Rush: That is amazing. Everyone in the world knew what the target was, what the objective was, where we were going to stage it from. We lost all strategic surprise, but yet we did manage to come up with some tactical surprise.
Hanson: We did. As a historian, I racked my brain as the thing unfolded. It was audacious, daring, risky to take that long a column. Usually what happens, a column that goes that far from its base of operations either eats itself up as it gets longer and longer ? the supply train has to use its own fuel to supply the tip of the spear ? or it has to shed contingents off to guard places it bypasses. The result, either way, is that the enemy gains, if the tip of your column stalls or it?s too weak to have any impact. But that simply didn?t happen.
Rush: What about the criticism that well, Saddam didn?t really put up a fight, this wasn?t really a first-class army, let?s not get too excited. Some of the people who opposed the war want to avoid further embarrassment by claiming it wasn?t that big of an achievement. It was a striking accomplishment, but let?s face it, we didn?t face an air force, we didn?t face much anti-aircraft fire. If the Iraqis had a fighting force committed to the cause, or they didn?t run away like this one did in part, if they had an air force, if there had been even a half-baked effort to try to shoot down some of our jets, would we have been able to have accomplished as much in as short a period of time?
Hanson: It might have been more difficult. But we have to look at this as a continuum. In July of 1991 the Iraqis had, by any fair standard, the most sophisticated air defense system in the Middle East. Some people thought its hardware was on par with the Israelis. It was the Gulf War that ruined it, in part. But then we?ve had these 12 years of no-fly zones, where American pilots have flown a third of a million missions, and that helped us. Enemies don?t just give up those assets. Saddam Hussein didn?t just snap his fingers and say, ?I don?t have an air defense.? They were destroyed by American pilots over a decade.
There are also, remember, shoulder-fired missiles that everybody can get on the open market. The question is, Why didn?t they use them? And why didn?t they turn on their radars? It wasn?t just that they couldn?t: it was that they didn?t want to die. Our pilots have the skill to lock onto them and kill them very quickly.
So I don?t quite buy the idea that this was not an accomplishment. We destroyed the Middle East?s greatest military. We dismantled it in ?91, and then destroyed it a little later. No other military could have done that. Remember when Russia went into Grozny? I think nearly the first 100 tanks were destroyed, and they killed 1,000 Russians. These were Chechnyans, who didn?t have any of the resources of Saddam Hussein.
And in Iraq the strategic landscape was, I felt, really foreboding. We had duplicitous allies with Turkey and Saudi Arabia, overt enemies like Syria and Iran, and then sort of quasi-friends like Kuwaitis and Jordanians whose terrorists have been killing Americans on their soil. So it was not a very nice place to operate in.
Rush: Saddam Hussein also knew for a year we were coming. He had a year to prepare. Maybe he didn?t have the wherewithal to rebuild the air defense system, but there?s something about the way Iraq dealt with this that makes me think some of them really didn?t believe we would do this.
Hanson: I think putting their Republican Guard divisions out on the periphery of their major cities was a big mistake. But there were indications, as you point out, that their strategy wasn?t all that wrong. Because they had created these irregular fedayeen, these criminal gangs, that were imbedded in specific areas and in theory could cause problems.
Rush: The Mogadishu strategy: they thought we?d cut and run with casualties.
Hanson: Exactly, just like Mogadishu. ?Black Hawk Down? was a popular movie among the Ba?athist elite. So their idea was: We?ll just start killing these Americans, 10, 20, 30, 40 a day, drag it out six weeks, and the demonstrations by groups like Not In Our Name and A.N.S.W.E.R. will get up to a million people, we?ll get the Arab street going, France and Germany will have all sorts of petitions and threats, and we can get a negotiated armistice. That, for them, would have been an astounding victory. So there was a logic to it.
They didn?t realize we were not going to bomb for 40 or 50 days, that we were going to go in on the ground and would take casualties, and that we would decapitate the apparatchik very quickly in these cities. They had no idea that warfare has advanced in geometric not incremental levels, even from 1998. I went out on the USS Kennedy and they remarked of the past times when they used to take 24 hours, 36 hours for bomb damage assessments. Now it?s almost instantaneous. Even the pilots can see the results in their cockpit. Now there are anywhere from 20 or 30 jets just circling above a proposed target, almost as if they?re on patrol, and somebody embedded within these cities is guiding things down on individual houses and adjusting, adapting, rejecting to the targets. It?s so flexible. They thought they were still fighting an army in the early 90s.
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