The mere facts that Arab guerrillas are shooting American and British soldiers daily, that the saintly United Nations can no longer offer sanctuary to its employees in Iraq and that Iraq’s Shi’ite population is at risk means the war we thought had been won on May 1 has not been won, not yet. And this despite the belief that the coalition military’s achievement in six weeks “must rank as one of the signal achievements in military history,” as Max Boot has written in the current Foreign Affairs.
As I read Mr. Boot’s essay, I recalled with a slight shiver a statement made in 1964 by then Defense Secretary Robert McNamara:
“America’s military strength alone or in combination with that of our allies today adds up to the greatest aggregation of force in human history. It has been harnessed into flexible, usable power which can be controlled with remarkable precision. It is a triumph of strategy, science and human ingenuity.”
Mr. McNamara’s calculation was right; nevertheless, 10 years later the U.S. was in full retreat. The second Gulf war is not being lost, but it will go on a lot longer than had been foreseen. What the coalition was obviously not prepared for was the urban and countryside guerrilla warfare being waged against our soldiers. Simply put, Saddam Hussein or his successors and their network still flourish. The three bombings — the Jordanian Embassy, the local U.N. headquarters, the Shi’ite mosque — prove that. Coalition forces can’t be everywhere. Guerrillas can, because they are able pick their point of attack. All our unsurpassed military might could not prevent the attacks of September 11 two years ago. Today it is one or two soldiers a day; tomorrow it may be more than two a day. How can that be when we have superiority in every branch of military power?
In Vietnam, we had 100 percent air superiority, fixed-wing and rotary. Same in Iraq. In Vietnam, we had 100 percent superiority in armor. Same in Iraq. In Vietnam, we had superbly trained Green Berets, the Special Forces, the bravest of the brave. Same in Iraq. What happened in Iraq? Who is running the Iraqi insurgency and how are they doing it? Saddam Hussein’s armies collapsed in set-piece battles but somebody is supplying rockets and manpower at strategic road spots.
A century and a half ago, Karl Marx wrote:
“Mass uprisings, revolutionary methods, guerrilla bands everywhere; such are the only means by which a small nation can hope to maintain itself against an adversary superior in numbers and equipment. By their use, a weaker force can overcome its stronger and better organized opponent.”
The coalition victory over Saddam’s Ba’ath is as irreversible as the victory of the Taliban in Afghanistan. But what the guerrilla network in Iraq is demonstrating with a frightening reality is a credible power projection. One might say it is Gulf War III. The network ability to kill coalition forces, to bomb mosques and U.N. installations means there is an underground functioning so efficiently it cannot be penetrated by any outside intelligence. The Ba’ath network knows its history: The U.S. retreated from Vietnam, from Lebanon and from Somalia. Why not Iraq?
Iraq is not Vietnam, Lebanon or Somalia. But in Iraq, the U.S. undertook a war in which the leadership did not foresee that victory would not come as cheap at Gulf War I and II did. If the postwar guerrilla war had been foreseen, would President Bush have announced the end of hostilities — as he did on May 1 — and would he have in his recent address to the nation asked for a supplemental $87 billion?
I am sure men like Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz are aware there has been not a defeat in Iraq but a failure to understand Muslim culture, both as religion and as politics. And since coalition forces are going to be in Iraq for several years, a different approach must be created.
A quick recommendation: A delegation of American businesspeople, male and female, Muslim-Americans included, should be organized for a monthlong tour of Iraq to meet their Iraqi counterparts, not necessarily to trade but to bring them into the 21st century. And if any other countries want to send in such delegations, they should be welcome. I would even invite the AFL-CIO, the British Trades Union Congress or the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions to send a delegation. The State Department has potential candidates for cultural attaches who might be assigned to L. Paul Bremer’s office. What about American or British delegations from the sciences, the universities, the foundations, soccer and basketball leagues? People-to-people contacts are as important as Humvees.
Arnold Beichman, a Hoover Institution research fellow, is a columnist for The Washington Times.