Dead Man Plotting

by Patrick J. Buchanan – March 31, 2003

Eight days into the war, 27 Americans had died in combat, some from friendly fire. Yet, already, journalists were talking about America being caught in a quagmire like Vietnam. We pay a price for not teaching history to our children.

In Vietnam, we averaged 150 dead a week for seven years. In World War II, we lost 200 men every day for four years. In the Civil War, 400 Americans a day, Union and Confederate, died from the fall of Ft. Sumter to Appomattox.

Every battle death is a tragedy and a loss. But America is winning this war. Only if you predicted a “cakewalk” is this a quagmire.

Gen. Tommy Franks’ war plan is straight out of Clausewitz and MacArthur. In war, said Clausewitz, strike hard at the enemy’s center of gravity, be it king, army or capital.

In Iraq, all three are in Baghdad, and Franks sent his Marines and 7th Cav up the Baghdad road on day one. The MacArthur element is the “island-hopping” strategy the general conducted in the Pacific. Rather than send thousands of Marines to their deaths assaulting Japanese strongholds like Rabaul, MacArthur bypassed them, cut them off from re-supply by air and sea, and moved on.

Franks bypassed Basra, Iraq’s second city, to head straight for Baghdad. At this writing, U.S. forces are building up 50 miles south of the city for the final assault on the capital.

But that does not mean the surrender of Baghdad is but hours away. Because of the halving of U.S. armed forces since Desert Storm, Tommy Franks has half the number of troops to drive Saddam out of Iraq as Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf did to drive him out of Kuwait.

Yet, the great question left is not whether Baghdad falls, but when. For Tony Blair and George Bush must take the city. There is no substitute for victory. The coalition must drive Saddam out.

How soon this happens, however, is critical. For this war is not only being fought on a military front, where Saddam cannot win. It is being fought in the hearts and minds of hundreds of millions of Islamic and European peoples, many of whom violently oppose what they see as U.S. imperialism. Every day that the Iraqi regime and Revolutionary Guard are not broken is a victory for Saddam.

Each day Iraq refuses to surrender – each day that goes by with Iraqi soldiers standing, fighting and dying – is a victory for Saddam.

What is Saddam’s end game? He knows that Iraq, impotent against U.S. missiles and bombs, with ancient artillery and tanks that cannot fire as far or accurately as U.S. artillery and tanks, cannot defeat a superpower 15 times as populous, with an economy 170 times as large. Eventual defeat and probable death appear certain, and soon.

But what Saddam can do is force the Americans to pay a price in blood, and a higher price in moral authority in the Arab and Islamic world, if he can force us, out of impatient rage, to raze the sacred city of Baghdad, which ranks with Cairo as a capital of the Arab world and was for 500 years home to the caliphate of Islam.

The destruction of Baghdad before the eyes of the world, by U.S. bombs, artillery and tanks – with daily TV footage of Iraqi women and children torn to pieces – is Saddam’s last best hope either of surviving this war or entering history as a Saladin who died defying the superpower.

Winning by losing is not unknown to the West. Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie immortalized themselves by fighting to the death, rather than surrender the Alamo. The 400 Texans who surrendered to Santa Anna at Goliad, only days later, were all massacred – and are forgotten.

Winston Churchill converted Dunkirk – where the British fled Europe before Hitler’s panzers, leaving their equipment behind – into a miraculous retreat, though he warned that wars are not won by evacuations.

Now, to suggest a comparison between Saddam and the heroes of the Alamo, or Iraqis and the Brits at Dunkirk, seems to us sacrilegious. But it is not we to whom Saddam is appealing, but those who hate the United States. And as we have seen from our own surveys of Arabs and Muslims worldwide, this numbers not just a few.

In 1982, the Israelis, after weeks of shelling Beirut to drive out Arafat and his PLO, had to stand down in the face of enraged world opinion. Saddam hopes Arab opinion, world opinion and U.S. opinion will save him. If he can hold out in Baghdad and force America to devastate his capital, he believes he just might – like Arafat, who was given a U.S. Marine escort to the ships that took him to Tunisia – survive as the most famous Arab of them all.

But then, what other strategy does he have, at end game?