What You Don’t Want to Hear
“Overhanging all developments in the war this week is the unsettling realization that thousands of Iraqis are willing to fight vigorously. During planning for the invasion, worst-case scenarios sometimes predicated stiff resistance, but ‘no one took that very seriously,’ an officer said.” — “War Could Last Months, Officers Say,” Washington Post 3/27/2003
I’m not at all surprised that the war could last months, because I just tend to be naturally pessimistic about these things; I’m a big proponent of believing anything that can go wrong will go wrong, and it’s best to factor in things going wrong. However, I do find it mildly troubling that I called the matter of Iraqi resistance better than the military planners have; as I said about a week ago:
“One of the great temptations with overwhelming superiority, however, is to belittle and underestimate the enemy. An analogy to use here is a kid cornering a frightened hamster in a Habitrail. There’s not a doubt that the kid will have his way with the hamster, but the hamster still has teeth, is still frightened, and is liable to make the kid regret forgetting those two important points with a well-placed and painful bite between the thumb and the forefinger.”
At the time I made the assumption that the military had well factored this, but now I’m wondering if they really had. In particular, I wonder why they assumed there would be a huge popular uprising against Saddam; the last time we encouraged the Iraqi people to rise up against Saddam, we rather inconveniently left the man in power and offered them no help, which means the man slaughtered those who rose up by the tens of thousands. When you’ve been clobbered by sticking your head in a hole, you don’t stick your head in a hole a second time.
Mind you, it’s not a question of whether we win the war; time and material are on our side, as Saddam and his people are not exactly in a position to resupply or call in new troops. And our military is both capable and adaptable and will reconfigure to deal with these issues as they arise.
But would that the people who planned this war had been slightly more pessimistic in their assumptions. It’s not a coincidence that the acronyms “SNAFU” and “FUBAR” both come from the military, after all — it’s institutionally well aware of how even the best-laid plans run afoul. The question worth asking is if the plans we had going even had the advantage of being “best-laid.”