Although U.S. military experts and generals will tell you that the coalition to effect regime change in Iraq is perhaps the most powerful in the history of warfare, there are some strategic disadvantages that must be overcome if the U.S. is to succeed. And as the war progresses, it appears that the Iraqis are aware of them — not a comforting thought if you are counting on a quick, painless American victory.
Some of these differences are based on culture and religion, and perhaps sincerity of belief in those religions. While most Americans are Christian and would claim to trust in God and look forward to their “heavenly reward”, the fact is that most Americans have a morbid fear, a dread of death. And that includes U.S. soldiers as well as the U.S. public.
Because of this fear of death, the public wants minimal casualties and may very well come to reject a previously acceptable war because the American causality rates are just too costly for the American psyche. This fear of death has a trickle-down effect in several ways. The military is forced to control the flow of information by the media. Gruesome photos, especially of American causalities are not acceptable, because of being devastating to stateside morale. So censorship by the military on the press creates distrust by the public of truthfulness of military casualty reports. The old saying goes “when the bullets fly, truth is the first casualty” and the spread of distrust over military reporting can be a precursor to loss of support for the very goals of the war, no matter how “noble” or acceptable in the beginning.
Perhaps even more importantly, the combat strategies must be adjusted to minimize risk of casualties to U.S. troops. This can mean shifting of tactics from more effective artillery and ground sweeps to firing of long-range cruise missiles and air attacks. On a skilled, determined, and creative military, these long-range attacks may be less effective, as in cases where camouflage or deception prevents effective targeting of the “precision” weapons. This leaves more Iraqi firepower available for time of application when the Iraqi military leadership chooses, with potential consequence of increased American casualties. Not having the same morbid fear of death as Christian Americans, Iraqis may also be willing to expose themselves to greater individual danger in order to inflict maximum casualties on American troops.
American strategy in the current war certainly focuses on a quick, painless victory, but that strategy may be backfiring already. In an attempt to race to Baghdad, the U.S. forces have actually bypassed Iraqi troops and formations and even cities with Iraqi forces, allowing Iraqi saboteurs and resistance to operate behind the front lines. This in and of itself can be detrimental to the desire to limit casualties, as hidden Iraqi troops bearing rocket-propelled grenades or other weapons can launch quick, but deadly small-scale attacks that cause unwanted casualties. A rocket striking a troop transport vehicle can kill several soldiers at once. The Iraqi soldier, if detected, will likely be killed, but the casualties caused by his action will be have much greater impact than his own death, because the Americans are far more sensitive to individual casualties than the Iraqis.
The American public is also sensitive to civilian casualties, though not at the same scale of concern as regarding American combat casualties. Nonetheless, this public concern affects American strategic selection of military targets and tactics, and limits somewhat the overwhelming advantage in firepower otherwise enjoyed by American forces.
It may seem strange, even bizarre, that a powerful and aggressive army of conquest could be limited by fear of death. But such is the case within the American military as well as the American public, and this factors into American strategic and tactical strategy.
Another interesting factor relates to American attitude towards Iraq, its citizens, its military, and Iraqi perceived attitudes towards their national leadership. Apparently, the American military and the American government are or were convinced that the Iraqi public so hated the dominant Baath Party and regime of Saddam Hussein that they were just waiting for American “liberators” to arrive so they (the Iraqis) could overthrow the regime themselves or aid the Americans in doing so. The Americans seem to believe that most, if not all, Iraqi soldiers would simply lay down their arms and surrender when faced with the “righteous” Americans and all their righteous firepower. And, it was apparently assumed, the Iraqis would likely take action into their own hands by eliminating Hussein personally as well as his party and military leaders once the Iraqi public understood that the regime was doomed and had no chance or survival. It was even thought that the Iraqi military itself would likely stage a coup and remove Saddam and save the American military from the risk and dangers of that sort of engagement.
To date, it appears that the Iraqi citizens and military are not willing to exchange even a repressive native regime for a foreign one. So far, it appears that many Iraqis are actually willing to fight for their love of country, and not just love of its dominant regime. So far, it appears that resistance to the American invasion is much stronger than predicted, and in fact, it appears that many American soldiers are genuinely surprised to be receiving incoming fire against their invasion! But those fires continue to be directed at the Americans, sometimes with devastating results.
While none of these strategic disadvantages in and of themselves are necessarily fatal to the success of the American efforts at Iraqi occupation and regime change, they certainly make the effort more difficult than many anticipated. Expectations were high for a quick, easy, and relatively painless war, but with the change in expectation could be change in morale and change in public opinion back home.
The Iraqis seem to be aware of these things. Instead of allowing the American generals to prosecute the war solely on their own terms, the Iraqis appear to be exhibiting some cleverness and some learning from previous experiences during the Gulf War. Lying low and not issuing frontal challenge to every American soldier or formation seems to be allowing Iraqis to inflict casualties and undermine American morale.
Will it make the final difference in the outcome of this war? To date, the American leadership continues to express full confidence that the outcome is pre-determined and the American forces are unstoppable. If firepower and abundance of military hardware were the sole determining factor in ultimate success, the story would not even be worth covering by the press. It would be a one-sided easy victory for the U.S.
As in sports, the outcome of a battle or a war cannot be determined on paper. “That is why they play the games” is the old saying on why sports are determined on the field or court instead of in the press. And this war, if completed to military conclusion, will have to be fought on the ground and in the air until the outcome is determined. And we will watch and wait and see.
The writer is a member of several falconry and ornithological clubs and organizations. He contributed above article to Media Monitors Network (MMN) from California, USA.