Lessons of the War

This is a long but comprehensive look at the war, both from a micro “how did this war go” level to the macro “how does this fit into the general WW-IV west/arab conflict” level. One of the compelling parts was the spot on evaluation of the reasons the war went they way it did (and it has little to do with the US):

There is, to begin with, very little status accorded to conscript soldiers, who are poorly paid, housed, and trained. Tribalism, not merit, is more likely to govern the promotion of officers. In an age of mechanized warfare and combined land-and-air operations, most commanders have little knowledge of flexible tactical doctrine. Instead, outdated Soviet ideas from the 1970’s — like stacking armor in successive rings for massive, set-piece assaults — still infect the thinking of the few generals who have studied military theory. When such rote practices prove suicidal in the face of a sophisticated opponent with mastery of the air, there is no mechanism for ad-hoc adjustment.

There are other deficiencies as well. Weapons, almost exclusively imported rather than manufactured at home, are often poorly maintained and are thrust into the hands of soldiers lacking either education or much experience with high technology. As American soldiers would remark in the course of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Iraqi artillery was inaccurate and slow-firing, small-arms fire was poorly directed, and armored vehicles and tanks were in obviously inferior condition.

All this is symptomatic of larger problems: the absence within Arab militaries of free discussion about operational choices, and a system that rewards obsequiousness and punishes initiative. Only in this wider context can the Baathists’ otherwise bewildering tactics in the most recent conflict be understood. Here was a military clique that went to war over the possession of chemical and biological weapons that were so hidden away they could not be readily used for the very purpose for which they had been acquired; that would send an armored column into the open under the cloak of a sandstorm that provided no cloak at all against satellite-guided bombs; that would order men to swarm out of fortifications and dwellings at the sight of approaching American troops (“quail hunters”), only to see them obliterated by waiting planes; that would hurl men clad in pajamas against soldiers arrayed in ceramic body armor; that would stockpile arms and munitions in public sanctuaries that proved indefensible points of resistance.

As Pollack documents, moreover, while defeat on the battlefield can exact a bitter price for a professional Arab soldier, excellence can be no less dangerous, earning him the envy and suspicion of his peers and his political bosses. Few of the prominent Iraqi generals who fought in the Iran-Iraq war survived to fight in Kuwait, and almost none was still around for the latest conflict.

In other words, we didn’t necessarily win because we are so damned good; we won because they are so damned bad. Being so damned good just ensured that we did it quickly. Also:

WHAT IS it that permits this radically dysfunctional system to perpetuate itself? The question is really political rather than military, and ultimately the answer is a state-induced terror that has its roots in the absence of consensual government and of notions of personal freedom, thus ensuring little self-criticism or accountability in matters of war-making or anything else. Helping to keep this entire edifice afloat is an ingrained (but also state-supported) habit of denial: a disavowal of just how deep, and how self-inflicted, are the deficiencies of one’s own society; a rejection of every alternative view of reality that would expose these inadequacies for what they are; an unwillingness to assume any responsibility for repairing them.

During Operation Iraqi Freedom, American viewers were exasperated or convulsed at the circus-like spectacle provided by Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, the so-called Baathist information minister — a/k/a “Baghdad Bob” — whose daily communiques detailed an endless string of catastrophes for coalition forces. Seeming at first odious, then deranged, at last almost entertaining, al-Sahaf confidently declaimed lines like “We have killed most of the infidels, and I think we will finish the rest soon” even as split-screen television images revealed Abrams tanks looming a few miles away, or Marines resting in Saddam’s Baghdad palaces.

A joke, but too bitter to be mere jest. Such state-sponsored whoppers, spread from Ramallah to Cairo and beyond, are hardly a new phenomenon. In June 1967, as Michael Oren reminds us in Six Days of War, there were triumphant broadcasts about heroic Arab armies approaching the outskirts of Tel Aviv and Egyptian jets pounding Israel even as Israeli soldiers were sweeping to victory on three fronts and Egyptian air fields were littered with the remains of that country’s air force, destroyed in the first minutes of war. Such fabrications are among the intellectual legacies of the Arab regimes of the Middle East, whose homegrown proclivities toward mythmaking and braggadocio were only enhanced by decades of immersion in a Soviet-style disinformation apparatus.

Nor have international news organizations, who supposedly know better, been so immune to these ruinous exercises in falsification as the skeptical treatment of “Baghdad Bob” might suggest. Quite the contrary. Especially when baseless bragging takes the form of protestations about unprecedented Arab suffering and victimization — and even if presented without quite the dramatic flair of the Iraqi information minister — the press has proved all too ready to lend its credibility-enhancing energies to the Arab cause.

Joe Bob says check it out.

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