by Austin Bay
Aug 28, 2002
Hugging takes extraordinary discipline and commitment.
"Hugging" an enemy unit, that is, in close combat.
The "hugging" metaphor is, of course, a savage irony. Not evenbears hug with assault rifles -- only human beings are that violent.
Placing soldiers within 50 meters of the enemy and keeping themthere is a risky ploy. However, the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) evolved"hugging" tactics to a high military art. Massive U.S. firepower, deliveredby artillery and aircraft, threatened maneuvering NVA units. Thus, the guttyNVA tactic of getting close to U.S. infantry and staying close. U.S. firesupport then ran an increased risk of hitting U.S. troops. With U.S.firepower constrained, the ground battle then became infantry againstinfantry. Motivated and well-led NVA troops now had better odds and anopportunity to send American soldiers home in body bags -- a key politicalobjective on the part of Hanoi's high command.
Thick jungles and sprawling cities ("urban jungles") give troopslots of places to hide and "hug." And here lies -- in part-- SaddamHussein's hope, that Iraqi streets and alleys will be concrete Vietnams orMogadishus. That's certainly the tout and one rhetorically convenient to theWest's nouveau Neville Chamberlains.
However, the Iraqi military and the NVA have little in common,particularly when it comes to the commitment and discipline required tostick to a fight at close quarters.
The Iraqi Army of 2002, including the Republican Guard andspecial units, is deployed not to defend Iraq but to oppress it. Yes, thatmeans it is deployed to defend Saddam's ruling cohort. Still, loyalty fromeven elite units is bought with better bread and Mercedes-Benzes. Whensomeone else -- like Washington -- offers steaks and Porsches, as well as achance to remain alive, who's true to the Butcher of Baghdad? Recall Iraqitroops' surrender to French photographers in Desert Storm.
Saddam's regime is brittle. The apt analogy is NicolaeCeausescu's vile Romanian dictatorship, a multitiered police state akin toSaddam's. In late 1989, with the political context of the Cold War suddenlyshifting, Ceausescu's own secret police quickly put him in a grave. U.S.strategy remains directed at provoking a Baghdad coup. Aggressive "war talk"and troop movements promote that optimal result.
Still, if it came to shove and Washington were to invade, whatis Saddam's best bet to stop the U.S. military's speed, precision andsynergistic violence?
Last December, a group of civilian military analysts produced ahypothetical Iraqi war plan. Similar "Iraqi op-plans" have been publishedthis summer. The group clearly leveraged U.S. Army strategic war gamesconducted in the late 1990s that explored "web defenses." The analystsproposed Iraqi webs composed of interlocking defensive positions sited inurban zones. These featured air defense weapons beside mosques, tanks parkedbeside apartment buildings, troops placed among schoolchildren, and commandbunkers built beneath museums and hospitals.
This cold gambit -- human and cultural shields -- was designedto thwart U.S. advantages in long-range fire and create "targetingdilemmas" -- e.g., are these people Iraqi civilians or soldiers? Thestrategic objective was to buy Saddam more time to affect "world opinion"and portray Washington as a heartless murderer.
Yet the key to making Saddam's spider web work remained loyalty,and that, several analysts argued, he doesn't have.
The analytic group decided Saddam's best option to slow a U.S.attack was chemical weapons delivered by SCUD missiles. War gaming indicatedif the United States had only Kuwait as a base, Saddam had a fair chance ofdousing air and logistics bases with persistent nerve agent. Iraq had thecapacity to strike one big target. U.S. basing out of Jordan and Turkeyradically reduced this Iraqi threat.
Firing missiles at Israel or other Middle Eastern countries isalso an option, but it's one Saddam already has, and it becomes more lethalif the world waits until he acquires nukes.
The U.S. counter to the web and hidden SCUDs? Precision weaponsand high-speed helicopter-borne assaults on key nodes in the web, with rapidarmor follow-on. Critical immediate goals include destruction of commandcenters, isolation of Iraqi leaders, and capture of chemical and biologicalweapons dumps.
If the United States achieves those goals, the Iraqi Army willcollapse. Then, watch the Iraqi people welcome their liberators.