by Robert Herold
We were promised a war like none the world has ever seen. Our precision weapons, so much advanced since the first Gulf War, could do the job, could destroy Saddam Hussein's regime's ability and will to fight. Vice President Dick Cheney, only a few days before the invasion, predicted that our troops would be greeted as liberators. This war was to be over before it started.
A little over a week into the conflict, while the military makes good progress, with its highest priority bombing targets taken out, they fight now a war that the world has seen for centuries-- a war requiring the troops to do the nasty and ancient job of the taking and holding of ground. And, yes, we have been reminded that effective resistance need not rely only on massed troops. As Jim Lehrer put it the other night on The Nightly News, the photos appearing in our newspapers could have been taken in World War II.
And what about the Iraqi people? Where are they? On May 7, 1943, Tunis fell to Eisenhower's forces. Allied troops were greeted in the streets by thousands of smiling, happy Tunisians, Muslims all, many holding the arms high, their fingers in the "V" for victory sign made so famous by Winston Churchill. I suppose that Cheney had this image in mind when he made his prediction.
The public, ever anxious, now asks, why? Why didn't the military anticipate these challenges?
I'd look elsewhere for answers.
The Pentagon employs many smart analysts and tasks them to anticipate contingencies. They study military history, which is replete with examples of invading armies burdened by the same set of problems that now confront American and British ground troops in Iraq.
As regards to the supply line and weather problems, an obscure, but I think pertinent, case study comes to mind. In 1857, President James Buchanan determined to rid the country of the "twin relics of barbarism: slavery and polygamy."
His objective: regime change in Utah.
Buchanan determined that Brigham Young had to go. Fearing resistence, Buchanan sent 2,500 federal troops under the command of General Albert Sidney Johnston (who later would die in a Confederate uniform at the Battle of Shiloh) to enforce his appointment of a new territorial governor. As in Iraq, the troops moved over forbidding land, they faced a harsh winter (like its opposite, the sandstorm), and their supply lines were long. The Mormons, predictably, felt threatened and reacted. Led by Brigham Young's gun-toting bodyguard, Orrin Porter Rockwell, they harassed and attacked those supply lines. Buchanan then ordered in 3,000 additional troops. Rockwell, choosing his moments, then attacked these troops. Now thoroughly bogged down, Johnston's army stopped, dug in, and endured a very cold winter at Fort Bridger.
If the hungry federals managed to fight their way through the mountain passes the next spring, Young planned to burn their lands and then do what he had done before: flee with his people. Instead, what resulted -- perhaps a lesson for our times -- were negotiations and accommodations. Alfred Cumming, the president's man, was accepted and became a highly popular governor.
Military analysts had to know also of the times that supply-line vulnerability had been overcome. During his March to the Sea, General William T. Sherman avoided the problem by having his troops live off the land, and burn everything they couldn't eat (or steal). But Sherman hadn't advertised himself as a liberator of the White South seeking the gratitude that Eisenhower's troops would receive in 1943.
Now we learn that the Iraqis are relying on downright dastardly tactics. Another surprise. After Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham weighed in with his own "I'm shocked" routine, regarding the use of human shields and those phony surrenders, former Navy SEAL Jesse Ventura was left to blurt out: "We have invaded their country. What does Senator Graham think they will do?"
These so-called surprises reflect not military but political decisions arrogantly advocated by President Bush's brain trust -- Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld and Richard Perle. War plans had to be packaged and sold to a skeptical public. To succeed, the case had to be reduced to its moral basics while covered with overly optimistic predictions.
And the message to be carried? That great sage, Jonathan Winters, provides the characterization in his delicious 1964 album, Whistle Stopping With Jonathan. He plays many political characters, each interviewed by his frequent collaborator, Pat McCormick.
Price Boothcourt, the ex-president who spends his time sitting on a park bench poisoning pigeons, is asked: "Mr. President, have you any advice for the young politicians coming up?"
Boothcourt responds: "Tell them to do what I did. Carry a .44 in one hand, a Bible in the other and pray to God that you're doing the right thing. Worked for me!"
In George W. Bush, the hawks found the perfect president for the task: a Boothcourt, a messenger who would not complicate the plan with ambiguity, history, reflection or even modesty.
Our military confronts neither surprise nor setback; instead, it is simply facing all the predictable, traditional problems of conventional warfare. The only difference is they weren't allowed to acknowledge reality by the civilian military leadership that drives the Bush administration.
Publication date: 04/03/03