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The Overtime War in Iraq
by George de Poor Handlery
12 April 2004Iraqi Flag

In the long run, the renewed combat activity might prove to be a blessing to America, if only the military opportunity it creates can be exploited politically.


At the time this is written, just before Easter, the Iraq War’s second half is being played out in life and on the networks. During the break after the US' victory, the show was filled with a program in which the Jihadists' pom-pom girls were cast as the main attraction. Admittedly, this second round, sort of an overtime, was not planned or wished by Coach Bush and his Assistants.  Nor was this “once-over-again” on the American wish-list. Arguably, in the short-term, the Saddamite and fundamentalist crazies, as well as the US’ detractors -- especially those blindfolded in Europe and the venomous domestic variety -- are, so far, the beneficiaries. On a mid-term basis, in the idiom of electoral politics, the winners are those Democrats who are, out of naiveté or cynicism, willing to energize their chariot with the bad news for America. (To quote Lenin: the worse it is for them, the better for us.) In the long run, however, the renewed combat activity might prove to be a blessing to America, if only the military opportunity it creates can be exploited politically.

Before the reader qualifies the writer as “sick” for implying that the newest fighting approaching the criteria of set-piece battles is a disguised boon, one feels rather hard pressed to present some of the reasons for this “contrarian” perspective. Well, here it comes!

After the more total-than-hoped-for and faster-than-expected victory (yes, I did say “victory” close to uttering "America") over the Saddamite tyranny, we got to the period of “asymmetric warfare.” This post-war phase’s challenge consisted of this: US forces were required by self-imposed rules to play a selectively reactive role and then, when allowed to become active, to use all restraints that PC-thinking could offer. Given the enemy’s freedom to act and the politically imposed constraints on armed US reaction, the difficulty of effectively combating the “insurgency” mounted well above the level of the impediment the actual military-security challenge on the field warranted. As a general point it is to be added that asymmetric warfare only works to the benefit of the weaker party if the party stronger in numbers and weapons is, from the outset, unwilling to make full use of its might.  The word “unwilling” refers here to PC-derived constraints, the fear of world public opinion, or the kowtow before a politically uneducated public’s presumed reaction to some of the inevitable casualties. Add to this the expected exploitation of any effective action’s collaterals (real or pretended civilian deaths) by the domestic opposition for the sake of party-politics.

Let the writer accentuate the point with a personal experience. He has seen in Hungary asymmetric combat against Soviet occupation in 1956.  While their cause was wrong, the Red Army’s tactic was right. Soviet forces used their superiority to crush speedily and completely every resistance anywhere. There were no political limitations to what they were willing and able to do militarily. It was asymmetric warfare. Only the Kremlin did not play by American rules. So it won. Without qualifications. That Moscow did not know how to use this particular victory, and also many others it scored, belongs on another page of history. This failure is why the USSR is no more. But her going out of business has nothing to do with her savvy to use her means to push through Moscow's order of things.

The radical Shiites have now managed to move the Iraq matter into its third phase. What we got as a result is set-piece combat between quasi-regular militias and the Armed Forces of the USA. One might ask, what is so good about it? Since the toppling of Saddam, the USA has again an enemy “with a return address.” Once again, two conditions coincide: (1) there is a big fist attached to a hulking guy, (2) there is a clear-cut target to hit. The Shiites, egged on by the US’ mismanagement of the retaliation of initial harassing attacks against its troops that they attributed to weakness and not to the restraints flowing out of the US' political culture, decided to move against a “paper tiger.”

By the thinking of the radicals who judged US restraint in terms of what they would have done in the US’ place had they had her power, the time was right to drive the decadent infidels out of Iraq. So they made their biggest mistake -- assuming that America is willing to make use of the God-sent opportunity. The radicals (a) surfaced, (b) they concentrated their presence in clearly definable locations, and (c) undertook whatever might be needed to provoke and justify their foe’s full-scale action of annihilation against them. In summary: the once invisible foe became a shining target. All has been put in place by bigoted clerics acting reasonably from the 7th century’s perspective, to serve on a silver platter a major power of the 21st, the political and military pre-conditions for crushing them.

The open question regarding whether America prevails or fails is not that of the adequacy or insufficiency of her objective means and opportunities. The question posed is the consequence of the irrationality of election-year politics. The results of the coming election could determine that there will be for the US no “in the long run,” but, as implied by an electable candidate, only a “run.” The current shootout at the OK Corral Iraq-style supports, regardless of the situation on the field of battle, the political argument for accepting defeat. Incredulous? Let me jog your memory! Remember the “Tet Offensive” of the Viet Cong? That one was a total military disaster for “Victor Charlie” in ‘Nam and a total defeat for America at home on the political front.  In the Iraq case, the outcome of the conflict has, thanks to the election-year tactics of a major party and the limited political education of a  public assumed to be fickle, become a conflict whose main battle is fought not in Faluja but in America.

George Handlery is an historian. He has lived and taught in Europe since 1976.

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