It has been nine days since the United States launched its attack against Iraq. The war has not gone as many expected. The difficulties encountered by the U.S.-led coalition have raised questions about Washington’s strategy and the assumptions that undergirded the allied assault. Although those doubts challenge the official optimism that preceded the march to war, they should not be allowed to challenge the rationale for the war itself. If the Iraqi regime needed to be overthrown, then casualties must not deter concerned governments from acting.
Prior to the onset of hostilities, the U.S. trumpeted a “shock and awe” strategy that would devastate the enemy and leave it helpless in the face of the U.S. onslaught. Commentary suggested that war would begin with an assault of unprecedented ferocity that would break the will of the enemy. Thus far, Baghdad has been anything but shocked and awed. Journalists in Iraq witnessing the allied attack only belatedly recognized the overwhelming power brought to bear.
The number of weapons rained down upon Iraq has been staggering. Reportedly, more precision guided munitions were used in one 24-hour period than during the entire first Persian Gulf War. But there are indications that the coalition’s tactics did not match its might. Iraq’s Ministry of Defense was allegedly not targeted, fueling rumors that the U.S. was negotiating with members of the Iraqi military to trigger an insurrection.
The continued broadcasting of Iraqi television — until recently — suggests that the U.S. was hoping to exploit that medium for a propaganda advantage. The regime’s survival undermined that tactical decision and Baghdad used its broadcast media to rally support. The regular briefings and press conferences served up by Baghdad gave Iraqi nationalists and soldiers another option, holding out hope that their government might indeed survive.
Success has yielded its own vulnerabilities. Coalition forces are overstretched. Advancing forces raced toward Baghdad, only to be slowed by the “logistical tail” needed to support their march. Rearguard attacks by Iraqi forces have claimed allied casualties and demonstrated flaws in the U.S. strategy. Resistance has also slowed the allied advance.
The course of the war cannot be explained solely by coalition mistakes. Iraq has learned from the first Persian Gulf War. Iraqi forces have not waged open combat with the coalition. For the most part, they have retreated and forced their enemy to engage them in confined spaces. They have avoided open combat, provided no easy targets and, when they have engaged the coalition, have done so on territory of choosing: in urban settings, behind the mass of allied forces. They have adopted morally questionable tactics — pretending to surrender before attacking — but the notion that the regime would collapse has been proven false.
It is as yet unclear whether the popular resistance to “liberation” is genuine or the product of force and manipulation by Iraq government forces. Nonetheless, the reluctance of “freed” populations to welcome allied forces must have been a shock to the U.S. and its allies. The power of Arab nationalism has challenged assumptions about the way the war would unfold. Worse, the Iraqi resistance has struck a chord in other Arab countries, fueling nationalist and anti-Western sentiment there and challenging the pro-U.S. stance of their governments.
What is clear is that the war against Iraq will not be the quick and sanitized battle that many had hoped for. Increasingly, from the president on down, U.S. officials warn that the conflict will be drawn out. That has several critical implications. First, the allied will to fight must not flag. Difficulties in waging war should have no effect on the will to fight. Desperate resistance mounted on behalf of the Baghdad regime is to be expected. If the cause was valid before the war began, it is just as valid today.
Second, the international community must move quickly to ensure that humanitarian assistance is available to affected communities. Aid must be provided to win good will among the Iraqi people and flesh out the rhetoric that this war is being fought in their name and not in the interests of international capital such as oil companies.
In this, Japan can play a special role. This country can provide the aid and assistance that helps the Iraqi people over the hardships caused by war. In the long term, Japan must be ready to assist a country that has been under the thumb of a repressive and dictatorial regime. Support for Iraq’s development is the foundation for a long-term relationship between that country and the West — and long-term stability throughout the Persian Gulf region.
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