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In June of 1944, when Field Marshal von Rundstedt, the German commander in France, was told that the Allies were landing in Normandy, he knew exactly what to do. He went out into the garden and pruned his roses. Von Rundstedt knew that in war, early reports, regardless of whether the news is good or bad, are usually misleading. Reacting to them with "instant analysis" merely makes the problem worse. That is as true for the war in Iraq as for any other war. For now, we need to wait. Only time can offer clarity.
What we can do now is discuss possibilities. I see three broad, possible outcomes to this war. None of them is good.
The first and worst is that our current advance on Baghdad proves to be a trap. We get there, our 350-mile single supply line is cut, and the 3rd Infantry Division, which is the spearhead, is forced into a desperate retreat or even surrender. Could it happen? Yes. As the Iraqi leadership seems to understand, a modern defense does not try to keep the enemy out.
Rather, it seeks to suck him in, then cut him off. This type of defense was first developed by the German army during World War I (early critics called it the "let them walk right in defense"), and it was the standard German defense during World War II. The key element, the counterattack by armored forces, will probably be impossible for the Iraqis because of air power.
But there are other ways to cut a supply line.
This outcome is disastrous in both the short and long terms. Short-term, we lose an army. Long-term, the Islamic world gets what it might see as its biggest victory since the Turks took Constantinople in 1453. It would be an enormous shot in the arm for every Islamic jihadi, and would lead to a collapse of America’s position throughout the Islamic world, and perhaps elsewhere as well.
The second broad possibility is that we take Baghdad, replace Saddam with an American-approved pro-consul, then watch Iraq turn into a vast West Bank as non-state elements take effective control outside the capital city. This is what has happened in Afghanistan, and in Iraq too we would quickly find that our state armed forces do not know how to fight non-state opponents in Fourth Generation war. This outcome is good short-term but — as Israel can attest — a bloody mess in the long-term.
The third possibility is what the adventurers who now run American foreign and defense policy seek: we take Baghdad, liberate Iraq and turn it into a modern, peaceful democracy. The probability of this happening makes a snowball’s chances in Hell look pretty good, but even if it does, it too is a long-term disaster.
First, because democracy in the Islamic world probably means the election of people like Bin Laden, whose campaign slogan would be, "Death to the Christian and Jewish dogs!" Second, because what the American Establishment means by "freedom and democracy" is Brave New World. And third, because the adventurers, emboldened by success, might then go on to wage war against Iran, Syria, Libya, and possibly North Korea. If their goal is American world hegemony, that goal is certain to drive everyone else into a coalition against us, state and non-state elements alike.
In short, so long as American policy remains what it is today, the war in Iraq offers us no exit. If the adventurers were replaced by sober men, could we find a way out? Perhaps. It just might work if we took Baghdad, overthrew Saddam, and then immediately turned Iraq over to the Arab League or the U.N. to run, while making it very clear to the rest of the world that America’s quest for world hegemony is over, finished and done. A good way to put it might be, "a republic, not an empire."
Meanwhile, let us all pray that possibility number one does not come to pass, and that our friends over there doing the fighting — and I have many come home to us whole, safe, victorious and soon.
WILLIAM S. LIND is Director of the Center for Cultural Conservatism at the Free Congress Foundation.
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