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War, by its nature, is full of surprises. Like most observers, I did not expect the Iraqis in the south to fight us, and they did. Also like most observers, I expected the Republican Guard around Baghdad to fight us, and they did not. The question of why they did not fight is an interesting one, although it will probably be years before we know the true answer. (As always, the official answer will be air power; as always, that answer will prove false). My guess, and it cannot be more than that, is that the senior Iraqi leadership fled Baghdad and the troops found out they had done so. You can’t say, “Fight fiercely, fellows,” while you bolt out the back door and expect any army to fight.
The result, thankfully, is that the Second Generation war with the state of Iraq’s armed forces is over and we won. Saddam and his government are gone, U.S. armed forces occupy Iraq and the whole thing went off with relatively few casualties, on both sides. Did we see any evidence of Third Generation maneuver warfare on the part of the Americans? I will not know until I can talk to people who were there, but at present I am skeptical. Overall, I think we have seen our better-equipped, better-trained Second Generation army beat another Second Generation army.
The problem is, now the real war starts.
There are three basic forms it may take, none of which lend themselves to a Second Generation response. The first is simple chaos. The initial chaos that followed the American victory seems to be subsiding, but that is no guarantee that there will not be new waves of chaos to come. The essential characteristic of chaos is that it is spontaneous. It is caused by large numbers of people responding to circumstances: no water or food, no jobs or money, outrage over perceived humiliations (we have chosen a woman to rule over central Iraq, including Baghdad, which is an enormous insult to Arab men), whatever draws a crowd. Chaos may be manipulated, and there will be many who benefit from it and want it to continue, but its nature is that it is “bottom up.” That makes it all the more difficult to control.
A second form the real war may take is a War of National Liberation, a guerilla war to free Iraq from foreign occupation. The essential characteristic of this kind of war is that it is for the nation. The term — Nationale Befreiungskrieg, in the original German — comes from Germany’s, especially Prussia’s, effort to free itself from Napoleon’s yoke. Here, there is likely to be some sort of underground national leadership, and the basis for the war would be Iraqi nationalism. It is possible, though not likely, that rather than fleeing, Saddam and other senior Iraqi leaders have gone underground to organize this kind of war, using the vast remaining structure of the Ba’ath party as a base and the Republican Guard troops who went home as the guerillas.
The third and, in my view, most likely form the real war may take is Fourth Generation warfare. Washington thinks it has destroyed the Iraqi regime, but it may find it has also destroyed the Iraqi state and cannot create it again. (The best chance of doing so is probably to use the remaining Ba’ath party structure, if it can be co-opted, but the Bush administration will probably reject this on grounds of “moral principle.”)
In place of the state of Iraq, we will find ourselves facing a vast array of competing loyalties, based on religion (Sunni or Shiite), ethnicity, tribe, clan, source of income or source of local security (gangs and warlords), and simple appeals to fight the Crusaders from non-state actors such as al Quaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, and countless imitators. As in Afghanistan, the puppet government we establish in Baghdad will have no authority outside Baghdad, maybe not much in Baghdad, and will survive only because it is propped up by American troops. Iraq will become for us what the West Bank is for Israel, an ulcer that drains us physically, mentally and morally. Further, if an intifada against America arises in Iraq, it may well spread elsewhere in the Arab and Moslem world, aimed at any local government that supports the United States.
These alternatives are not pure; we may and probably will face a mixture of all three. This, the real war, is likely to begin slowly, allowing Washington to believe it has won, perhaps for long enough to start more wars, with Syria the probable next target. But once it does start, our Second Generation armed forces will prove to have little ability to stop it. We will find ourselves recalling the immortal words of Marshal McMahon to Napoleon III at Sedan, where the Emperor and his army were trapped by the Prussians: “Nous somme dans une pot de chambre, et nous y serrons emmerdes.”
WILLIAM S. LIND is Director of the Center for Cultural Conservatism at the Free Congress Foundation.