The paradox of WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction) is that between the conventional Gulf Wars, Saddam Hussein and his enemies helped each other to inflate the threat of his WMD. Part of a defence strategy for him, attack strategy for them.
Now we see Phase II of his defence: the furore over the failure to find him and his WMD is itself part of that defence, along with protracted guerilla warfare.
Captured Iraqi documents make clear his defensive strategy, first using the WMD shell-game to keep the US and its allies guessing, deter attack and boost Arab and other “public opinion” in his favour. You may notice the analogy with Khrushchev’s defensive use of the bogus “missile gap”, used by J.F. Kennedy to attack Eisenhower and defeat Nixon in 1960.
Saddam’s spies (mukhabarat) left him with no illusion that his conventional forces could resist those of the coalition. The remnant WMD had to be hidden, not deployed. Last-ditch use would have alienated Saddam’s regional and world support, essential for Phase II.
For Phase II, the analogy was Vietnam, urban with sandstorms. Defence strategy meant draw in the enemy, too high on technology and too low on troop numbers, then peck at them for as long as it takes with Mao-type “sparrow tactics” and wait for TV pictures of body-bags and “public opinion” to force an ignominious retreat, as in Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia.
It was in Vietnam that we first saw in action the corrosive combination of ratings-driven TV and fabrication-prone press, disinformed and profoundly parochial voters and Congress, and poll-driven politicians focussed on re-election.
My study of intervention documents that trauma. It is based on personal experience in Vietnam and the Middle East, as well as the declassified archives.
But Saddam did not need to read it; the last ragged bandit infesting a failed state knows the US warriors are few and the “peaceniks” are many – they are his “special force”.
As the Chinese classic, Art of War, and Chairman Mao would say, use one force, in this case, the guerillas/fedayeen, to engage (or pin down), and the other to win. That “special force” is meant to be, once more, our own media and politicians, and maybe some dumb generals.
Dear public, don’t let it happen this time.
Monash Asia Institute,