans the last time around. They are waiting to be liberated. Sadly, they have waited too long, partly because of nonsense like that written, and eagerly published in places like the LA Times.

Posted by Rand Simberg at March 16, 2003 09:02 PM
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Some other problems with the Stalingrad analogy:

1) Stalingrad was 'on the border', i.e. the Soviets controlled the other side of the Volga. Hence it was possible to feed in reinforcements, and establish artillery camps on the 'safe' side of the river. These sanctuaries bedevilled the Germans throughout the campaign

2) The locals were overwhelmingly sympathetic to the Red Army, and provided huge amounts of tactical intelligence. While reasonable people can differ on the mood of the Iraqis vis a vis our intervention, certainly we aren't going to see the same sort of support for Saddam and his thugs.

3) Stalingrad wasn't that big (physically) a city, Bagdhad is HUGE (far larger than even LA), and not as heavily built up. This means that the density of troops for the defenders is likely to be very low (roughly 45-50,000 troops at the absolute maximum, even if nobody defects, for a city 3-4 times the size of Stalingrad, which contained easily twice that number of Soviet troops)

4) Airpower was devastating in the early phase of Stalingrad, but the weather and supply situation turned against the Germans very quickly, and the air support fell off rapidly. This is extremely unlikely in Iraq, where (as you correctly pointed out) the logistics situation is overwhelmingly favorable to the Americans.

I could go on, but what is the point, yes?...

Posted by f1b0nacc1 at March 16, 2003 10:50 PM

That's assuming that we even actually go _into_ Baghdad at all. I gather that the objective of "shock'n'awe" is to completely shatter Iraqi command and control, and pulverize any Iraqi troop formations likely to resist - which means that troopers in any identifiable Iraqi positions in and around Baghdad had better make out their wills - while the Anglo-American forces roll through, around and over the rest of Iraq. It's not clear to me at this point that any kind of massive urban combat will even actually be required if the opening phase comes off as hoped.

Posted by Joe at March 17, 2003 02:31 AM

Saddam will stay in Baghdad. If we wants him, we goes in and gets him.

After Shock & Awe, though, we may have most of the surviving Iraqi army helping us.

Posted by Kevin McGehee at March 17, 2003 07:55 AM

Saddam has been pulling his most reliable troops (the Republican Guard and the so-called 'Special Republican Guard', as well as the 5,000 or so odds and sods that comprise his bully-boys) into Bagdhad proper, and while I suspect that there will be some defections in that group, some will stand and fight as well. The Iraqi army itself will probably be no more than 'speed bumps' on the way to the siege of the city, my best guess is that we are talking about 3-7 days to surround the city, then 2-4 days to invest it. I rather doubt, however, that the happy circumstances of a surrender will occur without at least some fighting.

I hope and pray that I am wrong

Posted by f1b0nacc1 at March 17, 2003 08:24 AM

I love the insinuation that the neighboring states would serve as refuge for Saddam or his army. Syria might have similar Ba'athist leanings but after the US military kicks over Saddam's little Ba'athist playhouse the Son of Assad is unlikely to invite Saddam over to play. Assad Jr. is unlikely to do anything that might get him noticed. I wouldn't be surprised if Little Assad completed the pull out of Syrian troops from Lebanon, and cuts his ties to Hezzbolah, now when he can save face, before Uncle Sams notices him and starts to make demands.

That is part of what taking Saddam down is all about.

Posted by ruprecht at March 17, 2003 02:31 PM

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