Wait for the final round before calling Hussein stupid
So far ex-dictator has achieved primary objectives: survival, U.S. quagmire

Boxing has a sleazy reputation, yet the sport has a unique attribute that makes it fairer than most. Unlike basketball, football or hockey, boxers fight according to size. A 112-pound Korean flyweight goes in the ring with another small fighter, not a 225-pound Russian heavyweight.

If a promoter were to match a flyweight against a heavyweight, the smaller fighter wouldn't stand a chance. And boxing analysts wouldn't write long articles about how incompetent and cowardly the flyweight was.

Yet that's what David Zucchino does (Gazette August 30th) in his analysis of the recent U.S. conquest of Iraq. Zuccino attributes Iraq's sudden defeat to Saddam Hussein's incompetence, poor preparation, bad leadership and an unwillingness of Iraqi servicemen to die for their country. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Yet despite clear evidence to the contrary, Zucchino's facile analysis largely prevails in both Canada and the U.S. The consequences of accepting this flawed logic are so dire that it demands immediate refutation.

Let's get real. The Iraq army was outmanned, outgunned and outspent. The country's soldiers and population were literally starved of food, medical supplies and equipment by a decade of U.S. bombing and crippling U.N. sanctions. Despite this, by all evidence Iraqi soldiers, whatever the merit of their cause, fought bravely, and died by the thousands to defend their country. Many continue to do so.

Boxing analysts look at the "tale of the tape," to assess a fighter's chances of prevailing. The tape consists of a series of measurements of a boxers' chest, biceps, quadriceps and other body parts in order to determine his estimated punching and defensive powers.

Let's look at the tale of the tape in the Iraq conflict. In his seminal work The Rise and Fall of Great Powers, Paul Kennedy writes that the most important determinant of long-term military success is a country's economic might.

With an approximately U.S. $10 trillion GDP, compared to Iraq's $15 billion, America had a roughly 650-to-one advantage. If we believe Kennedy, there is almost no way Iraq could have won a long-term war under these conditions.

America's military spending, about $400 billion per year, was about 250 times higher than Iraq's $1.5 billion. (Neither the Pentagon nor Iraq has been forthcoming about the true numbers, so both are estimates).

America's technological advantage has been well documented. U.S. aircraft were essentially invulnerable. Its JDAMs, cluster bombs and smart munitions pounded Iraqi troops, leaving American pilots in as much danger as a butcher in a slaughterhouse. Questioning Iraqi courage under these conditions is obscene.

We really don't know Hussein's true strategy. However it's unlikely he would have divulged it to the rearguard commanders and servicemen that Zucchino talked to.

Here's what we know. Hussein was a guerilla fighter when many of us who write about him were in diapers. He studied the U.S. failure in Vietnam closely. Any reasonable assessment of his strategy would take have to take America's overwhelming military and economic superiority into consideration.

Hussein's likely short-term objectives would have been to survive, and to do as much damage to the U.S. as possible. Whether or not he planned it this way, that's exactly what happened.

A few hundred Iraqi guerilla fighters are now tying up two-thirds of America's operational combat forces. The U.S. is now spending about a billion dollars week on its occupation, and there is no end sight.

Although U.S. pilots are invulnerable, its ground forces are not. Today, 150,000 Indiana farm-boys, Bronx rappers and Mississippi trailer park boys are patrolling the streets of Baghdad, wondering if the next smiling ten-year old Iraqi kid who shakes their hands is going to put a bullet in their heads.

In recent weeks, since the U.S. "victory," more of its soldiers have been killed than during the initial fighting. Many foresaw this, including almost certainly Hussein himself.

Almost all neutral observers now believe that America needs to put more boots on the ground. Only the Pentagon disagrees. But they have no choice to adopt that line since there are no troops that are ready to deploy. At worst, Iraq is tying up U.S. military strength, leaving the country's other rivals, such as Osama Bin Laden a free hand to create mischief.

In recent weeks it appears that Syria and Iran are allowing foreign fighters to flow across their borders into Iraq. In addition attacks have spread outside the Sunni areas in the northwest, into Basra and the Shiite south, creating at least the possibility of a Vietnam style conflict down the road.

We still don't know if Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. But there is speculation that he did, and that they were sent to Syria before the war started. If he did, and this leads to a U.S. attack on Syria, say around election time, it would have been a stroke of genius. The only way that the U.S. can be defeated is on the ground, and if the U.S. gets lured into Syria, its forces will be spread even thinner.

Hussein has so many deplorable characteristics that it is tempting to always think the worst of him. But if history teaches us anything, just because someone is mean, it doesn't necessarily follow that they are stupid. Before we pass judgment on Hussein's military strategy, maybe we should wait until the bell rings in the last round of this fight.

 

Before becoming a writer, Peter Diekmeyer was a militia infantry officer who studied guerilla tactics at the Canadian Armed Force's Combat Training Center in Gagetown, New Brunswick.

 

peter@peterdiekmeyer.com

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