One of the more intriguing questions Clio poses
is the degree to which great military victories were the fruit of smart plans
as opposed to dumb luck. Did the North Vietnamese expect the Tet Offensive to
be a tactical defeat but an operational victory? They now claim they did, but
we will not know until their archives are opened.
The war in Iraq poses a similar question: to what degree was the Sunni insurgency
part of Saddam's plan, as opposed to a reaction generated largely by bad American
decisions after his government fell? The Jan. 26, 2008, Washington Post
ran an article about Saddam Hussein's main American debriefer, George Piro,
which may shed some light on that question. According to the Post,
"Hussein's strategy upon facing the U.S. invasion was to tell his generals
to try to hold back the U.S. forces for two weeks, 'and at that point, it would
go into what he called the secret war,' Piro said, referring to the Iraqi insurgency."
This "straight from the horse's mouth" statement would seem to settle the
issue. It doesn't, because it was given after the fact. Just as we now claim
the "surge" led to the improved security situation in parts of Iraq, so Saddam,
in American captivity, might have sought to bolster his place in history by
claiming the insurgency had been his idea all along. The widespread caching
of weapons and explosives lends credence to his claim, but until we find documentary
evidence dating back before the campaign opened, we cannot be sure.
Why is the question important? Because if Saddam did plan to defeat America
by going to guerrilla warfare after losing the conventional campaign, we can
be reasonably certain anyone else we threaten with invasion will adopt the same
Saddam was neither a wildly popular nor a particularly secure dictator. Few
Iraqis saw him as the father of their country, the way many Chinese saw Mao
or many Cubans look on Castro. The Kurds hated him, the Shi'ites hated him,
and he had to hide behind elaborate security measures even among Iraqi Sunnis.
If Saddam can take the risks associated with preparing for guerrilla warfare,
including spreading arms thickly all over the country and devolving much power
of command downward, so can almost anyone.
That in turn creates a not insubstantial roadblock in front of neocon or
neo-lib plans to "liberate" other countries. Even if the American military triumphs
in another "race to Baghdad" campaign, do the American people or Congress have
the stomach (or wallet) to face another guerrilla war that drags on for years?
Like any good defense plan, a plan for guerrilla war against a conventionally
superior invader has deterrence value. No one in his right mind wants to get
into the briar patch with the tar baby.
After his capture, Saddam played for a place in history, and he played
that role well. If the Sunni insurgency was part of his plan for defeating the
American invasion, he will have earned some credit as a military leader, despite
his gross blunders in other wars. If, as I think inevitable, other countries
faced with an American threat adopt the same plan, Saddam will have lodged a
barb in his assailant whose poison will work for years. He died, but perhaps
he also won. In the Arab world, at least, that is a respected combination.