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A Different Kind of War

Nine reasons why Gulf War II is different from not only our expectations, but from all other wars before it.

2:25 PM, Mar 22, 2003 • By FRED BARNES
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A DAY AFTER war with Iraq began, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld responded with a grin to a reporter who complained the fighting wasn't going the way he'd been led to believe. You don't know the real plan, Rumsfeld said, sounding a bit like Jack Nicholson as a Marine general in "A Few Good Men." And he added he was quite happy about that fact.

Indeed, the war has gone quite differently from media expectations, including the expectations of many of the retired military men now holding forth on television. What's different and in some cases surprising? Here's a list:

Top down. Normally invasions are initially aimed at the soldiers of the enemy and, once they are defeated, the top leaders are targeted. In World War II, first came the defeat of Nazi armies, then the drive to go after Hitler in his Berlin bunker. Not so in Gulf War II. The very first attack was on Saddam's bunker in Baghdad and the effect, whether Saddam is dead, wounded, or alive, was to throw the Iraqi leadership into disarray. Meanwhile, U.S. officials were in contact by phone with senior Iraqi generals, seeking their surrender. The fighting between American and Iraqi troops came later.

Surrender. Never in modern warfare has more public and private emphasis been placed on coaxing the enemy into surrendering. President Bush, Secretary Rumsfeld, and Gen. Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have all made public appeals. There's a good reason, of course. The more Iraqis who surrender, the less combat, the fewer civilian casualties, the fewer American military dead or wounded.

Search. As the fighting goes on, there's are searches going on all over Iraq. No, not just for Saddam and his inner circle. Special ops troops are combing the country, which is the size of California, for weapons of mass destruction. Finding them is important to bolstering the American case for attacking in the first place.

Embedding. The deployment of journalists in actual fighting units with live cameras is a first. And what a smart idea, both for journalism and for the military! The idea, by the way, came from Victoria Clarke, the Pentagon spokeswoman. It puts reporters in the field with the grunts, and the two are bound to bond. American soldiers have a great appeal, and perhaps journalists will learn how to cuss properly. In any case, it takes the emphasis off the military brass, whom reporters are sure to dislike and distrust.

Ground troops first. The plan, the media thought, was either to have bombers clear the way for the troops or at least to have them bombing as tanks and infantry advanced. Not this time. Well before the heavy bombing began, the 3rd Infantry Division was streaking northward to Baghdad, its flanks uncovered. It was reminiscent of Gen. George Patton and his tanks racing across the north of France in 1944 after the breakout in Normandy. The surge across Iraq was very exciting, but not what was expected.

Talk first, then fight. This is part of the effort to achieve mass Iraqi surrenders. Weeks before the war, special ops troops entered Iraq and made contact with officials who might be convinced to defect or at least not fight. Then came the calls to the cell phones of the Iraqi officer class. In prior wars, such negotiations came after one side won. But in Gulf War II, American officials didn't wait.

The dogs that didn't bark. Yes, there are protests in Arab countries, but the Arab street hasn't erupted in a way that threatens the survival governments friendly to the United States (Jordan, Egypt, Yemen, etc.). Nor have the Iraqi oilfields been successfully torched. Only a dozen or so are burning. And so far at least, no Scuds have been fired at Israel (with or without WMDs). This may be the result of American capture of airfields and territory in western Iraq. Finally, Iraqi children aren't being killed by the thousands by American bombs, as antiwar protesters insisted would happen. If they were, Iraqis would have told the world. Soon, with food and medicine pouring in and Saddam gone, childhood life expectancy in Iraq will begin rising.

The press divide. American coverage has been extensive and if biased at all, mostly biased in a pro-American way (ABC News being the exception). Coverage in the Arab world has been predictably unfavorable. But so has the coverage in the Canadian and European media. They have stressed antiwar demonstrations, propaganda tours of Iraqi hospitals, and the like as their reporters at the front conduct a dragnet for civilian casualties.

The Second Front: France. My guess was Prime Minister Jacques Chirac would step back once his old ally, the United States, was actually engaged in combat. Au contraire. He's still denouncing the United States and blocking a new U.N. resolution to give the United Nations a postwar role in Iraq. France, you'd have to say, remains objectively pro-Saddam.

Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.