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No Reason To Panic

From the April 1, 2003 Financial Times: There's no reason to panic, the war is going well.

5:20 AM, Apr 2, 2003 • By MAX BOOT
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GIVE SADDAM HUSSEIN CREDIT. He learned from the first Gulf War that it makes no sense to go toe-to-toe with U.S. forces in conventional combat. In the second Gulf War, he has adopted a smarter strategy of retreating into urban areas and harassing U.S. supply lines with irregular forces.

Saddam's greatest success is simply maintaining control of his regime. The mass defections and uprisings predicted by many have not materialized. This is not, as some claim, because of "nationalist" sentiment. It is because the Baathist infrastructure of terror remains securely implanted and ordinary Iraqis are not yet confident enough of U.S. victory to switch sides. They do not want a repeat of 1991, when the United States encouraged them to rise up and then stood by as they were slaughtered.

U.S. forces were caught off-guard by the ferocity of the resistance from the regime's loyalists. The administration, from the president down, unwisely boosted expectations of an easy victory by hyping the "shock and awe" bombing campaign and by publicly speculating about a meltdown of resistance. This might have happened if Saddam had died on day one; but apparently he did not--and so we now have a real war on our hands.

This is no reason to panic, however, as many in the press are doing by hauling out the hoary analogies to Vietnam. U.S. forces are still on their way to victory despite some minor setbacks. While he has scored a preliminary political success simply by holding on to the cities, Saddam has not achieved much militarily.

The fedayeen can harass lines of communication, forcing the coalition to deploy more troops to guard supply convoys, but this is merely a nuisance. The "dead-enders" are dying. They cannot keep up these ineffectual attacks indefinitely. Annoying as this resistance may be, other dangers have not materialized. No massive destruction of Iraqi oilfields, dams, or bridges. No attacks on the United States or Israel. No chemical or biological weapons used. Some of these scenarios may still occur; but others have been foreclosed by military action. The U.S. advance of 250 miles in four days is impressive and it is not over yet. Much of western Iraq has fallen. Kurds led by U.S. special forces are on the march in the north. Air strikes are taking a growing toll on the Republican Guard dug in around Baghdad.

The media present a distorted picture because "embedded" reporters cover every scratch suffered by U.S. and British soldiers. But there are no reporters embedded in Iraqi forces to chronicle their devastating losses from precision air and artillery strikes.

Any loss of life is a tragedy but by historical standards the United States has not suffered unduly. Fewer than 50 U.S. personnel have been killed--a fraction of the 382 killed in the 1991 Gulf War (147 from hostile fire). Two of the most successful armored attacks in history were the German blitzkrieg through the Low Countries and France in 1940 and the Israeli offensive against its Arab neighbors in 1967. The Germans lost more than 27,000 men, the Israelis more than 700. It will take many Nasiriya-style ambushes before U.S. forces approach those figures.

And after a mere 14 days, the offensive is hardly bogged down. The German blitzkrieg in 1940 took 44 days before France surrendered. Nor have recent U.S. campaigns been overnight affairs. The first Gulf War lasted 43 days, Kosovo 79 days, Afghanistan 63 days. There is no reason, other than sheer hubris, to expect this campaign to go any faster.

The endgame--the liberation of Baghdad--will not be easy or bloodless but it is doable. Saddam may think he can repeat "Black Hawk Down" on a larger scale but he is almost certainly mistaken. U.S. forces had no trouble securing Mogadishu in 1992. The problems occurred in 1993 after the bulk of U.S. troops had gone home and a small contingent of commandos was sent to chase a warlord. U.S. forces achieved their objective but at a cost of 18 lives, because they lacked armor and air support. In the battle of Baghdad there will be no such lack.

The coalition will be successful in Iraq. With each day that goes by, Saddam's forces grow weaker and ours grow stronger. That the enemy is fighting hard now does not mean he will not soon be defeated. The French fought hard in May 1940--at first. But eventually the speed and ferocity of the German advance led to a total collapse. The same thing will happen in Iraq.

Max Boot is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard. This essay originally appeared in the April 1, 2003 Financial times.