The Armchair Strategist

The Next Campaign

by Mike McGlothlin


One of the most unpalatable and indigestible meals that it is sometimes necessary to the diet of Armchair Strategists is that of crow. Last month The Armchair Strategist wrote, "If the Taliban and al-Qaeda are undefeated by next month, or if their defeat requires even more forces on the ground than are currently in Afghanistan, then the military campaign will have failed Clausewitz’s ‘judgment by results’ standards." Well, while this is technically accurate of events of December, 2001, it was plainly written with the judgment that either the enemy in Afghanistan would be not be defeated and that more U.S. military forces would be required on the ground to do so, and that the Administration, not taking the wise advice of this column, would fall short in its immediate efforts. Of course, the enemy in Afghanistan has been soundly defeated, even if the Evil One, bin Laden (and deputy Evil One, Mullah Omar), have not yet been found or their corpses yet identified. The government has accomplished this tactical victory using their military plan of utilizing indigenous forces as infantry, and special operations to hunt for the enemy and to help direct the deadly air-power. So while some fretted over the lack of large scale U.S. ground forces in Afghanistan as being necessary to accomplish the mission, it turns out that this was not the case. Therefore, to apply Clausewitz’s judgment by results gives the government a full vindication of its efforts, and serves up a hot plate of crow to its critics. Even with spicy Louisiana Tabasco, crow still tastes rancid.

And the military campaign in Afghanistan was a major success. It destroyed the Taliban, which made it possible to destroy the terrorist network there, which was accomplished, and with virtually no U.S. casualties, a substantial added bonus. It seems that the claim of the holy warriors that they were stronger because they preferred death to the craven "Western" desire for life turns out be "dead" wrong, which comes as no surprise to the cogent. The campaign also provided important operational experience for the U.S. military forces who fought it; hard won combat experience that is increasingly rare in the world. The mission to destroy the capability of the terrorists in Afghanistan was accomplished and no better result can be asked. If bin Laden and Omar and the other poison dwarves are found, that will be an added benefit. The critical fact is that they can no longer threaten others, at least from Afghanistan, and apparently from nowhere else in the world at the moment.

It is not the time for victory parades yet. The destruction of the enemy in Afghanistan does not eliminate the threat. The exact question of who the enemy is seems to have become more complex than on September 20th, when George W. Bush claimed it was "every terrorist group of global reach." The most controversial issue is now whether the "war" effort requires the U.S. and what allies it can muster to launch a new campaign against yet another Evil One, Saddam Hussein, who in President George Herbert Walker Bush’s estimation, was the "Hitler of the Middle East." This is not the only place military planners are focusing on. Efforts to assist the Philippine government’s on-going war against the terrorists in that country have been stepped up. And it is likely that contingency planning for operations against other terrorist lairs in other foreign countries is being feverishly updated now that Central Command’s staff can focus on new missions with the virtual end of the campaign in Afghanistan.

And yet some of this new activity seems strangely disconnected or tangential to the events of September 11th. It is correct that Abu-Sayyef, the head-hunting Islamic terrorists of the Philippines, are connected to al-Qaeda, and that it is a generally correct policy to help the Philippine government to destroy them, but they threaten the Philippine people, not America. Saddam Hussein has not been connected in any remotely realistic way with the September 11th atrocities. And publicly, the government has not accused any other nation of harboring and assisting "terrorists of global reach" in the same way they did the Taliban. The next military campaign to destroy the "terrorists of global reach" may be a while in showing itself.

So it is strange that with the successful military campaign resulting in the end of the immediate terrorist threat from Afghanistan, and despite the stepping up of efforts to detect the other "cells" throughout the world and in America, that discussion about the war strategy now turns to the Iraq mess and the Israeli-Palestinian mess.

It has been the thesis of the enemy and their sympathizers that the attacks against America were launched for several different reasons, included among them the effects of the United Nations sanctions on Iraq and the oppression of the Palestinian people. These two "grievances" are claimed to result from the overall U.S. policy in the Middle East and are connected in the minds or at least in the mouths of the claimants. To most Americans and their government, these two issues are unconnected. Iraq’s aggression against its neighbors for the past twenty years and its current program to acquire weapons of mass destruction in which to continue that aggression result from the illegitimate nature of Saddam Hussein’s totalitarian rule. The much more complex issue of the Israeli-Palestinian disaster is rooted in the problems created by the establishment of the State of Israel, but it has nothing to do with the B’aathist regime of Iraq.

If Saddam Hussein is not connected with the September 11th atrocities, then it would seem illogical to now contemplate a military campaign to destroy his rule, given the claimed effectiveness of the U.S. policy of keeping "Saddam in his box" that has been in effect since the end of the Gulf "War." There is no public evidence that he had anything to do with the September 11th attacks. The reality is that the newly invigorated calls to destroy Hussein in fact have nothing to do with the war against "terrorists of global reach," but do have everything to do with a new consciousness of the actuality of the threat he poses. This new consciousness was created by the sense of vulnerability that the terrorist attacks of September 11th caused. This sobering consciousness is slowly taking hold in the U.S. government and a realization dawning that a new and more effective policy regarding Iraq is needed. Consequently a new military campaign against Hussein is again being seriously considered. The phrase that journalists have used to represent government thinking that Saddam is merely "unfinished business" is not exactly correct. What is being understood by the government is that weapons of mass destruction in the hands of ruthless murderers will be used to inflict mass casualties of civilians. This threat cannot be permitted to materialize. Hence the real probability of a new military campaign against Iraq coalesces. If a new military campaign is launched against Iraq to destroy Saddam Hussein, it will not be directly the result of the U.S. government’s "war" against terrorist of global reach, but rather a new policy regarding Iraq, as part of the overall policy aim of the government in the region. The political issue for Americans and for their watchers around the world is whether such a new military campaign is legitimate.

Until Bill Clinton launched his unjustified missile attack on the Sudan in 1996, America had never launched a "sneak" attack on a country it was not at war with. Most Americans would like to resume this honorable tradition, both for the sake of justice and the rule of law, as well as for the purely political benefits that accrue to those who act in the right and are seen as doing so. Many, especially outside America, seem to think that attacking Iraq now falls into the same category as Nazi and Japanese aggressions or the Soviet invasions of Hungary, Czechoslovakia, or Afghanistan. Even if Hussein is acquiring weapons of mass destruction, these arguments go, many other countries have them, and the U.S. is not contemplating invading them. Israel for example, is known to possess many, possibly as many as 200 nuclear weapons, nevertheless the U.S. is not demanding that they stop development or threatening invasion if the Israeli’s do not give them up. To single out Hussein therefore, must be yet another example of the hypocrisy of the U.S. governments "unbalanced" Middle East policy and the second attack on this Islamic country. A military campaign there would be a naked act of aggression unjustified by the war on terrorism. It would merely be the "might makes right," without reference to either international law or justice, especially if such a campaign were undertaken without a United Nations resolution or a congressional declaration of war.

These arguments would be wrong. They are wrong for two basic reasons. It is true that many countries possess weapons of mass destruction, but they have not displayed the will to actually use them. Hussein, by using chemical weapons both in the Iran-Iraq war and against Kurds in the north of Iraq, has demonstrated without a doubt that he will use them, especially on those who possess no retaliatory capacity. That is probably the main reason why he did not use his chemical warheads in his SCUD missile attacks against the U.S. and Israel during the Gulf "War." He, like Hitler, and Khrushchev, realized that to actually use weapons of mass destruction against those who possess an overwhelming capability to retaliate in kind, only ensures defeat in the most rapid possible way. That is the reason he is pursuing the continued acquisition of WMD, particularly nuclear, so that he can shield himself against a conventional attack of the type Washington is now contemplating. Unfortunately for him, it is this very pursuit of WMD that is accelerating the solidification of a decision to renew the military action against him. A military action against Saddam after he possesses nuclear weapons will be far more costly than it would be now. Time is running out for Saddam Hussein.

So the argument for attacking Iraq in terms of expediency and security seems warranted. Yet military offensives cannot be initiated merely on these grounds, they must be justified by the proper political and legal processes, particularly when undertaken by democratic nations. When democratic nations begin to launch attacks in the international community without internal and external consensus and outside the rule of law, they cease to be democratic, though, this does not apply to the current case with Iraq. The fact is any new military campaign to destroy Iraq has already been approved by the international community, and perversely enough, by Saddam Hussein himself.

That is because in order to end the imminent destruction of his rule as a result of his losing the Gulf "War," Iraq signed a cease-fire agreement and later agreed to certain other conditions with the United Nations, under the terms of the U.N. resolutions regarding Iraq’s unjustified invasion of Kuwait. These conditions concerned recognizing Kuwait’s borders and foregoing the acquisition of WMD. In order to verify compliance with these signed peace agreements, Saddam agreed allowing U.N. inspectors to look for WMD and if found, to destroy them inside Iraq. When he kicked the inspectors out and by continuing his current acquisition of WMD, Hussein in violating the terms of the cease-fire agreement and the U.N. conditions. This is why the "sanctions" continue. What most people do not understand is that the U.N. resolutions that give life to the sanctions regime are not limited to the sanctions, they authorize the use of all necessary force in order to ensure that Iraq lives up to its agreements. That is why the 10-year enforcement of the "no-fly zones" by U.S. and British air forces are legitimate. Air attacks have repeatedly been made to ensure the enforcement of the "no-fly zones" and any other military attacks to enforce the other provisions of the violated U.N. orders regarding Iraq would be also. Should the U.S. and its allies decide to launch a new campaign in order to destroy Hussein, it will be because he simply has not lived up to his commitments, and like any criminal, cannot be trusted do so in the future. It seems in order to ensure the full implementation of the U.N. policy towards Iraq, the only probable alternative is to remove Hussein from power and ensure a more peacefully inclined government takes control of Iraq. Like the Taliban, Saddam Hussein’s lies and deceptions may have finally caught up with him, and a more forceful and realistic policy will be forthcoming to end the threat of instant holocaust that his continued political existence entails.

This new policy will be implemented by the next military campaign, against Iraq. How exactly this campaign will be conducted, however is still under debate. The government, pleased with the fortuitous results of their military efforts in Afghanistan, seem to be inclined to attempt a replay of them in Iraq. It is not clear that such a campaign would enjoy the same advantages of the same unique situations that existed in Afghanistan. There is no equivalent of the "Northern Alliance" to provide infantry on the ground, there is no active revolt against Hussein in Iraq, the military forces of Iraq, while nowhere nearly as effective as the U.S. military, are far more capable than the armed mob of thugs that were the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and Iraq’s military is much more extensive.

The key condition to victory in Afghanistan was the dissolving away of the Taliban through its subordinate leaders switching alliances or common members just disappearing back to their villages, especially after directly experiencing the effectiveness of U.S. airpower. Military planners at CENTCOM should not rely on the Iraqi military to do the same thing, because it is not structured like the Taliban. It is a true military force, trained by the Soviets, and kept under control by Hussein’s extensive and deadly use of his secret police. It was hoped that the Iraqi military would overthrow Hussein at the end of the Gulf "War," and of course this did not happen. It should not be thought probable that it will happen in the future, and certainly an internal revolt either by hostile factions or the military itself should not be the centerpiece of military planning against Iraq As long as the choice is a sure death at the hands of Saddam’s secret police, or a possible death at the hands of U.S. airpower, the Iraqi military will most likely remain under the control of Hussein. A possible life is preferred to sure death, and the Iraqi military is not under the illusions of divine invincibility that the Taliban and al-Qaeda were; they already have experienced the joy of B-52’s and precision guided munitions. They know all about the "highway of death," but as long as they think that Americans will not seek out the destruction of Hussein on the ground, they will obey him. They have no choice.

Next month The Armchair Strategist will discuss some of the confusing and imprecise usage of military jargon that is being thrown around by the media and by civilian government officials, unless the new offensive reveals itself, or the "war" is declared won, which seems unlikely.