THE FEROCITY OF FUTILITY

Heaven knows what’s happening around the small city of Najaf. There are reports of allied losses, as well as crazed fighting from Saddam loyalists:

Despite the American foothold on the eastern side of the Euphrates, Iraqi forces continued to attack in what soldiers described as futile, almost fanatical assaults against M1-A1 tanks and Bradley armored fighting vehicles.

When you’re cornered, this is how you fight. But it is also reminiscent of al Qaeda and other Islamist fanatics. The virus has spread far and wide.

THE BBC’S OWN DEFENSE CORRESPONDENT

Assails the anti-war spin of the Beeb’s own coverage. In a leaked memo, Paul Adams blasts his own editors:

On Monday, [Adams] wrote from US Central Command in Qatar: “I was gobsmacked to hear, in a set of headlines today, that the coalition was suffering significant casualties. This is simply NOT TRUE. Nor is it true to say, as the same intro stated, that coalition forces are fighting guerrillas. It may be guerrilla warfare, but they are not guerrillas.”
Adams memo was fired off to TV news head Roger Mosey, Radio news boss Stephen Mitchell and other Beeb chiefs. It adds stunning weight to allegations that BBC coverage on all its networks is biased against the war. In one blast, he storms: “Who dreamed up the line that the coalition are achieving small victories at a very high price? The truth is exactly the opposite. The gains are huge and the costs still relatively low. This is real warfare, however one-sided, and losses are to be expected.”
The BBC has come under attack for describing the loss of two soldiers as “the worst possible news” for the armed forces.

It makes Katie Couric look benign. Of course, some of this is due to the hyped expectations for the war which the administration didn’t do enough in advance to quell. But that doesn’t explain all of it.

WHY THE BBC MATTERS

My harping on this theme is not simply media criticism. It’s war analysis. Remember one of the key elements, we’re finding out, in this battle is the willingness of the Iraqi people to stand up to the Saddamite remnants. That willingness depends, in part, on their confidence that the allies are making progress. What the BBC is able to do, by broadcasting directly to these people, is to keep the Iraqi people’s morale as far down as possible, thereby helping to make the war more bloody, thereby helping discredit it in retrospect. If you assume that almost all these reporters and editors are anti-war, this BBC strategy makes sense. They’re a military player. And they are objectively pro-Saddam.

WHERE WE ARE

I wish I knew. I doubt anyone but the people running this war know for sure. And at some point, you have to trust them. But there’s some hope to be gleaned at least by what hasn’t happened. The oil fields seem secured and haven’t been set aflame. No chemical or biological weapons have yet been used. Iran is quiescent. The Turks have not invaded. Israel hasn’t been attacked. These are all good signs. So far, the worst hasn’t happened. But there are obvious worries as well. The Shi’a population in the South is still not sure of an allied victory. It seems we under-estimated their skittishness about an allied war – due in large part to their understandably bitter feelings at being betrayed in 1991. If we had more overwhelming force in the region, that may have been less of a problem. But it appears we don’t, for reasons of logistics and Turks but also of war planning. The fact that Saddamite forces are now firing into civilian areas in Basra is therefore a horrifying but also hopeful sign. And the Brits, it seems, are determined to try and support the civilians. As I write, they’re probably moving in. (Note to self: this is what a real ally looks like.)

WHERE WE MAY SOON BE

The money paragraph in the Washington Post this morning (I cannot read the New York Times right now) is the following:

An uprising in Basra has the potential to alter the political landscape across southern Iraq in a matter of days, forcing Hussein loyalists to flee for their lives and placing Shiite leaders in control of local affairs. Likewise, if U.S. forces are able to quickly quash Republican Guard units around Karbala and Kut, Hussein’s government in Baghdad would find itself without regular military defenses against a U.S. attack.

That’s the strategy. But the deeper truth is that speed, while wonderful, isn’t everything. We have more and more troops coming in; Saddam is losing hundreds daily and is slowly running out of options which aren’t war crimes. Shouldn’t we wait for the biggest possible force before moving on Baghdad? Gregg Easterbrook has a good, if limited, analogy:

Saddam’s professional army is now fighting like it doesn’t plan to give up – exactly as the French fought in the early days of the Nazi attack in 1940. And that makes perfect sense: Saddam’s professional army doesn’t yet have to give up because it still has men and materiel. But every day it will have less of both, while every day the United States has more, as more forces enter the region. France in 1940 went from determined resistance to collapse almost without warning. This may still happen to Iraq, just not the in 48 or 72 hours that commentators foolishly predicted.
Iraq cut and ran in 1991 in less than 100 hours because the fight then was to expel Saddam’s legion from a neighbor; pretty much the moment Iraqi commanders realized they were being pounded, they turned and sprinted back to the safe turf of their home country, where the coalition left them alone. Now Saddam’s legions, and his Baath Party, have no safe turf to which to retreat. So they’re not yielding, at least not yet, just as the French, with nowhere to retreat, initially resisted the odds.

Makes sense to me. But it also makes sense to bring more troops into the theater as soon as we possibly can. So we need patience now. And domestic nerve.

KELLY’S DESPATCH

It’s smart, dependable and, I’d say, worrying. Money quote:

In an important sense, the [fedayeem] attacks have worked. As Col. William Grimsley, commander of the 1st Brigade, put it, “They are diffusing some of our attention, causing us to fight them instead of focusing all our attention on our larger objective.”
The division commander, Maj. Gen. Buford Blount, is candid about the threat. “The Baath Party is very well organized and very active with a lot of forces in Najaf and Samawah,” he said in an interview Monday night. “And they are capable of responding fluidly to us.”
It has always been the hope of the American war planners to avoid Iraq’s cities, so as to minimize both American and Iraqi casualties. But there are doubts. “I think these guys are going to keep coming out and harassing us,” Blount said. “I think eventually we’re going to have to go in there and kill them. I think we will have to kill them unless we can get rid of the top guy in Baghdad.”

If we are indeed shifting tactics to respond to the Southern threat of random Baath guerrillas, maybe it’s a good thing. Flexibility in war plans is not defeat. It’s an essential part of victory.

THE STRATEGY: Here’s a useful examination of the Rumsfeld strategy in Iraq. What is making armchair generals and some bloggers like me nervous is all, apparently, part of the plan.

IN DEFENSE OF THE STRATEGY: “Thus far the campaign resembles the brilliantly successful, life-sparing, WWII island-hopping strategy of Admiral Nimitz and General MacArthur. Yet no critic seems to have the depth of knowledge of military history to have recognized, let alone to have praised, the similarity. Bypassing, and leaving to die on the vine, cut-off pockets of resistance is an exemplary tactic. It is also one forced on CENTCOM by the Turkish denial of a second front to the 4th Infantry division. In the absence of the advantage a second front would have conferred, CENTCOM’s bypassing of cut-off Iraqi units is also exemplary of the flexibility afforded it by its existing preponderance of combat power on a single front. The long coalition supply lines may be harassed, but the bypassed enemy units – which will function only so long as their in situ ammunition lasts – haven’t the offensive power to sever them for long enough to defeat coalition forces, or even to delay significantly the concentration of forces for the assault on Baghdad.” – other reader insights, including a defense of Barry McCaffrey and a guffaw at Eric Alterman, on the Letters Page.

READ JONAH: A lot of common sense. I agree with him about the military being more helpful in galvanizing domestic morale. We need to know more about how we’re winning. We need a useful summary-cum-pep-talk. C’mon, Rummy. Tell it like it is.

A CALMING BRIT

This may be the best response to my worry yesterday about enough troops. It’s from the British commander dealing with Basra:

“What’s going on there is there are these unconventional forces, the people who really have gripped the people of Iraq in fear, the Saddam Fedayin, for example, the Baath party militia and the special security operation, and these are bunches of determined men who will fight hard because they have no future in Iraq and it is they that we have to get at.
“We have always known we would have to get at them and we did that last night in Zubayr.
“We went to their headquarters and engaged in contact with them, killed a number of them and made it quite clear that we are up for this and you are going to have a very hard time.”
“A column of armour did try to come out of Basra last night and 20 of them won’t be going back because they had the attention of our artillery.”

“Had the attention of our artillery.” He seems confident enough. he also said that “it was ‘slightly early days’ to be expecting a popular uprising against Saddam.” He spoke too soon, it seems.

GAY DISCHARGES HALVED: It’s a revealing statistic. Gay discharges from the military are down almost a third in one year. The reason? Primarily because the military is at war and needs good soldiers. Gay discharges always plummet in wartime – they have in every modern war. But doesn’t that suggest that the policy is not in fact essential to military effectiveness? If the military keeps gay soldiers when it’s at its most stressed, it’s surely conceding that they are an asset – not the morale-busting danger they are made out to be by some. The other reason for the drop may be that gradually, openly gay and lesbian servicemembers are coming out on the job and not being fired. Good commanders just ignore the policy to keep good soldiers. There are more and more cases of this happening. All in all, a good sign. But more evidence that what Dick Cheney once called “an old chestnut” of a policy needs to be retired as soon as this conflict is over.

THE LEFT’S TRIBUTE TO THE BBC

Here’s NPR’s John Burnett, a guy who puts the term “liberation” of Iraq in parentheses, comparing himself with the BBC:

What’s interesting is that I think when you come over here and when you imbed with this, with this group and you in a sense become sort of part of the project of the invasion and pacification of a country, you cease to hear the dissonant voices against that project, un–un–until you tune in to the BBC. And even then, you know, they’re pretty muted.

Just so you don’t think I’m imagining this. The BBC is increasingly perceived, even by sympathetic parties, as the voice in part of the anti-war forces. Other lefties, like Katha Pollitt, who opposed the invasion of Afghanistan and refused to let her own daughter fly the American flag, see the BBC as their kind of news organization:

On BBC, there is serious discussion of how the invasion of Iraq is being received around the world — not so well, it turns out. There is much discussion of the bombing of civilians, of the apparent good cheer of the Iraqi leadership and the seeming lack of universal jubilation among the population; last night there were substantial interviews with an Iraqi official (or former official? missed that) and with Paul Wolfowitz. I’m a fan of NPR, but I have to say I think they’re missing an opportunity here.

I wonder if most listeners know that the BBC is the favorite station of the far left? How the Beeb ceased to become an objective news source and became a broadcast version of the Nation is one of the great tragedies of modern journalism.

THE BBC COMES UNSPUN: Two great stories. The first details why the Iraqi civilians in Basra are uniting with the Saddamies to resist the enemy invaders. The support for this theory? A Guardian correspondent:

Consider what happened in Basra last Saturday when there were air raids. The Qatari television channel al-Jazeera had a team in the city and it sent back graphic pictures of dead and wounded civilians which were widely shown in the Arab world. But these images have been all but ignored in the West, which seems more interested in pictures of the American prisoners of war. People do not take kindly to being bombed, even by “friendly forces”… There is an interesting article in the Guardian of 25 March from its correspondent, James Meek, who has been with the US Marines in Nasiriya. He shows how hostility to Saddam Hussein is not necessarily converted into support for the invasion.

Then, nine hours later, the BBC reports the following:

British forces on the outskirts of Basra have reported that a violent civilian uprising against Saddam Hussein’s regime has begun in the southern Iraqi city. Major General Peter Wall, British Chief of Staff at Allied Central Command in Qatar, confirmed that it appeared an uprising had taken place, but that it was in its infancy and British troops were “keen to exploit its potential”.

Suddenly, a different picture. Never mind.