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Battlefield Questions - Who Said It Would Be Easy?

Investing the Capital
The Battlefield Begs The Question – Who Said It Would Be Easy?
Wednesday, 26 March 2003

It was a lesson learned by the Russians in their campaign against the Wehrmacht that the way to defeat a blitzkrieg (essentially a modern cavalry raid) was to trade space for time – where the theatre offered sufficient operational depth to facilitate this - and to allow the spearheads’ momentum to exhaust itself before counterattacking their vulnerable flanks in force.

If you could combine this with partisan/irregular warfare to disrupt the enemy’s rear area, you could effectively turn back upon him the very same stultifying effects of a deep penetration battle whose rationale rests in getting inside the adversary’s decision cycle, rather than in destroying his troops wholesale.

It is an even older lesson of warfare that cavalry (today, read: armour) cannot hold ground (‘special forces’ even less so): infantry is needed to do that. Yet, of the estimated 270,000 Anglo-American troops in the expeditionary force in Iraq, perhaps as few as 20,000 are foot-soldiers.

Another vital factor in a war of manoeuvre is that one should not get bogged down in siege warfare, or frontal assaults on urban areas which have the unfortunate characteristic of becoming ever better defensive terrain the more the opposition bombards them.

The retention of flexibility is also of key importance since another tested military dictum is that the initial plan never survives the first contact with the enemy.

Finally, it is a fundamental imperative to play to one’s enemies’ assumed weaknesses, rather than to his known strengths.

In none of this can Tommy Franks be said to have triumphed and quite why the Americans have seemingly abandoned all their doctrines of the Air-Land battle is mystifying indeed, if one looks at military considerations alone.

In seeking the reason why they seem to have squandered their greatest asset – their total air superiority – one is led instead to think that this is because international public opinion is so clearly NOT on the Allies’ side, this time.

Thus, they may have been forced to confront the inevitability that even the Serbs were only brought to surrender in the Kosovo episode after the sustained aerial campaign was waged against primarily civilian targets – bridges, power plants, water treatment works, pipelines and communications sites – something that, repeated this time, would dispel the last pretence that this was a ‘War of Liberation’, not of conquest.

This they will do if they must, but only as a last resort. Cluster bombs, not brass cannon, are these days, ultima ratio regium.

Thus, the uncomfortable reality may also have dawned that for all the much-vaunted superiority of the techno-wizardry and real-time micromanagement of the battlefield, conferred upon them by the so-called ‘Revolution in Military Affairs’ – the Allied aircrews then spent the bulk of those sorties conducted against the Serb armies, rather than the Serbian people, raining very expensive missiles down on very cheap, but nevertheless highly effective, decoys.

Moreover, one can also only despair of the quality of the human intelligence which went into planning this campaign.

We were assured, were we not, that the mere sight of a couple of Bradley fighting vehicles driving down the streets was to have been greeted with an unreserved outpouring of joy from the oppressed masses, free at last of their brutal overlord (forgetting the fate meted out to those who last gave rise to such effusions of faith in Western realpolitik)? There has been precious little sign of that so far - with the possibel exception of recent events in Basra -but there has been more concrete evidence of ordinary Iraqis buying guns and rifles and forming themselves into some sort of Home Guard instead.

And where did these ‘fedayeen’ guerrillas come from? Had anybody heard them discussed as an effective resistance force before this week?

This leaves us a couple of two conclusions; the CIA and all its kind screwed up yet again, possibly because there are precious few amid the present Allied upper echelons who do not, however unconsciously, caricature the Arabs as feckless untermenschen, with barely enough resolve to tend their goat-herds, unless whipped into a suicidal fury by some wild-eyed Mullah.

That the Russians sought to defined their homeland even under Stalin’s savage tyranny, or that the Germans fought to the end amid Nazi barbarity - because the homeland is a sacred human concept and because its invaders, however enlightened, are therefore always reviled - also seems to have escaped our would-be builders of a New World Order.

With this phase of the war now seemingly reduced to a desperate, last gasp, Rommel-like thrust at Baghdad, at the end of hundreds of kilometres of perilously extended logistical routes, in the effort either to foment the long-awaited rebellion, or the fulfilment of what the initial strike was meant to achieve (at the cost of considerable tactical surprise) - namely, Saddam’s death - we need to think of what the consequences might be.

We might also pause to reflect on yet another example of the sheer incompetence of governments and their vast bureaucratic agencies, and wonder whether we should really be letting these people swallow up even more dollars repressing us in the name of ‘keeping us safe’.

We should also ponder the wider lesson that if the most powerful State in the history of mankind – possibly in relative, as well as absolute, terms – can make such a pig’s ear of what is, in the long, sad history of warfare, no more than a medium-sized operation thus far, and this despite the years of pre-planning and the months of preparation which went into it, why would we ever wish to let them run any more of our lives and our businesses on the basis of their supposed competence to overcome the ‘failures of the market’?

With the Turkish-Kurd antipathy on the verge of igniting once more; with the Iranians uneasily manning their frontiers and wondering if they are next to be dealt with; with some of the more aggressive factions in Israel discussing moves to uproot large numbers of Palestinians, or to re-occupy Southern Lebanon; with the sham of the puppet regime in Afghanistan looking more exposed by the day as the mujahedeen press ever more tightly upon Kharzai’s ring of US bodyguards; with relations with Russia deteriorating rapidly over issues of arms supply and provocative spy flights; with the PLA exerting more influence in a concerned China; and with corrupt Arab autocrats and Central Asian strongmen everywhere left uneasily trying to placate both their restive masses and what they perceive to be the irascible US hegemon, the longer this conflict continues and the more bloody its immediate results, the more dire the long term consequences may become.

Increasingly, the pages of the non-Anglo Saxon media are filled with foreboding at what the new US doctrine of pre-emption will do for international relations. Neither do you have to search far in the world press to find expressions of high dudgeon and resentment at the crude strong-arm tactics through which pressure was exerted upon diplomats and ministers when the Bush administration and its British auxilia were seeking Security Council votes for their long-chosen course.

Even if this war does not spiral out of control, even if the cessation of official hostilities is greeted with acceptance and blessed by what seems an unlikely Anglo-American altruism thereafter, even if Iraq is shown not to represent merely the first on a long shopping list of nations to re-order, it will be hard indeed to put these all these evil spirits back into the box.

At the very least, then, international trading relations, investment decisions and the free movement of peoples will be undertaken in very much less favourable circumstances hereafter. To the extent that this starts to frustrate the international division of labour, to impeded the private patterns of exchange, or to throttle the investment of capital where it will do most good, this will serve only to set another difficult hurdle between us all and a genuine recovery


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