A Mind That Suits What doesn't kill me, makes me laugh... usually.

Thursday, December 18, 2003 :::
Nice thing about blogging--there are people who you do not realize are listening in that you are very happy to hear from, such as friend David, a curator at a major university art museum, and high school best friend. My flu means we will get together, but he knew that was possible because he, like so many people with excellent taste, reads this blog from time to time.

Setting all pretense aside, here, actually, I am VERY grateful for the kind of people who seem to be attracted to this humble blog and the wonderful e-mails they send.

Now, back to own-horn-tooting:

This writer must say that he is not the only one who assumed that Saddam always had, as a central part of his defense strategy, some kind of fall back and regroup maneuver. It did jump to his mind early as a possibility: in sorting through old e-mails, this writer found that he had said to one of his other very distinguished friends, a Pulitzer-Prize-winner in history, that Saddam was up to something because the opposition to our advance was so feeble. That was as the intial battles of Baghdad and Basra were winding down.

What he cannot say in all honesty is that he developed it systematically as all the jabber and infodust spread across the news pages and the opinion columns. Too many other things were competing for our attention. But those whose job it is to worry about such things apparently did, or were forcedd to, think through this possibility. It was not until an excellent study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in August that it snapped into focus for this writer, and that was not even from anything in the report. One of the study team members exclaimed in an interview that the destruction in Basra was stunning--that it almost looked directed.

And then this writer recalled something else: reporters standing amidst the rioting in Baghdad were themselves stunned at how focused the looting was. They ascribed it to hatred of the regime, but taken all together it seems clear that it was self-defense on the part of the Ba'athist leaders. Few things are easier than directing a crowd of people beside themselves with rage. When their hatred of you serves your purpose of covering your tracks, it's that much better. Saddam clearly intended to torture his people further by clearing the prisons of murderers and thugs shortly before we arrived. Was he also counting on them to start so much trouble that he could operate freely in the shadows?

As this writer maintained some months ago, it shows the feebleness of our own analytical powers (and the artistocratic pretensions of so many of our commentators) that everyone assumed an uncouth peasant like Saddam must be too stupid and too mentally unstable to plan an effective strategy. As far as his actual life history shows, he is (or was) quite sane and brilliant. The applicable category is "evil," pure and simple.

All reports are that he ranted and raved for bigger and better weapons, and threatened his own military leaders if they failed to defend him. But all reports also indicate that his continuous, Stalinist purges had left his military a hollow shell led by hollow leaders. He had to have known that. Indeed, a comprehensive survey of prewar planning and intelligence has been conducted by the storied Third Army--for which, during World War II, this writer's father served as unit commander and company first officer, he adds very proudly. Said study severely faulted pre-war intelligence, and it focused on one point in particular. Remember how a couple of battalions moved directly in front of our advancing troops and then--did nothing much? The report concluded our military was apparently prepared for any maneuver, except the one that was actually used: poor innocent schlubs had their families threatened and were forced into the front lines while the storied Republican Guard leadership--simply evaporated.

And now we know what they were evaporating for.

Saddam's strategy was based on two assumptions, which were not at all silly. One was that if the administration of a free Iraq appeared too burdensome, the American public would tire and the US would go home. Here, one must fault pro-war commentators for inadequately preparing conservatives back home for how difficult it has been. Remember the sharp drop in poll numbers after the President gave his disastrous speech asking for $87 billion. Conservative writers had not laid the groundwork, and conservative voters felt broadsided. Those poll numbers probably gave Saddam renewed faith that his strategy would work. But Saddam misunderestimated George W. Bush, and the American people.

Moreover, his strategy appears to have been doomed from the start because of his other assumption: it would be easy to terrorize the Iraqi people yet again. Heaven only knows he had done so superlatively for a very long time, but he does not seem to have understood what the taste of freedom was going to do to the resolve of those very people. That resolve actually took some time in coming, again, contrary to some conservative writers. The exegencies of living day to day when the power disappears are great, and a flip of the pen can only wipe that from the mind of people far, far away. Then there was the very real fear that the US would indeed cut and run. Those ubiquitous pictures of Saddam for so many years must have left some mark on people's minds and left them wondering if he really was as powerful as he said.

The shameful behavior of the international aid agencies certainly did not help. Their rapid disappearance must have truly disheartened the Iraqis, as should be evident from the tongue lashing an Iraqi gave to Kofi Annan in front of the Security Council recently. (One remembers the old football chant, "hit 'em again, hit 'em again, harder, harder," and wishes that we could find the money to rotate into New York every Iraqi who wants to unload on the Axis of Weasels, but we digress.) The Ba'athists peeled the aid workers off, and then went after the small number of brave forces from the Coalition of the Willing. And here Saddam ran up against yet another often underestimated man named Silvio Berlusconi.

The decision to step up the transfer of political power while also stepping up the military effort must be praised, as it undoubtedly put wind back in the sails of the Iraqi people. Many conservatives who had loudly supported the Administration suddenly balked, fearing it signaled an early retreat. As this writer said at the time, until Iraqis had real responsiblities, there would be only much pointless arguing and no progress. The accompanying military response was vital, and it has worked very well. If that was Donald Rumsfeld's doing, then for once this writer sides with him.

While only one of our generals said publicly that he assumed Saddam was coordinating everything and that it had been part of his strategy from the start, most others dismissed the idea. Fortunately, those searching for Saddam in Tikrit simply assumed that they would find Saddam at the center of the insurgency, and they did.

The indispensible Wall Street Journal this morning had a description of the two officers who produced a "map" of relationships among Saddam supporters. They concluded after a while that the cells themselves were operating at some remove from the tribal leaders who supported Saddam, but that it was all being directed by and centered around him. One of those things this author learned from his uncle, the late novelist Allen Drury, was that you should simply assume that everyone on any side of an issue or a war says pretty much what they mean and acts in the most reasonable way they can to achieve their goals. Hats off to those in the Coalition forces who remembered that.

Some final thoughts on this aspect of the war:

There are plenty of things that are hard to control in a war. It is difficult to know how a commander is supposed to react when the great mass of men in front of him simply surrenders. Is it a Trojan horse maneuver, or should he go after the guys in back he sees running away? No Monday morning quarterbacking on that one: it is impossible to call.

Those who support "Liberation Lite" must, however, answer for the way that this strategy clearly played right into Saddam's. When such writers sneer that those of us who believed that more troops were essential--which they were until recently--they ask us what those troops would have done. The answer is very simple: kept order, and protected the files.

Those files, now systematically destroyed (according to everyone on the scene, but see the public portions of the Kay Report), were essential to the rebuilding effort, and now most of them are gone. One general testified that it was easy to tell who was a Ba'athist because of the way other Iraqis reacted when they came forward. He had to say that, one supposes, but any experience of human nature will tell you that those so easily caught out were probably only the obvious thugs and monsters. No one realy knows who were the puppeteers in each city, and most poor Iraqis are busy making second-by-second calculations of what they are going to do once the Ba'ath leaders are finally rounded up and who they will need for help. Those files surely would have helped matters a lot, and their loss should not be the object of derision.

Let us also remember that the Kay group did not begin its investigation of weapons of mass destruction until THREE MONTHS after the conclusion of the initial battles. Has anyone ask if there has been even a belated effort to protect what was left of the police files?

One disturbing feature of the debate over troop levels and everything else is that the debate has turned on whether or not you trust CNN and the Times. Let this writer be very clear: he is completely cynical about most major reporters and their dispatches from the most comfortable hotel lobby they can find. Much of the information on which he has based his opinions comes from conservative writers he trusts, but also from a variety of reports by such institutions as the Third Army and CSIS. Why you are supposed to sneer at them is beyond understanding. They alltestify to the fact that there was no planning for the administration of Iraq, and that the troops were utterly without training for the mission they were handed. This writer's father noted that the suicide levels are up among our troops. That should give everyone pause.

The two officers who mapped out the rebel leaders' relationships to Saddam joked that they couldn't even pronounce their names when handed the assignment. In a disturbing editorial by the Wall Street Journal endorsing "Liberation Lite," the worthies there maintained that the one thing that was necessary was troops who could speak Arabic. That was written in November, 2003. The Twin Towers fell in September, 2001. You can learn any language in a year. The two officers did a superb job in a language they did not understand, yet why were they in that position? The military is free to order people to learn Arabic, and it is about time they did.

This writer's father said something important 30 years ago, when two very major treaties were negotiated. The Panama Canal Treaty and the Camp David Accords committed the US to various things., but it was not clear what. "You young people should read those treaties carefully," he said, while the treaties themselves and the legislation implementing them were being discussed by Congress, "because it's you that will have to go to war because of what's in them." He was right, and so those very same stack of reports that no one seems to want to read cry out with another pressing question:

It has been an axiom of pro-Administration reporting that the attacks on Iraq were brilliantly designed and executed. There is no doubt that our troops behaved bravely, especially in the face of the looting and the nerve-wracking guerilla war in the aftermath of the battles, though lying on the ground in the middle of a sand storm requires stamina that this boy probably never had. Hats off to them, and they should have our gratititude, and that of the Iraqi people, for a long, long time to come.

But conservatives used to always understand at least a little of Karl Popper, whose most famous principal ("falsifiability") was that to know if something is scientifically true, you must be able to imagine a situation where it might be false. For very easy instance, you can assume a particular switch turns off a particular light, but the only way you can know is to test it. And the test conditions are obvious. You can imagine a situation where it is false: you flip the switch off, and the light stays on. Your hypothesis was false. Come up with a new one. So when you go over to flip the switch, you can be quite confident that your test will yield a reliable answer: yes or no, this switch does or does not, turn off that light.

So too with war plans: the only way to know if they are really good war plans is if they survive a real battle. If your army faces a real enemy--horrible though that may be--you can imagine that your own army might lose. If they win, the plan was a good one. All--let's repeat that--ALL of the analyses conducted by the military have concluded that Saddam's "troops"--in George Patton's phrase, those poor sons-of-bitches--were terrorized average people who had no intention of really fighting. In other words, our advance on Baghdad was very far from being the "most brilliantly designed executed military campagin in history." That would probably be Chesty Puller's retreat from Inchon ("We're surrounded. Good; that simplifies the situation.") Or any of Patton's maneuvers where he rescued other armies. The conduct of our young men was stirring, as was the conduct of the young men and women in support positions behind them. Yet the plan was never really tested.

This raises the question my father asked about those treaties so long ago: is this untested war plan a sound basis for committing our over-taxed troops further? This war has notgone as anticipated--please, let us agree not to use the word "planned." What conclusions can we possibly draw from our experiences so far.

And then there is this vital question, which far too many conservative writers consider simply impertinent: Can we really use the actions of an oppressed people under an unpopular president (the Iraqis) as a basis for anticipating what will happen in Iran, whose revolution was popular and still has many devotees?

And so this writer calls again for the kind of debate that so many conservatives have ducked. There are LOTS of knowledgeable conservatives and reliable moderates who have very well articulated doubts about how this war has been conducted. Let's have it all out on the table NOW, before we go too far.

And hats off again to our dedicated troops in Tikrit. Serving in a town where you are hated looking for a man the locals love is the very definition of an earhtly hell, and their brave service should never, ever be forgotten.

::: posted by A Mind That Suits at 10:36 AM



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