Looking over the day’s news, my strongest impression is a curious sort of deja vu. Military planners have been thinking this through for years. And when I spoke to a number of them last year to write an article about a war against Iraq, I tried to draw them out on precisely this issue. What will be easy? Which parts will be hard? Which parts of doing this worry you the most?
Most everyone agreed that we’d roll up the south pretty quickly. (Despite all the rough news of the last couple days, that’s pretty much been borne out.) And then we’d come up to Baghdad with a massive coalition army. And then the big question would be answered. Would the regime fold? Or would Saddam have enough loyal Republican Guards to pull us into a really ugly fight for Baghdad?
That’s always been the question and it looks like we’re about to learn the answer.
This was always the question that worried military planners. I also did my best to put this question to the more zealous hawks.
Jim Woolsey was pretty straightforward. He thought we might possibly avoid a pitched battle for Baghdad, but thought the possibility was very real and that such a confrontation would be very bloody. This from my interview with Woolsey last April …
It could well end up that Baghdad will be a big battle … This could be a bloody and very bad thing … It may be that the uprising will spread even among the Republican Guards and he’ll lose out very quickly. But I think we would have to count on having to fight for Baghdad …And that could be a bloody undertaking. But it was a bloody undertaking to fight the Battle of the Bulge and for the Russians to take Berlin in 1945 and I don’t really see any alternative.
Richard Perle was a good deal more cagey. I had a very hard time pinning him down on what would happen if Saddam’s government didn’t collapse before we got to Baghdad, or for that matter really any of the serious downside possibilities. He never seemed to accept the premise. This from my interview with him, also from last April …
I don’t think you have to go to Baghdad. At least it’s not certain that you have to. I think if you’ve initiated activities, or at least his opponents have in the north and the south, he either accepts the loss of that territory — which I think he is loathe to do — or he sends that same Republican Guard out to try to reverse the situation. And when he does it is exceedingly vulnerable to American air power.
[At this point, I asked Perle why Saddam would ignore textbook military doctrine which would counsel him to fight on ground on which he was least vulnerable, i.e., in Baghdad. I also pressed him on the necessity of having some plan in place if Saddam didn’t fold or send his Republican Guards out to meet us on the barren desert.]
Well, first of all, his revenues would shrivel, which is to say he would have none. His ports in the south would be gone. What does he do? Just hold up in a palace near Baghdad? Try to assert authority over the country as a whole or does he accept that he now rules the Baghdad area but that’s all? I think we can put him in a situation where he’s got to try to assert authority over his own territory. And when he does he’s highly vulnerable, his forces are highly vulnerable. There are other ways of doing this. It’s certainly not up to me to decide what strategy we pursue. But I think there are strategies that do not entail an inevitable result on Baghdad.
Soon enough, this will cease to be a matter of conjecture.