Today at Froude Society, I’ll look at some twentieth century middle eastern history that is also, in part, a book review. Our piece in question is actually a series of interviews conducted by American military historians of Saddam’s General Hamdani during the height of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Since the work was conducted by red imperial agents for the betterment of their mission it must be scrutinized severely, yet, as a primary source, it is likely far more valuable than Woods’s secondary writings on the same subject. Being able to autopsy a recently deceased regime is a privilege for the historian. This food for Faustians should be enjoyed with guilt, as the suffering wrought by Saddam’s ouster is incomprehensible.
Martin van Creveld said that Bush’s invasion was the worst military disaster since the massacre at Teutoburg forest, perhaps hyperbolic, but not wrong. Opposition to the war was one of my first tangible political positions, the ignorant 4/5th grader that I was felt something true. Unless one is a direct recipient of GOPe power there is no possible way to argue in favor of that unlucky catastrophe. In every measure it was a failure. A hanged man from Tikrit was not worth a trillion dollars.
In another respect, the war revealed America’s elemental weaknesses and timidity. Casualties incurred, while unjust, were tiny relative to the total coalition population. Four thousand killed was reached in a few hours on the Western or Eastern fronts. Publics and their opinion makers responded with a deluging ‘war weariness’, expressed in cultural and electoral means. It permanently damaged militarism a la Vietnam as well as the parties who carried out the scheme- namely Bush & Blair. This represented a total inability, be it due to wickedness or hubris, for the hawkish faction to carry through a winning set, even with a cataclysm like 9/11. It was also emblematic of how important the information organs are to martial campaigns and how nonexistent outer party control is of them. “Faux News”, “Rummy lied people died”, ring any bells? I recall in early 2008 or so that the administration and Bush specifically had become the easiest punching bag in town. Monkey George a butt of any ‘stupid’ joke at my suburban white school. Neoconservatism did not error by inability or even political strategy, as Hamdani and Woods posit towards the end. They failed because democracy cannot win military conflicts when it plays by its own mad charade.
As General Hamdani goes into detail regarding, the Sham has been a historical convalescence taking innumerable forms. He notes the well know Sassinid vs. Roman and Ottoman vs. Persian conflicts but there is so much more to it beyond Iraq proper. From essentially Sinai and the Bosphorus to Astrakhan and the Indus, an immeasurable number of tribes and peoples have emerged, most to fall unmentioned. Magian civilizations have already passed through many periods of decadence like the West is going through now. If we are to take Spengerlian cycles truthfully then the West cannot understand the Near East because they are in different stages of their life spans, regardless of the essential facts.
Yet, the Orient has always steered away, in the long run, from a demotism that factually binds sovereignty. Oriental despotism was known to the Greeks and has never lost sway in its homeland. Hamdani presents Saddam as a novel, though arch-typical, Oriental Despot. Even though Hamdani tries to describe him in pseudo-scientific (‘psychological’) terms right before this, the characterization is likely accurate.
We cannot call it schizophrenia, but Saddam lived a life of impersonation, where every personality would emerge in an instant. for instance, in one moment, you would find Saddam Hussein the intellectual, who would think as deeply as a philosopher would over a subject, as a good leader or decision maker. the next moment he would be like a naïve and backward farmer. He would switch from being a civilized person to the stubborn Bedouin personality he held deep within himself. This switching back and forth is what people who dealt with him could not stand.
Saddam believed that military effectiveness was a matter of the “warrior”—much as in medieval terms—and the spirit and morale of soldiers, not necessarily of training, organization, or discipline. To him bravery on the battle-field, exemplified by his personal vision of the Arab fighter, was the only reasonable measure of military effectiveness. As Hamdani mentioned in reference to Saddam’s later confrontations with the Americans, the dictator could not grasp the significance of the scale and technological superiority of the American military.
…for his whole life, Saddam could only imagine war as a tribal conflict or like the conflict between Alexander the Macedonian and the Persian King Darius, or the conflict between Salahad-din and the Crusaders. I mean this was his concept of war, which did not adapt to modern times. He was always thinking of himself as a kind of Genghis Khan, Hannibal, or Alexander. He had a picture of these tribes or armies fighting with the sword. Saddam never actually realized that there was a huge difference between modern war and ancient war. [In modern war], there are other implications, political implications, international lines that you just cannot cross. Since I could not confront him too directly, I once told Saddam, “Most of our commanders looked at the war from the tribal perspective, more one-on-one warfare and not the bigger picture of modern war or today’s war.” He refused to listen
As troublesome as Ba’athist Iraq was, it was nowhere near as chaotic and insane as its mortal rival. While I plan to do a much deeper study of the Iranian Revolution in the future, from the outset, that event appeared to be more characteristic of revolution than of counter-revolution. Woods on the outset of the scene in 1980:
Even after the purges,the Iranian military had little standing with those in the political realm. Military professionalism was simply not in the vocabulary of Khomeini’s regime. the alternative to the professional military in Iran was a number of revolutionary militias. None of these militias had any serious military training, nor, as Hamdani would describe,did they possess leaders with even the slightest understanding of tactics.The militias—in some cases no more than small groups swearing fealty to a local imam or ayatollah with political ambitions—often acted independently, obeying no instructions and initiating combat actions without orders to do so. Local Iranian commanders appeared to have had almost complete freedom of action, whatever the strategic or operational consequences might be. This may well explain the fact that some Iranian units began shelling Iraqi towns and military positions in a rampageous fashion before the Iraqi invasion began and before the initiation of large-scale military operations.thus, one can hardly speak of coherent Iranian military operations, much less a strategic conception, throughout the first 4 years of the conflict
The fact that Khomeini’s military forces, both the regular army and the militia, were increasingly becoming an all-infantry army that relied almost entirely on human wave attacks had a considerable effect on the fighting. The lack of armor and artillery limited the pressure Iranians could put on the Iraqis on the northern front, because while the mountainous terrain on the border favored infantry operations, the more open terrain lying beyond provided Iraqi armor with an enormous advantage, of which it made full use. Similar factors held in the south, where swamps and waterlogged terrain helped the Iranians to the east of Basra, but the more open and urban terrain around Basra and to the west favored the Iraqis.
What differentiated regional military strategy in 1989 has become confused, but there are easy translations to the modern war to be made. Kuwaitis up against Saddam were as woeful as the Gulf Coalition against Yemen. It is very, very clear from the 20th century record that the Hejazi race cannot fight with these technological terms. Arabs continue to prefer fighting to maneuver, as Hamdani notes for all Eastern peoples. Kurds seem to appreciate maneuver the most but that may be US-Soviet influence.
Assad looks to be linking the Ba’ath bond and stacking up on the armour like Hussein before him. During 2011-12 Assadist tanks would roll up to a rebel town like Rambo, only to be beaten by cheap Qaddafi looted rockets. Tanks are very vulnerable now to being spotted from the air, wire guided missiles (Iran can make copies) are sure to destroy unmodified machines. Shiite militias have really maximized the armoured infantry vehicle, putting on extra shielding. All factions have been able to acquire a massive number of anti-aircraft turret mounted pick up trucks. These facts demonstrate that only under quite unusual circumstances will warfare devolve into all infantry slugfests, artillery and some degree of armour has widely proliferated after the opening up of the ex-Communist stocks. Night vision, IEDs, TOWs, and good air support have kept infantry very competitive, well out ranking new reactive armour, Yet we do not see Assad or the ISF/PMUs employing sophisticated tank manoeuver doctrine like the Israelis did in 2006.
Iranian advisors are now considered, in both the Assadist and Western press, necessary to lead the Arabs against ISIS, or at the very least they are more competent than the Arab armies themselves (& the KRG sort of). Hamdani conceeds that the Iranians did have superior infantry operations at the time. Combine that with time to flesh out doctrine and I am quite certain Iran is becoming a formidable regular force. Nevertheless, I doubt they could beat an advanced Western army of comparable spirit, but I doubt there is any country that can now advance men enthusiastic and skillful enough to invade and occupy.
With such a devastating loss of life and opportunity, the Shiite Revolution sanctified itself. Random peasants donned the red headband and dutifully charged to their deaths. Such deeds cleansed their societies of decay to such an extent that sclerotic Western peoples are no match without their wealth. While insufficiently Reactionary in many policy areas, the Iranian Revolution was certainly counter-revolutionary spiritually, in that it brought a nation back from liberal modernity to metaphysical supremacy.
The embargo and brain drain were incredibly damaging, it is only now, after the curious rapprochement by State, that their economy can start reflecting the industry of their race. Never ones to miss a redemption story, the international community has leaped to reëstablish talks and trade. Being embargoed in the first place, and for so long, is indicative of how difficult ‘exit’ for a non-progressive state really is.
An unquivering foreign policy ran by the Revolutionary Guard is certain to outplay the Democratic powers and Saudis. Much like Saddam, the Ayatollahs have marketed themselves as the sworn enemy of Israel. All their kvetching on the pobrésitos Palestinianos cannot distract from the fact that war with Riyadh is much more worthy and immanent. Iran has spooked the Saudis and Israelis into an awkward but close alliance. Though dislike of Obama&co is also critical for this odd new couple. An invasion of the Gulf Arab states shall not occur if they can call in the US and Israel, Iran is therefore on the defensive. In that area they have likely succeeded, with the delivery of the S-300 Iran need no longer fear a conventional Zionist invasion, nuclear weapons or not, they are prepared to deflect the Western air-sea stratagems.
The future of Iraq is much more bleak, the continuing terror bombings by ISIS will remain well after the Takfiris are defeated in Mosul and the border with Syria is sealed. It is doubtful Iran will be able to keep Baghdad under their thumb for long, Shiite Arabs never forgot their sacrifice. Yes, a tremendous amount of influence will remain but it will be challenging to maintain the current level of vassalage. With the political situation in Baghdad so volatile at the moment, it is pure speculation to predict what may happen even a few months from now. If Abadi is overthrown and the USA retracts its financial patronage, as it warns, then a chance for an overtly pro-Iranian ruling clique materializes. Tehran’s insistence on sponsoring only religious allies may be too restrictive, and it presupposed a confessional loyalty of their Iraqi compatriots that is not fully there.