HOLD ON THERE!!!
Assessing the Meaning of Victory in Iraq
Saturday, April 12, 2003
by Richard E. Berg-Andersson
I have been seeing, as we head into this first weekend after Coalition entry into the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, followed soon thereafter by the surrender of such key northern cities as Kirkuk and Mosul, a lot of statements from many of those who were pro-war before the war even began a few weeks back in which there is a lot of back-slapping, glad-handing (all well and good!) but also quite a lot of chiding of those who publicly said that this war might take many weeks, if not months, when in fact it only took less than three weeks from the launch of Operation Iraqi Freedom for Coalition forces to get to Baghdad. Some have even gone so far as to say that, with the war having gone the way it did, maybe those who had liberated Kuwait should have gone to Baghdad as far back at the end of Desert Storm back in 1991 after all!
Puh-LEEZE!!!... let's not all get nuts here!!
Granted, the Coalition military- led by the United States, of course- has done one hell of a job, from the creation of the war plan itself on down to its actual execution on the ground by the soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines charged with carrying it out. Yet, at the same time, it has to also be admitted that there were a fair number of breaks along the way- combined with more than a little good old fashioned luck- with which the war plan was flexible enough to deal as the military campaign progressed. For example, at least as of this typing, we don't yet know Saddam Hussein's ultimate fate (and the rumors and speculation have already begun: he's in Syria, he's dead, he's had plastic surgery that will not allow us to identify him, he was severely wounded, he's holed up in a Tikrit bunker, etc.) but we do know Coalition air strikes hit two very key leadership targets over the past 3 1/2 weeks- one on the very first night of the war (that so-called "target of opportunity" that launched the whole thing back on 20 March) and another on Monday 7 April; regardless of whether one- or even both- of these well put the "big hurt" on Saddam or not, these strikes quite clearly affected the dynamic of the leadership at the top of a military apparatus that- being an adjunct of a police state- depended so heavily on "top down" orders: it is rather evident that key portions of the Iraqi chain of command were incapacitated by either death or serious injury in each of these air attacks... now, tell me what would have transpired if these air strikes had never taken place?
It will- of course- be up to historians, some decades from now, to objectively sort out exactly why what happened during this war happened (or, for that matter, why reasonably expected things didn't necessarily happen!) but it is safe to say, even at this early juncture, that there were quite a lot of things the Coalition had little direct control over (such as how fiercely the vaunted Special Republican Guard was going to fight or how well- and even whether- particular Iraqi military units, of whatever level, were commanded, or how well the Iraqi defensive plan was put together, etc. etc.) and that, had only a relative few of these things been significantly different than they actually turned out to be, it might well have been four or five weeks- if not even longer- to Baghdad instead of merely three.
History, or so I have found in now some three and a half decades of it being one of my favorite subjects, is very much like the following scenario one might well find while attending- or watching on TV- a baseball game (and keep in mind that, of course, today's current events are tomorrow's historical ones): bottom of the 9th inning, home team- of course- at bat, behind by two runs, with one out-- a batter then draws a walk, obviously putting a runner on first base and, thus, bringing the potential tying run to the plate. After a few pitches to the next batter, the lone baserunner breaks for second but is thrown out on the attempted steal: two out!; two pitches later, the batter hits a solo home run and then the batter that follows grounds out to end the game with the home team having lost by a mere run...
now, or so I am sure (precisely because I have actually been in ball parks in which scenarios at least similar to that I have posited above have taken place and, thus, have heard this kind of talk), there will be more than a few among the hometown fans who will bemoan the fact that the runner tried to steal before the home run had been struck. "Man! If only he had stayed on first", one will almost certainly hear not all that long after the home run has left the ball park, "the game would at least now be tied up!!"
But the knowledgeable baseball fan will know that, once the baserunner had been erased by the second out, the entire pitching sequence to the batter at the plate will thereafter have changed; in effect, the visiting team can afford to give up that solo homer and still win the game (not that the pitcher would purposely allow even a single run in that situation, of course). In other words, one cannot possibly know that- had the runner successfully stolen second with but one out instead of becoming the second out- the batter would still have hit a home run that, in this case, would have tied the game; one might as well argue that, had the runner stayed on first and not at all attempted to steal a base, the batter would have eventually grounded into a game-ending double play! The latter argument would be just as reasonable as the former (as well as based on just as much lack of anything approaching proof to boot!!)
So it is with History (as the knowledgeable historian well realizes). This military victory in Iraq is a product of this particular time and place: each and every event in the whole sequence of events during the course of this particular military campaign changed forevermore the range of possible events which could then follow. What if, say, the members of the UN Security Council who opposed this war had suddenly dropped their pens upon Secretary of State Colin Powell's audiovisual presentation to them back on 5 February and then collectively gasped "My God! We've just got to get this guy out of power!!", suddenly flocking to a war-enabling UN resolution (as highly unlikely as this scenario might have been)? What if President Bush, thereby, had been able to deliver his 48 hour ultimatum on 18 February instead of 18 March?? What if the war had been launched a month- or even just a week- earlier???... would Coalition forces have then arrived in Baghdad faster than they actually did?-- or might Baghdad not have been liberated even by this very day (Saturday 12 April)??... oh, yeah??? PROVE it!!!! (regardless of your answer)...
If 'if's and 'but's were candied nuts,
Those of you criticizing those who said this military campaign would take longer than it actually has will also have to then criticize those who actually planned the Coalition's side of this war, for *I* certainly don't remember any public talk from the Pentagon or the White House or CENTCOM in Qatar back around 20 March indicating that anybody associated with these institutions were at all certain that US forces would be arriving in downtown Baghdad by 9 April.
Again, celebrating victory in Iraq is one thing... but let's not get crazy!