Stalingrad on the Tigris
Sun Tzu said avoid protracted war and attack cities as a last resort.
President Bush has managed to do the opposite in Iraq. Now he is about to escalate his long-war strategy with a door to door assault on Baghdad. The aim will be to cleanse Baghdad’s neighborhoods of insurgents and local militias. But as Patrick Cockburn has shown, most of these militias are allied to the different factions of the Iraqi government we put into place.
Once the Battle of Baghdad starts, and casualties and frustrations mount, the US military will do what it always does: it will fall back on a technology-intensive firepower strategy.
But militias and insurgents will not cooperate by standing and fighting. Our adversaries will not provide the kind of targets so conveniently assumed by the Pentagon in the computer models it uses to sell its high-cost hi-tech weapons to Congress and the American people. The local fighters will counter with hit and run raids on US forces.
The increasing rubblization of Baghdad will create more opportunities for dispersing, for ambushing, and for mining. As the German’s learned in Stalingrad, and we should have learned at Monte Cassino, the irregularity of rubble makes it easier for defenders to hide in or disappear into the environmental background, or what the Pentagon antiseptically calls the "urban battle space."
Couple this battlespace with the rising sea of intelligence support provided by increasingly hostile local residents, and it is likely that the US forces will be bogged down in a highly destructive unending battle.
Given the dubious nature of Mr. Bush’s real motives for invading Iraq and our military’s predilection for substituting firepower for ideas, the strategy of providing greater security to Baghdad’s local population by destroying their city is an oxymoronic fantasy that will increase division at home, embolden adversaries, alienate allies and uncommitted nations, and make it impossible to end this conflict on favorable terms that do not sow the seeds for future conflict.
This is grand strategy at its worst.
But then, we have seen how fantasies come easily to the armchair strategists careening around the hall of mirrors that is Versailles on the Potomac.
FRANKLIN C. SPINNEY is a former Pentagon analyst and whistleblower. His writing on defense issues can be found on the invaluable Defense in the National Interest website.