Strategy and Saddam

The strategy of the three US administrations conducting the 15—year war with Iraq has been a remarkably consistent.  Our current and past national leadership established deposing Saddam Hussein as our primary strategic objective, rather than achieving total victory over his military and intelligence forces. During Iraqi Wars I through IV, as Victor Davis Hanson classifies them, we have had a strategy in thrall to Saddam.  Unfortunately, the difficult and complex counter—insurgency campaign that the Coalition is now conducting in Iraq has its roots in military and political decisions based upon this flawed decades—old playbook.

On January 15, 1991, President Bush '41 signed a National Security Directive that established the objectives and conditions for military action to counter Saddam's seizure of Kuwait.  It reflected a classic "realist" view of war.  One of the primary purposes of Desert Storm was to promote 'security and stability of the Persian Gulf,' and therefore stipulated that the Coalition only had to drive Iraqi forces from Kuwait and to 'weaken Iraqi popular support for the current government.'

The realists within the Bush '41 administration had wanted to leave Saddam with military capability in order to maintain a delicate balance between Iraq and Iran to achieve stability within the Central Region.  Unfortunately, Iran was not deterred from conducting both economic and military operations in the 90s to out—maneuver the US in the region and in the Horn of Africa.

The National Security Directive also directed the US to take things to a higher level if certain conditions arose:

Should Iraq resort to using chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons, be found supporting terrorist acts against U.S or coalition partners anywhere in the world, or destroy Kuwait's oil fields, it shall become an explicit objective of the United States to replace the current leadership of Iraq [emphasis added].

Apparently, Bush '41 was dissuaded from implementing the regime change option. Saddam certainly destroyed a portion of Kuwait's oil fields.  However, the main point is that even if Saddam had used WMD or supported terrorist acts against the Coalition, military forces somehow were to conduct operations to 'replace the current leadership' as if Saddam's military forces would not have a vote while we tried to do this.  In fact, the only military element that deserved special mention was the Republican Guard.  This view proved to be overly optimistic as demonstrated by Saddam's military and Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) [Mukhabarat] operations nearly five years after the end of Operation Desert Storm.

In 1996, Saddam's armed forces and his intelligence services penetrated and smashed a CIA covert effort to instigate a coup to topple the regime in Baghdad.  This operation was based on the notion that Saddam's military leaders were disillusioned with the dictator and that given enough support, the general population would join to rise up against him.  As before, the covert action was designed to achieve the objectives of a US policy focused on Saddam the leader, while ignoring the loyalty, power, and influence of his armed forces and intelligence apparatus in the field.  The operation ended in a thrashing for US—backed rebels in Iraq and a shameful defeat for the CIA.  Iraqi T—72 tanks and BMPs rolled over our Kurd allies who were frantically calling for US air support — and who were promptly turned down by Bill Clinton.

Despite these obvious flaws in US policy, Bill Clinton and the Congress enacted the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 that rehashed the same strategic objective of 'seek[ing] to remove the Saddam Hussein regime from power in Iraq and to replace it with a democratic government.'  The Clinton Administration and the military were to accomplish this by relying largely on providing funds to organizations for radio and television broadcasting to Iraq's opposition groups, and by providing humanitarian assistance to those who 'fled from areas under the control of the Hussein regime.'  In other words, it was essentially a continuation of Operation Provide Comfort.  How this was going to topple Saddam Hussein is anyone's guess.

The 'Third Iraqi War' of 2003 ("Gulf War II") had the same overall objective as the previous two wars.  We don't have the luxury of a declassified National Security Directive from Bush '43 to confirm the President's orders to the CENTCOM commander, but information from General Tommy Franks's book indicates that the decades old policy of regime change remained the primary objective.

The center of gravity to achieve removal of  Saddam was judged to be the seizure of Baghdad.  Specifically, General Franks's book notes that the strategic objective was regime change, while operational objectives were to secure the water infrastructure, secure the oil fields, prevent Saddam from using WMD, and prevent long—range delivery system launch.

In light of these assigned objectives, the Operation Iraqi Freedom plan makes perfect sense.  It was a classic blitzkrieg operation emphasizing speed and shock effect to head for the Iraqi capital as quickly as possible to prevent the Iraqis from establishing a 'Fortress Baghdad.'  To maximize speed and mobility, mechanized units like the 3rd Infantry Division had developed unique, ad hoc supply and service teams designed to push fuel tankers as far forward as possible. But their bold maneuver would result in gaps in securing the lines of communication and supply.

The operation also had an extensive information warfare component that urged Iraqi field commanders to surrender their units, and an effort to contact Iraqi senior government officials to entice them to leave the country.  This information campaign was certainly a necessary part of the overall plan, but perhaps the Coalition's intelligence apparatus unrealistically raised the leadership's expectations on the end result of this propaganda campaign.  There are no reports of any Iraqi unit surrendering en masse, although an untold number of regular army soldiers simply shed their uniforms and returned home — with their weapons, of course.

As the battle unfolded, Coalition forces encountered both regular Iraqi mechanized forces and Saddam Fedayeen irregulars all along the axis of attack.  The military experts on the left and the MSM criticized CENTCOM for a 'failure to plan' to counter the unexpected presence of a large irregular force far to the south of Baghdad.  The experts seemed to have forgotten that a campaign plan only sets the stage for a successful battle, and that, as Gen. Franks has often said, the enemy gets a vote.  What was important was that combat leaders accurately assessed the changed situation, and then acted decisively to adapt and overcome.  Coalition forces smashed both Iraqi army units and Fedayeen fighters, and continued the maneuver towards Baghdad.

Thanks to a series of lighting attacks into the heart of Baghdad by the 3rd ID, and assaults into the eastern part of the city by I MEF, the Iraqis never had a chance to establish their Fortress Baghdad.  After a brilliant campaign lasting only three weeks, the capital city fell and Saddam's regime was finally brought to an end.  However this didn't mean that Saddam's soldiers, intelligence operatives, terrorist allies, and their logistics and financial infrastructure went away.  Once again, optimistic expectations prevailed over the reality of conducting what amounted to a 'capture the flag' exercise.

In fact, at the time of the fall of Baghdad, the enemy order of battle was substantial.  There were 50,000 criminals released by Saddam roaming free, and who would later form the core of the Iranian—backed mercenary army during the Shia 'uprising' in 2004.  Also, Coalition forces faced an estimated 40,000 Fedayeen along their lines of supply and communication. The supply lines held up fine and our forces killed them literally by the truckload. 

But even with an estimated attrition rate of 50 percent, this still left a group of fanatical irregular fighters numbering in the tens of thousands.  And most importantly, the Fedayeen bought time for the exfiltration of 15,000 — 20,000 Special Republican Guard troops.  Add to these numbers the soldiers of the Republican Guard and the surviving operatives of the Iraqi Mukhabarat and a rough estimate of 90,000 enemy troops remaining on the threat board is not entirely out of the question.

Yet, Gen. Franks ordered Coalition forces to transition to the reconstruction and humanitarian aid phase (Phase IV) even while the country was still home to tens of thousands of Saddam's military, Fedayeen, criminals, and Iranian and Syrian infiltrators.  This order was logically linked to successfully achieving the strategic objective assigned by the National Command Authority (NCA).  However, moving into Phase IV had critical implications for troops on the ground who still occupied a fluid battlefield with a robust enemy threat.

Two key changes required by declaring a shift to stability operations were implementing a more restrictive set of Rules of Engagement (ROE), and reordering the priorities for logistical support.

The alleged looting of Iraq's ancient artifacts occurred not so much because of a lack of manpower, but because the troops' ability to use deadly force was restricted by the ROE.  Scarce transportation assets in theater had to deal with supporting a large influx of civilian staff and reconstruction supplies rather than spare parts and materiel for combat systems.  Contract logistical support was critical in filling the gaps, but lines of communication and supply increasingly came under attack from enemy irregular forces.  Meanwhile, while we were fretting about ginning up a jobs program for the 'regular Joe' Iraqi soldiers, enemy units were busy implementing their plan of guerilla warfare.

If the Administration and CENTCOM had possessed solid information that enemy forces in the field had been rendered largely ineffective, then an early transition to support and reconstruction operations would have been understandable.  But why did the NCA expect that a top—down approach to war would be successful in 2003, when Saddam and his commanders and their units had successfully survived Desert Storm, various coup attempts, and a war with Iran for over 20 years?  We seemed to have forgotten that we were dealing with a well—established totalitarian government with segments composed of loyal military elites, Nazi —like party functionaries, and Baathist thugs in the mold of Stalin's henchmen. Not to mention the fanatical foreign terrorists hell—bent on conducting Jihad.

In WW II, it would be hard to imagine senior allied commanders being more concerned about Hitler the person, rather than annihilating or capturing the Waffen SS on the field of battle.  The post—WW II occupation was difficult enough as it was without having tens of thousands of SS troops roaming the countryside.

Of all of the lessons learned from our four Iraqi Wars, perhaps the most important is the one that our forefathers learned time and again throughout our history: that as long as we shrink from achieving total victory over the forces of a tyrannical regime, we will be preserving the means for its resurrection.

Douglas Hanson is our national security corrspondent.

The strategy of the three US administrations conducting the 15—year war with Iraq has been a remarkably consistent.  Our current and past national leadership established deposing Saddam Hussein as our primary strategic objective, rather than achieving total victory over his military and intelligence forces. During Iraqi Wars I through IV, as Victor Davis Hanson classifies them, we have had a strategy in thrall to Saddam.  Unfortunately, the difficult and complex counter—insurgency campaign that the Coalition is now conducting in Iraq has its roots in military and political decisions based upon this flawed decades—old playbook.

On January 15, 1991, President Bush '41 signed a National Security Directive that established the objectives and conditions for military action to counter Saddam's seizure of Kuwait.  It reflected a classic "realist" view of war.  One of the primary purposes of Desert Storm was to promote 'security and stability of the Persian Gulf,' and therefore stipulated that the Coalition only had to drive Iraqi forces from Kuwait and to 'weaken Iraqi popular support for the current government.'

The realists within the Bush '41 administration had wanted to leave Saddam with military capability in order to maintain a delicate balance between Iraq and Iran to achieve stability within the Central Region.  Unfortunately, Iran was not deterred from conducting both economic and military operations in the 90s to out—maneuver the US in the region and in the Horn of Africa.

The National Security Directive also directed the US to take things to a higher level if certain conditions arose:

Should Iraq resort to using chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons, be found supporting terrorist acts against U.S or coalition partners anywhere in the world, or destroy Kuwait's oil fields, it shall become an explicit objective of the United States to replace the current leadership of Iraq [emphasis added].

Apparently, Bush '41 was dissuaded from implementing the regime change option. Saddam certainly destroyed a portion of Kuwait's oil fields.  However, the main point is that even if Saddam had used WMD or supported terrorist acts against the Coalition, military forces somehow were to conduct operations to 'replace the current leadership' as if Saddam's military forces would not have a vote while we tried to do this.  In fact, the only military element that deserved special mention was the Republican Guard.  This view proved to be overly optimistic as demonstrated by Saddam's military and Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) [Mukhabarat] operations nearly five years after the end of Operation Desert Storm.

In 1996, Saddam's armed forces and his intelligence services penetrated and smashed a CIA covert effort to instigate a coup to topple the regime in Baghdad.  This operation was based on the notion that Saddam's military leaders were disillusioned with the dictator and that given enough support, the general population would join to rise up against him.  As before, the covert action was designed to achieve the objectives of a US policy focused on Saddam the leader, while ignoring the loyalty, power, and influence of his armed forces and intelligence apparatus in the field.  The operation ended in a thrashing for US—backed rebels in Iraq and a shameful defeat for the CIA.  Iraqi T—72 tanks and BMPs rolled over our Kurd allies who were frantically calling for US air support — and who were promptly turned down by Bill Clinton.

Despite these obvious flaws in US policy, Bill Clinton and the Congress enacted the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 that rehashed the same strategic objective of 'seek[ing] to remove the Saddam Hussein regime from power in Iraq and to replace it with a democratic government.'  The Clinton Administration and the military were to accomplish this by relying largely on providing funds to organizations for radio and television broadcasting to Iraq's opposition groups, and by providing humanitarian assistance to those who 'fled from areas under the control of the Hussein regime.'  In other words, it was essentially a continuation of Operation Provide Comfort.  How this was going to topple Saddam Hussein is anyone's guess.

The 'Third Iraqi War' of 2003 ("Gulf War II") had the same overall objective as the previous two wars.  We don't have the luxury of a declassified National Security Directive from Bush '43 to confirm the President's orders to the CENTCOM commander, but information from General Tommy Franks's book indicates that the decades old policy of regime change remained the primary objective.

The center of gravity to achieve removal of  Saddam was judged to be the seizure of Baghdad.  Specifically, General Franks's book notes that the strategic objective was regime change, while operational objectives were to secure the water infrastructure, secure the oil fields, prevent Saddam from using WMD, and prevent long—range delivery system launch.

In light of these assigned objectives, the Operation Iraqi Freedom plan makes perfect sense.  It was a classic blitzkrieg operation emphasizing speed and shock effect to head for the Iraqi capital as quickly as possible to prevent the Iraqis from establishing a 'Fortress Baghdad.'  To maximize speed and mobility, mechanized units like the 3rd Infantry Division had developed unique, ad hoc supply and service teams designed to push fuel tankers as far forward as possible. But their bold maneuver would result in gaps in securing the lines of communication and supply.

The operation also had an extensive information warfare component that urged Iraqi field commanders to surrender their units, and an effort to contact Iraqi senior government officials to entice them to leave the country.  This information campaign was certainly a necessary part of the overall plan, but perhaps the Coalition's intelligence apparatus unrealistically raised the leadership's expectations on the end result of this propaganda campaign.  There are no reports of any Iraqi unit surrendering en masse, although an untold number of regular army soldiers simply shed their uniforms and returned home — with their weapons, of course.

As the battle unfolded, Coalition forces encountered both regular Iraqi mechanized forces and Saddam Fedayeen irregulars all along the axis of attack.  The military experts on the left and the MSM criticized CENTCOM for a 'failure to plan' to counter the unexpected presence of a large irregular force far to the south of Baghdad.  The experts seemed to have forgotten that a campaign plan only sets the stage for a successful battle, and that, as Gen. Franks has often said, the enemy gets a vote.  What was important was that combat leaders accurately assessed the changed situation, and then acted decisively to adapt and overcome.  Coalition forces smashed both Iraqi army units and Fedayeen fighters, and continued the maneuver towards Baghdad.

Thanks to a series of lighting attacks into the heart of Baghdad by the 3rd ID, and assaults into the eastern part of the city by I MEF, the Iraqis never had a chance to establish their Fortress Baghdad.  After a brilliant campaign lasting only three weeks, the capital city fell and Saddam's regime was finally brought to an end.  However this didn't mean that Saddam's soldiers, intelligence operatives, terrorist allies, and their logistics and financial infrastructure went away.  Once again, optimistic expectations prevailed over the reality of conducting what amounted to a 'capture the flag' exercise.

In fact, at the time of the fall of Baghdad, the enemy order of battle was substantial.  There were 50,000 criminals released by Saddam roaming free, and who would later form the core of the Iranian—backed mercenary army during the Shia 'uprising' in 2004.  Also, Coalition forces faced an estimated 40,000 Fedayeen along their lines of supply and communication. The supply lines held up fine and our forces killed them literally by the truckload. 

But even with an estimated attrition rate of 50 percent, this still left a group of fanatical irregular fighters numbering in the tens of thousands.  And most importantly, the Fedayeen bought time for the exfiltration of 15,000 — 20,000 Special Republican Guard troops.  Add to these numbers the soldiers of the Republican Guard and the surviving operatives of the Iraqi Mukhabarat and a rough estimate of 90,000 enemy troops remaining on the threat board is not entirely out of the question.

Yet, Gen. Franks ordered Coalition forces to transition to the reconstruction and humanitarian aid phase (Phase IV) even while the country was still home to tens of thousands of Saddam's military, Fedayeen, criminals, and Iranian and Syrian infiltrators.  This order was logically linked to successfully achieving the strategic objective assigned by the National Command Authority (NCA).  However, moving into Phase IV had critical implications for troops on the ground who still occupied a fluid battlefield with a robust enemy threat.

Two key changes required by declaring a shift to stability operations were implementing a more restrictive set of Rules of Engagement (ROE), and reordering the priorities for logistical support.

The alleged looting of Iraq's ancient artifacts occurred not so much because of a lack of manpower, but because the troops' ability to use deadly force was restricted by the ROE.  Scarce transportation assets in theater had to deal with supporting a large influx of civilian staff and reconstruction supplies rather than spare parts and materiel for combat systems.  Contract logistical support was critical in filling the gaps, but lines of communication and supply increasingly came under attack from enemy irregular forces.  Meanwhile, while we were fretting about ginning up a jobs program for the 'regular Joe' Iraqi soldiers, enemy units were busy implementing their plan of guerilla warfare.

If the Administration and CENTCOM had possessed solid information that enemy forces in the field had been rendered largely ineffective, then an early transition to support and reconstruction operations would have been understandable.  But why did the NCA expect that a top—down approach to war would be successful in 2003, when Saddam and his commanders and their units had successfully survived Desert Storm, various coup attempts, and a war with Iran for over 20 years?  We seemed to have forgotten that we were dealing with a well—established totalitarian government with segments composed of loyal military elites, Nazi —like party functionaries, and Baathist thugs in the mold of Stalin's henchmen. Not to mention the fanatical foreign terrorists hell—bent on conducting Jihad.

In WW II, it would be hard to imagine senior allied commanders being more concerned about Hitler the person, rather than annihilating or capturing the Waffen SS on the field of battle.  The post—WW II occupation was difficult enough as it was without having tens of thousands of SS troops roaming the countryside.

Of all of the lessons learned from our four Iraqi Wars, perhaps the most important is the one that our forefathers learned time and again throughout our history: that as long as we shrink from achieving total victory over the forces of a tyrannical regime, we will be preserving the means for its resurrection.

Douglas Hanson is our national security corrspondent.