Saddam read wrong strategy book

Harry Summers

February 28, 1991|By Harry Summers

SO, SADDAM Hussein announces that his troops are withdrawing from Kuwait. But he claims victory. He doesn't announce a surrender. His forces continue to fight and attempt to hold on to their equipment.

The question is: What is Saddam Hussein up to?

The answers lie in the philosophies of war.

But knowing just which philosophy sometimes is not an easy matter. "Know the enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles you will never be in peril," wrote Sun Tzu, the famous Chinese philosopher of war, almost 2,500 years ago. Throughout the centuries, military commanders have sought to follow that wise advice.

"You sonovabitch, I've read your book," says George C. Scott in his role as Gen. George S. Patton at the battle of El-Guettar in 1943 as he shakes his fist at German Gen. Erwin Rommel's advancing panzers. It was much less dramatic in real life. The incident actually took place not in the North African desert but on the plains of Europe a year and a half later, on Nov. 8, 1944.

"Woke up at 0300 and it was raining like hell," Patton noted in his diary. "I actually got nervous and got up and read Rommel's book, 'Infantry Attacks.' It was most helpful, as he described all the rains he had in September 1914, and also the fact that, in spite of the heavy rains, the Germans got along."

More than two decades later, Gen. William C. Westmoreland, the U.S. military commander in Vietnam, also attempted to read the enemy's book. In his autobiography he tells how, in order to figure out what North Vietnamese Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap was up to, he kept "Mao Tse-tung's little red book on theories of guerrilla warfare" by his bedside. Westmoreland noted that he long had been "a student of the Chinese military philosopher, Sun Tzu, who may be called the (Carl von) Clausewitz of the Orient."

Unlike Patton, Westmoreland was reading the wrong book. Sun Tzu may have been many things, but one thing he most definitely was not was the "Clausewitz of the Orient." Sun Tzu's stratagems, evasions and deceptions were a far cry from the revolutionary war doctrine of the Clausewitzian "remarkable trinity" of the people, the government and the army as practiced by Mao and Giap.

But Sun Tzu's "The Art of War," or its European equivalent, Niccolo Machiavelli's 16th century "Arte della Guerra," is surely a book that President Bush, Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of U.S. forces in the gulf, ought to be reading. For therein lies the answer to the stratagems Saddam Hussein has been pursuing.

Hussein is a throwback to pre-modern times where, as Clausewitz described it, "war was still an affair for governments alone, and the people's role was simply that of an instrument." That is precisely the type of autocratic "prince" for whom both Sun Tzu and Machiavelli's military doctrines were intended.

"All war is based on deception," Sun Tzu wrote. From the tactical deception at Khafji, where Iraqi tanks feigned surrender by approaching allied lines with their turrets turned away, to the strategic deception of the withdrawal offers and the outrageous claims broadcast to the Arab world of his fabulous battlefield successes, Hussein has followed what the late French philosopher Raymond Aron called Sun Tzu's "school of ruse, deceit and indirect action."

His objective is to break the allied coalition by inflaming the Arab masses. But except for the Palestinians and Jordanians who, having thrown in their lot with a loser, are now so desperate they will believe anything, no matter how preposterous, Hussein's deceits have fallen on deaf ears. Even the Soviets appear to be tiring of his machinations.

President Bush certainly made the U.S. position clear. Calling Hussein's withdrawal ploy "outrageous," Bush pointed out that what was going on was not a withdrawal but a retreat, and he ridiculed Hussein's attempts to claim victory in the midst of a rout. The war, the president said, will be prosecuted with undiminished intensity.

Hussein had been too clever by half, as the British might say. He ended up outwitting himself. If he had agreed to the terms of the United Nations resolutions, or even to the terms of Bush's ultimatum last week, he could have withdrawn most of his military into Iraq in relatively good order.

With his armies intact, he could have confronted the U.S. with a Korean War-type stalemate. Even if he did not succeed in dragging out the war, he could have forced the retention of a large U.S. ground presence in the area for years, with dire consequences for both U.S. domestic public support and for Middle East stability.

Instead, by his deceits, Hussein has all but guaranteed that his armies in the field will be encircled and destroyed. On Tuesday it was announced that 21 of his divisions already have been rendered combat ineffective. That's just the beginning. Coalition armies now stand astride Iraqi lines of retreat.

"To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill," wrote Sun Tzu. Noting that those who fought such wars were often praised, Clausewitz warned that "sooner or later someone will come along with a sharp sword and lop off (their) arms."

For Saddam Hussein, that someone is now at hand in the person of Gen. Colin Powell. "First we're going to cut [the Iraqi army] off," Powell said, "then we're going to kill it."

When it comes to the philosophies of war, one thing is clear. Saddam Hussein read the wrong book.

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