SHOCK, AWE, AND OVERCONFIDENCE

Ralph Peters continues to hammer away at his lietmotif that wars are won on the ground, not from the air:

The first waves of airstrikes on Baghdad were indeed dramatic and precise. The problem is that one’s enemies don’t necessarily respond to theories. Shock and awe, like blitzkrieg before it, would work superbly against Belgium. But its advocates failed to consider the nature of Saddam Hussein’s regime.

No matter how shocked and awed the Iraqi leadership may be, surrender is not, never was and never will be an option for Hussein and his inner circle. Because of the nature of their regime and its crimes, the contest is all or nothing for them.

Had the most senior officials surrounding Donald Rumsfeld paused to consider the enemy, instead of rushing to embrace a theory they found especially congenial for political reasons, they would have realized that you cannot convince Hussein, his sons or his inner circle that they have been defeated. You must actually defeat them. And you must do it the old-fashioned way, albeit with improved weapons, by killing them and destroying their instruments of power.

He then goes on to repeat his assertions of late that Don Rumsfeld overrode the pleas of his generals for a heavier force and is therefore putting our troops in greater danger in order to prove his strategic theories. This borders on libel, but I have no way of disproving the charge other than to say that I don’t believe it comports with Rumsfeld’s character.

I would contend that Peters, whose opinions I value greatly, nonetheless has it exactly wrong here. The reason our forces are sustaining as many casualties as they are–admittedly, a tiny number compared to wars of the past–is because we are relying too much on ground power and not enough on air power. In Desert Storm, where I was a ground pounder, I was more than happy to wait for a few weeks while the bombers softened the opposition. In this campaign, we went to joint operations right away. The problem isn’t that shock and awe is failing in some way but that we aren’t in fact employing that strategy. What happened to the MOAB? The EMP weapons? From what I can gather, we are about to engage in a tank-on-tank battle with the Republican Guard outside Baghdad. We’ll certainly win it, given our vastly superior equipment and training, but we’ll take some losses. Why we don’t just blow the Republican Guard to smithereens with a couple days of aerial bombardment, including the use of the MOAB, first I can’t fathom. Sparing Saddam’s military large losses in hopes they would simply surrender was humane and worth a gamble. But now that it is apparent that isn’t going to happen, one would think we would kill them in the most efficient manner possible. And, contrary to Peters’ analysis, that is not with ground forces.

FILED UNDER: Iraq War
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.