Tuesday, October 18, 2005


Re-reading Imperial Hubris, I came across an intriguing reference to an old Max Boot column: "Forget Vietnam -- History Deflates Guerilla Mystique." So I just had to track down the column, which was originally published in the LA Times on April 6, 2003.

Well, it turns out that time makes fools of us all columnists who indulge their arrogance.

Here are the tasty bits (made even tastier if you replace "Baathists" with "insurgents").
The question today is: Does Iraq more closely resemble Vietnam or the numerous places where U.S. counterinsurgency strategies prevailed? The answer is the latter.

In the first place, Vietnam's topography, with jungles, mountains and swamps, is much more favorable to guerrilla operations than the deserts and towns of Iraq. Tarik Aziz, Iraq's deputy prime minister, has suggested that urban warfare was the answer: "Let our cities be our swamps and our buildings be our jungles."

The Viet Cong tried that tactic. They were able to stage periodic terrorist attacks in urban areas, but their attempts to take over Saigon, Hue and other cities were repulsed during the 1968 Tet Offensive.

It is doubtful that, once the initial battles are concluded, the Baathists will have any better luck organizing a large-scale guerrilla campaign in cities held by coalition forces -- especially if they lack outside bases and support.

And, unlike in Vietnam, it is doubtful that any neighboring country will want to give long-term support to a Baathist guerrilla campaign against coalition forces. Although Syria and Iran, which share long borders with Iraq, are not friendly to the U.S., they do not have particularly warm feelings for Hussein either.

In any case, neither state enjoys superpower patronage, so they would be at the mercy of U.S. forces if they fomented a wave of terrorist attacks against the occupation authorities.

Such a campaign has been going strong recently because Hussein's ruthless security apparatus has continued to control most urban areas. But there is little doubt that the Baathist regime will be overthrown in the end. Hussein's appeal in the Arab world, which depends on successfully defying the "crusaders," will be shattered. Already, many Iraqis, in liberated towns like Najaf, are turning against the regime.

Once the war is over, the democratic reforms promised by Washington should win over the bulk of the Iraqi population -- or at least prevent a repeat of Chechnya, where Russia's brutal counterinsurgency tactics created lasting enmity.

If civilians are the sea in which guerrillas must swim, as Mao famously said, then the Baathists are likely to find Iraq an arid place before long.
Do you think columnists like Max Boot ever re-read their columns from years past -- I mean, when they're sober?

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