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Heavy on Iraq

Or should it be subjected to a light touch? A special exchange. Plus more.

10.2.02

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MAKING BIG PLANS
Re: Jed Babbin's Material Breach:

I agree with Mr. Babbin that General Franks has been micro-managing U.S. forces in the fight against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and that such an approach against Iraq could lead to disaster. However, Mr. Babbin is wrong to choose the light as opposed to heavy plan placed before President Bush. First, Mr. Babbin is wrong on the number of sorties flown in the Gulf War by the coalition: it was not 300 per day but over 2500 per day on average (about 100,000 over 40 days if I recall correctly). Despite the intensity, when VII Corps took on the Republican Guard, it found that about 75 percent of their heavy weapons were intact. If this happens again, Mr. Babbin's favored light forces will be massacred; one can just imagine the reaction of the American people when they see the 101st Air Assault Division troops being run over by T-72s! Secondly, special forces only work when they have excellent intelligence, a traditional U.S. failure, and if the current paucity of hard evidence on Iraqi WMDs is anything to go by, still a shortcoming. They also tend to wilt when faced by massed armor.

The argument is often made that the technology in precision munitions is far better than that available in 1991. In fact, the A-10, which will be the premier tank killing weapon in any war, uses the same Maverick missile used in 1991. And due to airspace constraints, fix wing airpower is very limited against massed tank formations (which was proved when in the Gulf War the airforce was expected to stop the Iraqi armored forces trying to escape VII Corps with F-111 strikes, which failed dismally as aircraft had to be deconflicted resulting in something like only one strike every 20 minutes, each dropping two bombs, which did little to destroy the Iraqi armor).

The answer is a combined light-heavy thrust, focused on speed and firepower. Light forces (airborne and air assault) should be used to capture bridges over the Euphrates to be met by a heavy force of at least an armored cavalry regiment and 5 heavy Army brigades which would charge up from Kuwait. Hopefully the light forces will be able to hold out in defensive positions for the 48 hours or so it should take for the heavy forces to arrive. Once over the Euphrates, the forces will drive to Baghdad where the bulk of the Republican Guard armor will be located (conveniently close to civilian buildings to avoid airstrikes). These will be destroyed by U.S. armor which will escort the light infantry into the urban areas to deal with any hold-outs. I hope that the U.S. infantry is brushing up on their MOUT training! While the light forces are busy in the city, the heavy forces will complete to encircle the city, which will convince the remaining Iraqi soldiers that the game is up (or at least to cut off their supplies). Basra should be taken by a combined land-sea assault by the Marines. Do you think Bush's desk can accommodate one more plan....?
-- Patrick Bechet
Cape Town, South Africa

The "light" military option favored by Mr. Babbin is very appealing, in the engineering sense, for its elegance and parsimony.

I continue to be puzzled, though, by the widespread belief, apparently shared by Mr. Babbin, that surgical excision of nasty regimes can effect a sea change in a nation-state's future propensity to bad behavior. It seems to me, rather, that this is an untested notion. I am unaware of any historical examples of such a root change in a national culture absent a horrendous and general punishment inflicted from without. Japan and Germany are, of course, the most recent examples. Now perhaps the most pacific of Western nation-states, they were brought to this happy condition by military campaigns which wrought death and destruction throughout.

What have the various Afghanis and global spectators learned from Operation Enduring Freedom? Well, it may be that they have learned that the penalty for allowing a rogue regime to hijack a state is really not so bad, in the grand scheme of things. The West will delicately remove the conspicuously bad apples with a military campaign, which, while under way, won't be perceptibly worse for the masses than day-to-day existence under the rogue regime was, and life will go on with a shrug. In contrast, the Germans and the Japanese learned in their bones, every last one of them, that the absolute worst thing a people can do is allow a bellicose, authoritarian regime to lead them into a war against civilization. The punishment inflicted by the world community was collective, horrific and massive.

The thing that advocates of the surgical, "tumor model" approach to rogue states seem to discount is that regimes, all regimes, govern by the consent of the governed. We have become accustomed to thinking that this is an exclusive property of democracies, but it is in fact a property of all polities. Elections are simply one way (and no doubt the preferred way!) of expressing consent. The absence of an uprising is another way of expressing consent. There is no regime that cannot be overthrown if the populace is willing to pay the price: one is reminded of the late Shah of Iran. Saddam Hussein is in power in Iraq because the residents of that miserable domain decide every day that they prefer the risks of a Western military attack to the risks of rising up against the Ba'athist regime. They are thinking, rational human beings just like us, and their cost-benefit analysis yields this unfortunate result. In view of the Western powers' "vegetarian" approach to war in the current era, this calculation is not obviously wrong. The probability that a rank-and-file Iraqi will be killed or wounded by an American strike, if he does not rise up against Saddam, is much less than the probability he will be killed most painfully if he does. Why would "Iraq light" change this calculation going forward, should another psycho dictator make a power grab in Baghdad?

Dresden and Hiroshima changed hearts and minds. I think that Tora Bora did not.

How on earth do our finest strategic thinkers exempt the populations of rogue states from responsibility for their rulers' behavior? We in the United States enjoy our blessed liberty because our forebears had the courage to risk everything -- everything -- in an armed rebellion against the then-superpower. Why do we require less of others?

I fear we are teaching the troubled countries of the world that they have no need to walk the painful, scary and difficult path to liberal governance, much as our misguided compassion has led us to teach welfare recipients that they have no need to become productive: after all we will, in the end, pick up the tab. We are teaching them to use Western military intervention as a relatively painless mechanism for periodic regime change. What is it, exactly, that will cause this to change?
-- Paul Kotik
Plantation, FL

I was only a sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps way back in the 50's but I still remember our basic battle tenet that we hit the enemy fast and avoid giving him valuable time to counterattack by holding ground rather than continuing to "punish" his forces with rapid strikes.

I would submit that General Franks has and continues to act in direct opposition to that tenet of battle and as long as he does our men are going to pay a higher cost in life than we need to and only embolden Saddam's counterattacks.

But then, what does an old jarhead know?
-- Ken Wyman
Huntsville, AL

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