There is an eerie similarity between Leo Tolstoyâ€™s novel, War and Piece, which describes with considerable accuracy Napoleonâ€™s 1812 invasion of Russia and George Bushâ€™s 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Napoleon, after quick victories throughout Europe, decided to take on his former ally, Russia. Napoleon had the most powerful army in Europe. He liked to use small, fast units for surprise and speed. When he entered the borders of Russia, he expected a ferocious the battle for Moscow in which he would destroy, once and for all, the Russian military machine. But to his surprise, his invasion of Moscow was a cakewalk. There was no big battle with the Russian military machine. Napoleonâ€™s troops quickly entered Moscow and dug in.
George Bush, commander-in-chief of the most powerful military machine in history, had a Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, who preferred to use small, fast units for surprise and speed. He had at his command high technology, an Air Force and tanks unmatched in the world. After Bush had enjoyed a quick victory over the Taliban in Afghanistan, he decided to invade the former ally of the United States, Saddam Husseinâ€™s Iraq.
The troops of Bush the Younger, like Napoleon entering Moscow, had a cakewalk into Iraq. There were token shots here and there, but no big earth works to slow vehicles in ambushes. No tank traps to paralyze the fearsome Abrams tanks. No massive mine fields to make every American move a dance of death that would delay the advancing troops. Most surprising was no Republican Guard, Husseinâ€™s most effective army. The quick-moving U.S. special forces quickly enveloped Baghdad where they waited for the big battle. But there was no huge battle. There was no visible Republican Guard. And there was no Saddam Hussein. . Like Napoleon waiting to polish off the Czarist army, Bush also waited to finish off the Republican Guard. But no Republican Guard was in sight. Saddam Hussein was nowhere to be found.
President Bush assumed it was all over. It was time to put the formidable White House public relations into high gear. In the now famous photo op, the President dressed in fighter-pilot uniform made a landing on the aircraft carrier, Abraham Lincoln. Nearby, the city of San Diego was clearly visible — but not to the American public because the TV cameras on the carrier were placed by White House operatives to point only toward the other side of the ship in the direction of the open seas.
As millions of American watched on television, President Bush, now re-uniformed in a Presidential black suit and, by precise pre-arrangement, made his famous victory swagger across the open deck toward the carefully focussed TV cameras. Pre-arranged was a huge sign on the carrierâ€™s superstructure: MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. At a microphone, Bush told the American people the invasion was complete and combat ended.
Napoleon and Bush both were surprised by a speedy, un-opposed easy victory. The massed Czarist troops of General Mikhail Kutuzov seemed to have evaporated. Saddam Husseinâ€™s Republican Guard also seemed to have evaporated.
In the War of 1812, Kutuzovâ€™s army had not, of course, evaporated. They had simply moved beyond Moscow, out of sight, and waited for the penalty of time and a vicious winter to decimate Napoleonâ€™s Grand Army.
At this writing, there is no definitive word on what happened to Husseinâ€™s Republican Guard. But after the invasion there were unexpected huge explosions, expert booby traps for the Abrams tanks, and a steady toll of American soldiers killed and wounded by hidden sharpshooters. Shoulder-fired missiles destroyed U.S. army helicopters and their occupants, and a series of ambushes killed more United States soldiers. It all had the earmarks of planned and skilled guerrilla warfare.
It is possible that Husseinâ€™s elite Republican Guard had shed their uniforms and were behind the mounting American casualties. Once the small, beleaguered U.S. troops were shown to be vulnerable, it loosed the anger of Iraqi civilians who, without water, electricity, or food, demanded that the American occupiers who ruined the country by precision bombing do something about it.
There was no American plan to do â€œsomething about it.â€ The invasion and reduction of cities and infrastructure to rubble has been precisely planned. But no plan for what came afterward. How could this have happened? In the elaborate war games that precedes every invasion, didnâ€™t anyone ask, â€œOK, after the bombing and our troops control Iraq, what do we do next?â€Apparently, no one in charge asked â€œwhat do we do next?â€.
It seems inexplicable. But perhaps it is explainable.
Among neo-conservatives, there has been a basic long-term plan for the United States and for the rest of the world. In the United States the plan is open and even given a name: â€œStarve the Beast.â€ The â€œBeastâ€ is the United States government. The starvation is to have the government so loaded with debt or other limiting obligations that it makes it easier to cancel a wide range of government programs, or so cripple them they will not work. These are programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other fixtures that mainly benefit the middle-class Americans, environmental protections, anti-pollution laws, and the entire range of programs the neo-conservatives wish to privatize or cancel. The 2003 Republican White House and Congress already are engaged in the plan.
But this is not limited to the United States. It is a plan that the neo-con group foresees implanting in all the newly developing countries and in as much of the rest of the world as possible. This includes Iraq.
It is important to remember that the invasion of Iraq came out of the blue, suddenly depicted as a country with imminent danger to the United States with weapons of mass destruction and nuclear capacity. It was, as we now know, a false alarm that should have been known by the neo-con planners like Rumsfeld to be a false alarm. If the group did not know it was a false alarm, it is even more alarming. If they believed it was not a false alarm, it would mean that the planners have become so obsessed with their own goals, that they are capable of profound self-deception.
After the Taliban had been bombed in Afghanistan, Iraq seemed a convenient country with which to extend the neo-con program. The word â€œconvenientâ€ is not mine. It was used by one of the inner group who planned the whole thing, Paul Wolfowitz, in an article in Vanity. In that article, Wolfowitz said a number of countries were considered as targets but Iraq was decided as the most â€œconvenient.â€ One assumes that it was â€œconvenientâ€ because politically Hussein is properly despised as a monster who does monstrous things to his own dissenters (though he was our monster in 1980).
That the war hawks had no plans for what to do after bombing Iraq into rubble and putting our troops in occupation seems like idiocy. But the war hawks do not have the usual characteristics of ignoramuses. They are well-educated and have considerable intellectual skills.
Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of Defense, had been Dean and Professor of the Nitze School of Advanced International Relations at Johns Hopkins University. Condoleeza Rice, President Bushâ€™s National Security Advisor, had been Provost and a Dean at Stanford University, professor of political science, and author of three books on European and Soviet History. Richard Perle (known by his opponents as the Prince of Darkness), was chair of the Defense Policy Board, has a BA and Masters from Princeton. Rumsfeld is a Princeton man.
How does one explain the blindness of these defense intellectuals, even with the dream of their own kind of world., knowing something was wrong about the celebrated United States initial cakewalk into Iraq with only token resistance. They knew that Husseinâ€™s most effective army was his Republican Guard, yet the Guard were never in evidence to resist the invasion. In all their education at prestigious universities, were they never acquainted with Leo Tolstoyâ€™s great novel, War and Peace about the War of 1812?
It is a huge tome with more than 3 million-plus words, but it is also on any list of the worldâ€™s great literature. And any course in European history will have dealt with Napoleon and the War of 1812. More important, it provides a striking warning of precisely what seems to have happened in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq.
Tolstoy describes â€” with historical accuracyâ€” how Napoleonâ€™s terrifying 500,000-man Grand Army, approached Moscow ready for a great battle with the Czarist troops under command of the aging, sleepy-eyed General Mikhail Kutuzov. Napoleon had his cakewalk into the city of Moscow with no hindrance from Kutuzovâ€™s big army. Kutuzov had merely withdrawn his army well east of Moscow and let Napoleon take over Moscow and then waited patiently for time and winter to destabilize Napoleonâ€™s control of Russia.
Bush accepted the Iraq war plan and quickly savored the glory of a quick and successful invasion. It is possible that Bush, not known as an insatiable reader of books, might not remember much about Napoleon, Moscow and Kutuzov. But Bushâ€™s generals did because one thing the Pentagon does well is to make sure every person who reaches the rank of a senior General has been to graduate school and studied in detail every important war from classical times to the present.
The War of 1812 is certainly in the curriculum. Perhaps that is why so many of Bushâ€™s generals insisted the American invasion army was too small and not sufficiently prepared. And why senior people in the CIA expressed doubt about the intelligence about Iraq.
The problem, of course, is that Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Perle, were known to feel they understood military matters better than his generals and the intelligence they collected was distinct from the CIA They selected whatever information they could that supported their plans and dismissed the rest as bureaucratic incompetence. The Iraqi mess that followed the invasion has become a monument of those who have impenetrable self-confidence in their own superiority.
The President hung up a â€œKeep Outâ€ sign for the United Nations, made derogatory remarks about the countryâ€™s most powerful allies â€” Germany and France â€” and boasted of his support from some lesser Eastern European countries like Slovakia and Slovenia who were delighted with sudden recognition as â€œmilitary alliesâ€ of the United States.
Rumsfeld and company must have felt that they could simply order the Air Force to reduce Iraq to rubble, move in the small American special forces and then let lesser people worry about petty details — details like what happens after the troops are in and there is no water, electricity, or food, and a population hat will become desperate and hostile. There were far more casualties after â€œMission Accomplishedâ€ than occurred during the invasion itself.
It may demonstrate something related not to the military but to the human race. Every one of Bushâ€™s war hawks undoubtedly has a I.Q. But a high I.Q. has never been a reliable defense against arrogance or lack of wisdom. Most of all, a high I.Q. is vulnerable to hubris, which the dictionary defines as â€œoverbearing pride or presumption; arrogance.â€ The penalties of hubris in high places, as readers of the classics and careful observers of human experience realize, are too chilling as a fate for the innocent citizens and soldiers of the United States and for the rest of the world.
Ben H. Bagdikian is the author of the forthcoming book, The New Media Monopoly.