| Heavy pounding in a light war
In its run-up to the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration has set a new record in alienating its friends. It has created a rift in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, brought the United Nations into contempt, provoked a chain of anti-war mass protests throughout the world including its own country and induced thousands of young men in the Islamic world to join suicide squads and fight the aggressors as would-be martyrs.
The deviant record of American diplomacy has been matched only by the erratic course taken by the second Gulf war. The war planners had hit upon the right words when they spoke of their hi-tech war machine administering a shock to the enemy and inspiring awe by its military clout. Where they goofed was in grossly underestimating the capacity of the people of Baghdad to absorb the shock of relentless hits by Tomahawk missiles and state-of-the-art bombers night after night. And what left the allied soldiers in a daze was the intensity of the resistance on the ground where they expected a sea of white flags and a blaze of red carpets.
The trouble with the two main Western allies was the kind of hard-sell they engaged in for months, raising hopes that the Shia south will fall like an overripe plum in their basket, that a large part of the Iraqi forces would defect to their side once they realized that Saddam Hussein’s time was up and that Iraq would have a lovely time like so many of its neighbouring sheikhdoms as soon as it learnt how to be docile in the presence of any visiting dignitary from the United States of America and attach due weight to whatever dos and don’ts he prescribed in a given situation.
As it turned out, the brainwashed Iraqis did not behave according to the script written for them by the US defence secretary’s men. The Shias, betrayed in 1991, refused to put their lives at risk a second time. Even those soldiers who detested the Saddam regime could not recognize the faces of the liberators who had come to their country in the guise of aggressors. Raining death and terror from the sky for over a fortnight was hardly a demonstration of their compassion and concern for the well-being of the Iraqi people.
Unexpected resistance has made the allied troops on the ground all the more reckless in the use of force. While many civilians were killed in Baghdad when missiles hit a market and a maternity hospital, more citizens are suffering the same fate elsewhere. Some American aircraft could not even tell the Union Jack from the Iraqi flag. How can one expect their ground troops to distinguish civilians from Iraqi soldiers in mufti or the fidayeen' The more frightened they are of being ambushed or sniped at, the more wild they get in targeting whoever comes in their way.
This is how the war is turning into an orgy of unbridled violence. British soldiers are afraid to enter Basra like their American allies since they, too, fear nothing more than getting involved in street fighting. As for the compassionate invaders, they say that if the Shias do not want to surrender let them starve in their redoubt. In any case, despite all the talk of humanitarian aid, there will not be enough food and water for the two million people of the second largest city in Iraq for weeks to come.
That the allied war plan has gone awry is no news. Why else will they be rushing another 120,000 US troops to the front' Even the bad blood between the generals who wanted a much larger force from the start and the defence secretary, who thought it was best to plan for a light war since pounding from the sky would chew up most of the Republican Guards, is no secret. So why did the NBC have to sack its star correspondent in Baghdad for telling a stale story to an Iraqi radio interviewer when he admitted that the initial US war plan had failed' Did not General William Wallace reveal as much even earlier when he remarked that “the enemy we are fighting is quite different from the one we war-gamed against”'
Of course, the policy-makers in Washington explain away their failure by arguing that a war strategy has to be flexible and can always be changed in the light of a new contingency. But they miss the critics’ point that they should have been prepared in advance for the kind of resistance they are now faced with. Why not say that the defence secretary bungled the war planning by underestimating the Iraqi resistance and the upsurge of nationalist feeling and religious passions' Few are deceived by the US’s claim that they are out to democratize Iraq which happens to be part of a region where Washington has always felt more comfortable with sheikhs who have no use for elected legislatures.
This does not mean that US command of the sky and the weight of its armour will not prevail in the end. Iraq’s talk of “ten Vietnams in Baghdad” has to be dismissed as the hype of a regime fighting against impossible odds.
In any case, just as no public relations exercise can recast George W. Bush in a Rooseveltian mould, Saddam Hussein cannot turn overnight into a Ho Chi-Minh. The best he can do is to leave behind a country in the throes of anarchy where even the revised American strategy of waging a war, caring neither for the extent of the physical devastation nor for the scale of civilian casualties, is unwittingly coming to his aid.
Another adverse fallout of the war from the American point of view is the way in which the unexpected level of resistance put up by the Iraqis has made Saddam Hussein a hero in the eyes of the Arab world which has had a rough deal at Washington’s hands. Much of the pent-up resentment of the Arabs at their repeated humiliation is coming to the surface not only in anti-US demonstrations but also in the tart remarks by a person like Hosni Mubarak whose country has been among the largest recipients of US aid for years. The Egyptian president has been forced to summon the nerve to warn his powerful patron that the war in Iraq will produce a dozen Osama bin Ladens.
What can Bush and his cynical aides do about the altogether unexpected denouement which has already persuaded 4,000 would-be martyrs to rush to Iraq to join those resisting the allied forces' They are still awaiting a reply to their question why the US and Britain chose to target Iraq in a bid to replace the Saddam regime even before the UN inspection team had completed its job, and had not yet been able to find any hidden weapons of mass destruction after many weeks of thorough search operations, while leaving alone North Korea whose leader had made no secret of being in possession of nuclear missiles and of his resolve to use them when necessary.
Nor have they cared to explain why known bases of training terrorists in Pakistan and elsewhere have been left untouched in the midst of a war intended to eliminate them while giving top priority to putting an end to the Saddam regime. When did Baghdad turn into a major centre of international terrorist networks'
It does not require a think-tank to see that the war in Iraq is likely to last much longer than the US president and his defence secretary had bargained for and that, when it comes to an end, the allied forces will have in hand thousands of families mourning their dead, most city centres turned into rubble, gangs of criminals busy cashing in on the prevailing anarchy and the right kind of climate to nurture the jihad mindset. Any group of dissidents the US might have nominated to run Iraq would have to preside over a country in ruins and a society in chaos. Things may indeed come to a pass where the American contractors who go to Baghdad for reconstruction work may require large forces to protect them.
How easy and smooth things would be if information technologies advanced to the point where super-computers could draw foolproof war plans, robots could displace the crews of war-planes in the air and take care of snipers redolent of a barbaric past on the ground, and a robot with the brain of a 21st century Karl Clausewitz could be put in charge of the defence secretary’s office in Washington.
As things are, the hi-tech war being waged by the US and Britain is still pretty primitive, plagued as it is by an atmosphere of distrust between the defence secretary and the Pentagon, attenuated supply lines, raw troops with no fighting experience and the ever present fear that when it reaches its climax, the war may degenerate into street fighting which sends shivers down both American and British spines. America’s friends can only feel sorry for its having landed itself in the very predicament against which it was warned by France, Germany and many others.