It was probably optimistic to expect the Iraqi armies to run away like scared chickens the moment our coalition forces crossed over from Kuwait. But that seems to have been the expectation by our military planners. What else would explain our numerous false assumptions and errors so far in conducting this war?
Here are some big ones to date:
Ordinary Iraqis will like Americans. Just because most Iraqis hate Saddam Hussein doesn’t mean they love the United States or want us to take over their country. Josef Stalin was reviled and hated in Russia too, but he managed to appeal to Russian’s sense of patriotism and stalled the German advance. Yes, in cities like Leningrad lots of people died from starvation and disease, as well as from the siege, but they held out. They wore the enemy down. An appeal to protect the motherland still wins 9 times out of 10. We are on their home turf. They have no place to go. Of course they will fight for what they have. They are fighting for their values, their culture, their way of life, their souls.
They will trust us because we believe in freedom and democracy. When you judge someone you judge him or her on their behavior, not on their words. It is completely reasonable to look at our country’s relationship with Israel, its funding for its war machine used to oppress the Palestinians, our bribing of other countries like Egypt to hold down political dissent and to infer that we talk out both sides of our mouth. An Iraqi would be nuts not to expect some ulterior motives by the United States.
With a lot of shock and awe in Baghdad the people will revolt against Saddam. We didn’t have a realistic expectation of what would be required. We raced to Baghdad but didn’t figure our extended supply lines would need so much protecting. To win this war we’re going to have to capture Baghdad. The expectation was that if we drop enough bombs there would be a big white flag raised over Baghdad. But Saddam and his cronies have nothing to lose. There is no reason not to go all out. Most likely we will either have to take over Baghdad, a city of over 7 million, through urban combat or we will simply have to cut it off and hope that when they run out of food the population will turn on its leaders. Even in Vietnam we never tried to do something like this. This would be a fighting on a level not performed by our armed forces since World War II. It would be ugly, cause large numbers of casualties and huge numbers of civilian deaths, but we could do it.
This will not be a nice, clean and short war. Instead it will be a long and messy war. I do think we have the capability to win it. I am not sure there is the political will and stomach to win it. As much as Bush says he won’t, I can see even him six months for now anxious for some sort of exit strategy. With unemployment shooting up, with the economy back in recession, with his own party revolting under him and mindful of a coming election he’ll need some sort of way to get out. Maybe he’ll accept a cease-fire. We’ll see.
But even if we do win it, what happens next is even a bigger gamble. Three quarters of Iraqis belong to a tribe of some sort. We’re going to get these tribes with a history of conflict to play nice with each other? Do we really expect that Iraqis will democratically elect someone to our liking? Isn’t it much more likely that if the people had their way they would elect an Islamic state similar to, perhaps, Iran? Would we really step aside in such a case and say “that’s okay by the United States”? I don’t think so.
What does Saddam get out of all this? He wins regardless of the scenario. If he is killed, he is a martyr protecting Iraq from the Americans and standing up for Arab principles and Islam. More will rise to follow his example. If he is captured and tried for war crimes he gets to plead his case and gets his mug in the papers for years to come, while probably rallying a lot of Arabs behind him. If he stalls us and we leave then he stays in power. Admittedly we think it’s crazy that someone would want to be a martyr but his motives are not ours.
It’s going to be a protracted, expensive and ugly mess without a happy ending. It is a needless, pointless war caused by excessive hubris, false expectations and insufficient understanding of the real world. If our leaders were wise they would cut our losses and get out now. But we’re committed and now we have to prove ourselves at any cost.
The cynic in me wonders: why did Bush not explicitly rule out the use of nuclear weapons? The idea of actually using one appalls me, but maybe it doesn’t appall Bush. It’s our ultimate trump card. When all else doesn’t seem to work, obliterate the bastards. They’re all just part of an axis of evil anyhow, right? And evil must be destroyed.