Conversation Corner
St. Francis of Assisi, Patron of Peace

Does the military action the U.S. is contemplating against Iraq meet the standards of a just war?


Date: 4/3/2003 1:01:28 PM
Name or Pseudonym: Shoshana
Subject: ’Operation Iraqi Freedom’: Is it the new Ba...

This is an article written by Gwynne Dyer again. He is stationed in the U.K. Boy, Pat you should be proud!

Historical analogies are often misleading, but have you noticed that Saddam Hussein, in recent TV broadcasts, looks more and more like Joseph Stalin? That’s how he’s positioning himself politically too. Like Stalin during the Second World War, he is effectively telling the Iraqis to forget about the socialist idealogy, the pumps and all the rest, and unite against the foreign invader. As in the old Soviet Union, a lot of the citizens seem to be listening.

Stalin’s finest hour was in 1941, when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, with the confident expectation of destroying it in a matter of weeks.

He had this brilliant new military technique, blirzkrieg, which allowed relatively small numbers of German troups to spread ’shock and awe’ among the defenders (the phrase was first used in the Nazi magazine ’Signal’) and achieve a rapid victory at low cost.

The blitzkrieg technique had beaten France in six weeks in 1940, and Hitler calculated that it ought to work even better against the Soviet Union because the vast majority of Soviet citizens hated Stalin and the Communist Party. Stalin’s secret police had murdered millions of people, and all the non-Russian citizens of the multinational empire Soviet Union (essentially, the old Russian empire) hated Russian rule. So masses of Soviet troops would defect at the first opportunity, and the nonp-Russian half of the population would greet the Germans as liberators. Sound familiar?

In July 1941, the German army launched its armoured columns into the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa, and within weeks its tanks were many hundred kilometres (miles) inside the country. Hundreds of thousands of Soviet troops were cut off and left behind as the tank spearheads raced for Moscow, points of resistance were bypassed in the interest of speed; ’shock and awe’ was the essence of the strategy.

But the cut-off Soviet troops did not surrender, the garrisons of the by-passed towns attacked the German supply lines, and the people did not strew roses at the feet of the invaders. Most Soviet citizens remained loyal to their country despite the monstrous character of its ruler.

The German spearheads ultimately got quite close to Moscow, but after such delays, that winter closed their offensive down and the Soviet capital was never captured. Instead the war turned into a nightmare battle of attrition that eventually destroyed the German army.

This history offers some precedents that must be keeping the current commanders of the American forces in Iraq awake at night. This is not to imply that GWB is like Adolph Hitler or that the US government’s goals in Iraq resemble Nazi Germany’s in the Soviet Union. But American military strategy now does resemble German military strategy, and there are equally close parallels between Stalin’s Soviet Union and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

Look at the US strategy in Iraq. It depends on ’shock and awe’; mostly in the form of air power delivered right on target (Stukas then, cruise missiles and JDAMs now), to bewilder and demoralize the defenders. It bypasses points of resistance, ignores traditional military wisdom about securing your lines of supply, and heads straight for the capital. Above all, it depends on the assumption that the enemy state and ruling party are so rotten, the enemy’s ruler so universally hated, that the whole edifice will collapse at the first hard push. But it didn’t in the Soviet Union, and it hasn’t in Iraq.

Iraq under Saddam Hussein’s rule has always been essentially a Soveit-style state. Indeed, in the 1970, before war and sanctions ruined Iraq’s economy, the ruling Arab Renaissance (Baath) Socialist Party used Iraq’s oil revenues to build a very impressive welfare state: free and universal education, free health care; subsidized housing, the lot. The wars were Saddam’s fault (though they were not simply cases of unbridled agression)--but the reason he survived them is precisely because he is a min-Stalin.

Joseph Stalin has been one of the Iraqi’s dictator’s heroes since he joined the Baath party almost 50 years ago, and by now he looms as large in the consciensness of most Iraqis as Stalin did in the mind of Soviet citizens towards the end of his life. The secret police, the party miltia, the commissars, the personality cult--it’s all there, the whole apparatus of a classic Soviet regime, and combined with natural Iraqi patriotism it makes the country much more resistant to an unprovoked foreign invasion than the Pentagon ’chicken-hawks’ thought it would be.

So is the US army in the same predicament before Baghdad that the German army was outside of Moscow in 1941?

Technically, yes: it’s 500 km from its base of supply with unbroken enemy forces all along its lines of communications. But that’s as far the analogy goes, because it is so overwhelmignly strong that it can make any number of mistakes and still win.

When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, it was attacking a country with a bigger industrial base and twice as many people: there no margin for error if the blitzkrieg tactics disn’t produce a quick win.

By contrast, Americans outnumber Iraqis 12- to-one, and the US defence budget is 250 times bigger than Iraqi’s.

Defeating the Iraqis will take longer and cost more than US Defence Secretary Don Rumsfield expected, but it would take a genius in the Pentagon to lose the war.

He has the arrogance, but he’s no genius.



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