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A Real War Expert

Forget the rent-a-generals. John Keegan, who knows something about wars, analyzes the Iraq campaign.

6:00 AM, Apr 3, 2003 • By FRED BARNES
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SHOULD WE BE SURPRISED that American troops are cutting through the "elite" Republican guards like a knife through butter? Of course not. It's not really an even fight. And if you'd ignored the media critics and armchair generals and instead paid attention to John Keegan, the great military historian, you'd have known this.

Keegan, perhaps the world's authority on men at war, took a simple and methodical approach to judging the war in Iraq for the Daily Telegraph of London. After nearly two weeks of fighting, he added up the favorable factors and the unfavorable and found the favorable ones "outweigh the unfavorable by a considerable margin."

It's safe to say Keegan is not a cheerleader for the American war plan. He believes the "critics have a point" in arguing the ground force in Iraq should be larger. But "the coalition is winning," he wrote. "It needs just a little extra strength to tip the balance decisively." That will come, he added, from troops already in the pipeline in Iraq.

Keegan is the defense editor for the Telegraph and his column appears in newspapers around the world. His latest book is a short biography of Winston Churchill. His more famous books include "The Face of Battle," "The Book of War," "The Mask of Command," "A History of Warfare," and books on both world wars.

Here are the unfavorable factors in the war as seen by Keegan: Turkey's refusal to allow American troops, attacks by Iraqi irregulars, friendly fire deaths, and too few troops. With Turkey on board, Saddam Hussein would have faced two fronts and been forced to divide his forces, according to Keegan. Other military experts, notably Ralph Peters, think the Turkey connection would not have been helpful. The route from Turkey would have been a logistical nightmare and the troops would take have taken weeks to arrive, Peters says.

The irregulars are a problem, Keegan writes, but not a big one. The desert topography doesn't favor guerilla operations. "That they are participating in the fighting at all, however, has alarmed the press corps and prompted memories, almost certainly inappropriate, of Vietnam."

As for favorable factors, Keegan lists six: rapid initial progress toward Baghdad, relatively few casualties, the unwillingness of the Iraqi army to attack, the seizing of key bridges, an inert, and thus not hostile, population, and total air superiority. Not a bad list.

The battle for Baghdad is the critical phase of the war. About it, Keegan writes: "It is inconceivable that the American army will not defeat the Republican Guard outside the city and such a defeat, in all likelihood, will rapidly bring about the city's fall."

We'll see. As a reader of Keegan's books, I'd have been concerned if he was as pessimistic about the military effort in Iraq as the media and supposedly expert critics are in the United States. But he's not, and the course of events in Iraq appears to justify his optimism, and mine.

Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.