“Young Arab toughs cannot tolerate insults to their manhood. So, as American armored columns pushed down the road to Baghdad, 400-watt loudspeakers mounted on Humvees would, from time to time, blare out in Arabic that Iraqi men are impotent. The Fedayeen, the fierce but undisciplined and untrained Iraqi irregulars, could not bear to be taunted. Whether they took the bait or saw an opportunity to attack, many Iraqis stormed out of their concealed or dug-in positions, pushing aside their human shields in some cases, to be slaughtered by American tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles.” — The Secret War, Newsweek, 4/13/2003
There’s something that is just off-the-scale bizarre about the fact that US forces scored a massive victory in Iraq at least in part by taunting their enemies to the point of fatal stupidity. And I think that this point is the one that US enemies may wish to truly fear — not that we’ve got better guns, tanks and planes, but that we can make you kill yourself through the power of sheer, unadulterated mindfucking. Those Fedayeen would have rather have died than be told they’ve got limp noodles, and so they did. Darwin Awards all around.
At the same time, one has to wonder how applicable some of the major lessons of this war will be against an enemy who is not Iraq. In the various post-mortems of the war which ran in the newspapers this Sunday, three things were consistently listed as major factors in the Coalition forces effectively wrapping this up in three weeks: Unprecedented cooperation between military branches and the adaptability of our forces to existing circumstances (both supported by technology), and by the utter incompetence of the opposing Iraqi forces. While taking absolutely nothing away from these first two factors, the Iraqi incompetence seems to be the overriding factor here. Let’s face it, when you’re dealing with an enemy that can be teased into suicidal attacks, you’re not dealing with an opponent that can be called formidable by any rational definition of the word. Brig. General John Kelley said of the Iraqi fighters that “we shoot them down like the morons they are,” and while that’s not a very nice thing to say, it’s hard to come up with a better word to describe a fighting force that willfully charges an Abrams Tank armed with only with a machine gun and a vague hope that everything they’ve heard about getting into paradise if you die in battle will turn out to be true.
(A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that I thought that the fighters doing these things didn’t actually expect to win, they just expected to lose with such style that they became an inspiration to others. But to some extent, that estimation was predicated on the idea that the Iraqis could hold out for a while with such harassing tactics. Clearly, that didn’t work — partly due to the adaptation of our forces, and because we just went ahead and flattened Saddam’s regime in three weeks, thereby overshadowing any propaganda value of the attacks. I think we can all be glad for that.)
The incompetence of Iraqi forces allowed our military forces to engage in some audacious maneuvers that might have otherwise been folly, the dash across the desert on dangerously extended supply lines and the armored column push through the heart of Baghdad being two examples of this. Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz et al have been feeling vindicated in the last week that their plan, so roundly doubted two weeks ago, has been pulled off — as well they should. But I don’t think the retired generals who were sniping at the Rumsfeld plan were wrong. Coalition victory was never in doubt, but had Saddam’s defenders had the slightest bit of competence, it’s very likely we would have paid a far higher price for it, in blood and treasure, than we have so far.
The rest of the world is taking a moment to let the ease in which we won this war sink in, and stories like the one about goading the Fedayeen into becoming bullet holders will undoubtedly have an effect. But I do hope that on this end of things people factor in who our enemy was this time around. Just as war protesters need to get over the idea that every military engagement is going to be a quagmire with ten of thousands of innocent civilians dead, so too do the neocons and hawks have to need to come to grips with the idea that every war we fight from now on isn’t going to be a cakewalk with fewer deaths in the whole war than we’d take in a single day in Vietnam. Not every enemy will respond to a challenge to his manhood, broadcast over a loudspeaker.