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Sunday, March 30, 2003

Conduct of the War to Date
The war in Iraq has been going for a couple weeks now and it appears that despite the confusion which inevitably results from war, things are going somewhat well. We have yet to suffer a tactical defeat and it appears to the armchair warrior that I am that Iraq's military is being pulverized.

Some things bother me though. I've read numerous statements from officers in Iraq that they are surprised by the paramilitary forces. This is an incredible statement to make. First, they told us that is exactly what they would do. Second, any sane general would do the same thing. We are an invading army with overwhelming military superiority and this is the only way the Iraqis can slow us down. So why does that surprise anyone? It's very worrisome that these statements are being made.
More importantly, I'm concerned about the apparent slowdown in the offensive to protect lines of supply. Perhaps this is necessary, I'm not there and I can't see what's happening directly. It seems to me that we made great success when everyone thought Saddam Hussein was dead, his military power almost evaporated. We only met resistance when he stuck his ugly head back out of the ground and convinced the Iraqis that he was alive. The original plan to surround and attack Baghdad is still crucial, and speed is still very important.

An important concept in military operations, or at least one I like, is the OODA loop. OODA stands for "Observe, Orient, Decide, Act." The side that can execute this loop faster has the advantage. The term comes from military aviation, and so having a shorter OODA loop cycle is called "turning inside" their OODA loop. The goal is simple: Act to new situations faster than the other guy, and make him continuously react to your actions, rather than strike out with new plans of his own.

We had the Iraqi military reeling and now we're slowing or maybe even pausing. The Iraqis are turning inside our OODA loop. This may be necessary in order to consolidate our logistics lines, but so far it appears that the biggest effect is that the Iraqis are able to organize their efforts better. Why are we in Nasariya and Najaf? Those cities aren't Baghdad, they are not the source of Hussein's power. These are of secondary importance and can only sap us of our power.

Of course, I'm not there and I don't have all the information that the generals have, so I want to emphasize that my comments are only wild guesses.

In World War I, the Great War, the Germans had a military superiority over the French (not too hard to imagine, especially after the Dreyfuss Affair) and they had a brilliant plan to conquer France. The plan was made by the German General Staff, headed by Moltke, and was called the Schlieffen plan. The plan arranged for the Germans to attack on a broad front from the Low Countries to the Ardennes. The French were stronger in the North, so Moltke's plan was to hold in the north and swing the southern part of the line up and to the coast. The key was to not get bogged down in the north. It was said that when Moltke died shortly before the war, his last words were along the lines of "don't re-inforce the north." Of course, the history turned out that the German generals lost their nerve and pulled divisions from the south to re-inforce the north, which stalled the southern advance and allowed the incompetent French to hold control of most of their country. Most historians agree that if the Schlieffen Plan were executed properly, the Germans would have won the war, or at least that part of it.

It's my opinion that so far we are at the same point in Iraq. Baghdad is the source of all power in Iraq. Many, many times our leaders have mentioned cutting off the head of the snake. The snake's head is not in Najaf.

Another military fallacy that never seems to die despite being proven wrong time and time again, is the Mitchellian and Douhetian idea of strategic bombing being the decisive power in winning wars. The "shock and awe" campaign made for good press. That's it. Bombing is a SUPPORT action, and cannot and never will be the action that will win a war. As much as I admire Rumsfeld and Cheney for their ideas on geopolitics, they have proven far too often that they are terrible generals. Cheney eviscerated the navy as Secretary of Defense by canceling every carrier aircraft procurement program, and Rumsfeld is eviscerating the army by insisting on small forces, not upgrading artillery, etc. These guys are very smart but their ideas on transforming the military are not grounded sufficiently in reality. Their ideas have merit, but there is no substitute in war for mass.

From my armchair I of course can only speculate on the real situation in Iraq, but from here it looks like we're getting distracted by inconsequential cities. Basra and Um Qasr are important as ports and must be controlled, but all other cities can only slow us down in taking Baghdad. We should use air power as our supply line, and take the capital quickly. If we could resupply Berlin, a city of millions, for months with ancient C-47's fifty years ago, we can resupply an army of 100,000 with C-141's and C-5's . We should use air power and small ground forces to isolate the other cities. Let the snake wrap around our body as much as he wants, pulling at the snake's body only delays our chances to cut off its head and win.