INVASION? MORE LIKE A COUP
February 26, 2003 -- AMERICAN plans for Iraq look a lot more like a coup d'etat than an invasion. By aiming surgically at the leaders in Baghdad and isolating them from the rest of the military structure they command, President Bush seeks to decapitate the Iraqi leadership rather than conquer the nation.
In a coup, regime opponents try to interdict the opposition's command and control structure, block communications with the population and encourage enemy commanders to disobey orders and defect. Reported U.S. plans for the invasion of Iraq quite closely parallel that. And in leaflets now being dropped on Iraq and e-mails sent to Iraqi commanders and scientists, American psy-ops are aimed at driving a wedge between Saddam and his men.
In the Gulf War of 1991, the U.S. military engaged Iraqi troops to break their hold over Kuwait. In the plans being reported now, U.S. troops would bypass Iraq's regular army and attack the Republican Guard only if they intervene on the outskirts of Baghdad.
By using aerial bombardment to disrupt the regime's communications with its minions and employing e-bombs to overload their computers, American strategists are enhancing their chances of killing or capturing Saddam without having to damage all of Iraq. Even if the dictator escapes alive to hide out somewhere in a cave near Osama's, his regime will be toppled and the coup will have succeeded.
But this is a coup from outside the nation. To rally dissident military units and induce a rebellion, U.S. troops must first penetrate Iraqi airspace and land on the ground. Reports that elite Delta Force units will be sent into the capital in the operation's earliest phases reinforce the parallel between the invasion and a conventional coup d'etat.
Leftist propaganda about massive civilian casualties or the expense and difficulty of rebuilding a crippled nation do not take account of the subtlety of American military planning for Iraq. The coup won't be bloodless, but it will not leave a scorched earth in its wake, either.
So the nation won't take years to rebuild: A regime will have fallen, not a country. International critics, now predicting massive civilian casualties, will be confounded when the administration plans hold collateral damage to an absolute minimum.
In a sense, we are returning to the polite notions of war of the 18th and early 19th centuries. When the British captured Philadelphia, they figured the American Revolution would collapse. When they burned Washington, D.C. in the War of 1812, they felt they had won the war. Union generals were forever trying to capture Richmond to end the Civil War. Then generals like Ulysses Grant realized that the key was to destroy the other side's army - and the modern meat-grinder war was born.
By focusing on capturing the instruments of power in Baghdad, we are returning to the earlier idea - but in a different context.
The American plans, as thus far revealed, reflect both wisdom and humility. Rather than assume that they must defeat Iraqi divisions in the field, the U.S. planners take direct aim at the weakest link - the dictator's control over his military.
If these coup plans succeed, they will set an important precedent for future operations. Can Kim Jong II's control over his military be any better than Saddam's? Can any tyrant, ruling through secret police, survive a determined effort to get in between his leadership and his supposed followers?
The creativity of the plans in Afghanistan (relying on the Northern Alliance to do the bulk of the fighting) and in Iraq (fomenting a coup with outside forces) attests to the wisdom of U.S. policymakers. Their combination of creativity and fortitude stands us all in good stead.
In Afghanistan, the Pentagon showed that it had learned the lesson of Vietnam - that Americans would not tolerate massive U.S. casualties. Now they're incorporating the lessons of international politics in the media age - to take major measures to hold down civilian casualties. Good for them.