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Doug Thompson

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A Bad War Done Well

There are some contrasts between Iraq and Georgia that are worth looking at.
We invaded Iraq after building a case — it wasn’t proven false until later — that the country’s ruler was a threat to our security. We even sought United Nations approval and allied support. All we got was acquiescence, but at least we got that.
Russia crushed a small neighbor without asking anybody’s permission and despite protests from almost everybody.
That’s a pretty big difference right there.
Here’s a bigger one. The Russians are going to get away with it.
I’m not arguing for unilaterally ignoring world opinion, going your own way or so forth. I’m not comparing the mission of U.S. troops — to safeguard America — to the mission in Georgia, which was brutal. I’m simply stating that there is a right way and a wrong way to do anything.
There’s a right way to invade a country, whether your intentions are honorable or not.
Let’s compare some of the things Russia did right here, compared to our invasion.
First and foremost, the Russians clearly had first-rate intelligence. They conducted maneuvers that were a dress rehearsal for this. They clearly knew the Georgians were going to attempt to retake those rebel provinces someday. A lot of that was common sense. The Georgian government had quelled other provinces before and gotten away with it. It was just a matter of time. The time came and the Russians were ready. That’s another aspect of good intelligence — denying it to the enemy. The Georgians would never have attacked if they had known the Russians were so primed.
Our intelligence wasn’t so good.
Second, Russia let the Georgians attack first. In fact, you could argue they goaded the Georgians into it.
The American response to the hypothetical — and ultimately false — threat of Iraq was, by comparison, hysterical.
Surely I’m not saying that we should have let Iraq attack us with chemical, biological or even nuclear weapons first, you ask?
Actually, yes I am.
I’m not trying to be shocking here. I’m saying that any dictator that launches a chemical, biological or even nuclear attack on another country that has enough nuclear weapons to convert the attacker’s country into a radioactive wasteland within minutes is one dumb dictator.
Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that Saddam Hussein really had “weapons of mass destruction” before the invasion. Let’s assume that we put out a warning that the first time anybody attacked us in that fashion, we’d assume he’s the one who did it.
Do you really think he would have used them?
It’s called “deterrence,” and it worked against the Soviet Union very well. The greatest mistake of the Iraq misadventure was the assumption that if Hussein had WMDs, he would use them.
Third, the Russians tailored their goals to political reality. They could easily have overrun all of Georgia. They didn’t. They crushed the Georgian armed forces, achieved the de facto annexation of two provinces that will be easy to control, and left their enemy humiliated and drastically weakened. They proved the West to be impotent too. All this was accomplished without giving them an insurgency.
Suppose we had invaded Southern Iraq, liberating the Shiite sector. Suppose we’d left Hussein in Baghdad.
We’d have Shiite cooperation — imagine that — against a common enemy who was still firmly in control of the Sunni portion but contending with rebellious Kurds.
We’d also have control of the bulk of the oil.
Now, I’d argue that this would have left us with a Shiite rump state that would throw in with Iran as soon as we left. Still, if there had to be an invasion that would have been one way to do it.
Another thing Russia used was overwhelming force. We try to fight our war on the cheap. Part of that is a problem of scale. Iraq has about seven times as many people as Georgia and is surrounded by countries willing to help insurgents.
To sum it all up: Pick your fights. That’s what Russian has done. That’s what we failed to do.

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