Daily Kos
Political analysis and other daily rants on the state of the nation

Thursday | August 08, 2002

Not your father's Gulf War

The Gulf War was a seminal moment in warfare, perhaps the last of the great tank wars. The US was so dominant, so outclassed its Iraqi enemy, that many surrendered any illusions they could confront the US with conventional weapons. Libya, for example, reportedly reorganized its army into guerilla units, recognizing the futility of conventional warfare against better-equipped foes.

The next lesson was provided courtesy of the Chechens. Sent in to quell secessionist rebels, Russian tank and mechanized infantry columns easily swept across the northern Chechen plains. Yet Russian euphoria quickly changed to horror as they attempted to occupy the capital, Grozny. Thousands of men died in a series of well-orchestrated ambushes. Russian artillery and air power methodically leveled the entire city, yet to this day, Chechen rebels continue to bedevil the occupying Russian forces. Snipers can hide behind rubble just as well as behind standing buildings.

Lesson #3 is ongoing -- the Palestinian resistance. I won't wade into the morass of who is right -- the Palestinians or the Israelis. I hold them equally in contempt and abstain from supporting either side. They reap what they sow. But from a military standpoint, the Palestinians seem to have the upper hand. The Israelis have modern weaponry, armor, attack jets operating from airfields just minutes away from their targets, attack gunships, night-fighting capabilities, and some of the best military training in the world. Yet, they are hamstrung by Palestinian guerilla tactics and a masterful PR operation by Arafat and his cronies.

Here's how it works: place a sniper in a populated building. Shoot at occupying Israeli troops. The Israelis call in air strikes, turning the building into rubble and a graveyard for dozens of civilians including women and children. Arafat comes out and weeps his crocodile tears for the dead, and the (non-US) world is outraged at the carnage and "heavy-handed" Israeli tactics. This is a refinement on the Chechen strategy, adding an effective public relations element to the strategy of urban resistance.

Of course, urban resistance is as old as warfare itself. I don't mean to imply that Chechnya and Palestine are pioneers in any way. But, both are examples of how urban guerillas can still fight technologically superior foes to a standstill by using age-old tactics. Regardless of how good US technology is, there is still no easy way to ferret out snipers without house-to-house combat. And like it or not, that will cost lives.

(And if any of you are wondering, Somalia is not analogous -- US troops were trying to arrest associates of warlord Aidid, not subjugate and occupy the country.)

Hussein may be a bit loony, but he's not stupid. He knows he cannot hope to defeat the US in the open desert. Thus, he plans to abandon the open desert for the relative security of his cities. The US would be forced to attack civilian targets to eliminate Saddam's forces, inevitably causing horrific civilian casualties. And CNN and Al Jazeera would be there to capture Hussein shedding tears for his martyrs, turning world opinion sharply against the US. Even a successful occupation of Baghdad could be met with years of casualties as Saddam loyalists engaged in hit-and-run guerilla tactics.

There was a reason Bush I didn't march on Baghdad.

Despite all the war talk, nothing is inevitable. While Democrats are too afraid to oppose war, many influential Republicans are fidgeting. When House Majority Leader Dick Armey opposes war, along with influential foreign policy wonks such as Lugar and Hagel, things are not looking good for Bush. No doubt things are bleak for the Democrats when Armey is the voice of reason:

My own view would be to let him bluster, let him rant and rave all he wants. As long as he behaves himself within his own borders, we should not be addressing any attack or resources against him.

If we try to act against Saddam Hussein, as obnoxious as he is, without proper provocation, we will not have the support of other nation states who might do so.

Posted August 08, 2002 11:34 PM | Comments (12)


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