`Shock and awe' lite

April 01, 2003|By Harlan Ullman

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration initially expected that Iraq's political and military leadership might quickly collapse when, with some fanfare, the Pentagon unveiled the strategy of "shock and awe" to expedite the rapid disintegration of Saddam Hussein's regime.

In his briefings to President Bush's war Cabinet, Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of coalition forces in the war, said shock and awe would combine to offset the numerical superiority of Iraqi forces and stun their leadership into submission. About four times the amount of firepower unleashed in the 38-day air campaign of the 1991 gulf war was promised for the first stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The war began earlier than planned because extraordinary intelligence was deemed reliable enough to launch missile and bomb strikes on Mr. Hussein's presumed location in Baghdad.

Shock and awe were advertised as a strategic bombing campaign to stun Iraq unlike none other in history. Enabled by wizard-like technology, this air campaign was designed to be intense, relentless and simultaneously directed across a broad number of targets with strategic consequences. This new combat tactic seemed to make sense because the primary aim of the war was deposing and disarming Mr. Hussein.

But thus far, shock and awe have not forced Iraq to surrender. And the term has not advanced the cause of ridding the world of an odious and nasty regime.

First, the term was misinterpreted to be what many European newspapers immediately labeled a "Baghdad Blitz." It was regarded as a bombing campaign intended to terrorize Baghdad, not to eject the Iraqi leadership. The memory of World War II and the devastating air raids against London, Berlin and Dresden figured prominently.

Second, Iraq did not quit early, and Mr. Hussein's regime has mounted a considerable defense. But it took 79 days of bombing during the allied force operation against Serbia in 1999 before Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic raised the white flag. And as we learned from Bob Woodward's Bush's War, the conflict in Afghanistan was close before the Taliban fled and the U.S.-led coalition liberated Afghanistan.

Third, despite, or perhaps because of, the overwhelming tactical advantage of coalition military power, this bombing campaign did not immediately go after Iraqi military forces in the field, particularly the Republican Guard divisions and political levers of power such as Baath Party headquarters. That means the coalition ground forces that charged into Iraq from Kuwait to within 60 miles of Baghdad still must dispatch several Iraqi divisions. Unlike in 1991's Desert Storm, Iraq's land forces were not unmercifully pounded before the ground attack.

Shock and awe were promised, but the effects have not yet taken hold. Instead, it seems certain that the Iraqi regime will be finished by a traditional combined ground-air attack that worked so well in the past.

As co-chairman of the group of five retired four-star military officers and a former senior civilian Pentagon official and principal author of the first book that created the doctrine in 1996, Shock and Awe - Achieving Rapid Dominance, the current campaign does not appear to correspond to what we envisaged. The underlying philosophy arose from grappling with how we could win a future Desert Storm in weeks or a few months with a far smaller force, not in six months and with half a million troops.

The aim was to win decisively, rapidly, with little loss of life and limited damage. To achieve that, shock and awe were employed to influence and control an adversary's will and perception and, therefore, behavior.

Using all elements of psychological and physical power, the adversary was to be rendered so vulnerable and intimidated by our capabilities that resistance would be regarded as futile. From the outset, military leadership and forces as well as the political levers of power such as Baath Party headquarters were to be hit hard. But there are no guarantees in war.

It is not helpful to second-guess commanders in the field wrestling with winning what now is a very tough fight.

Yet the focus and fixation on continuing to attack strategic targets around Baghdad raises questions. Had the air campaign destroyed a substantial chunk of Iraq's ground forces, it's possible that Iraqi resistance might have been softened. But there may be solid reasons for conducting the campaign the way it was, and the need for limiting civilian casualties may have played a heavy part in this.

Mr. Bush has bet more than his presidency on this war; he has bet the nation. And while we will prevail, though perhaps not in a campaign that is quick and cheap in human costs, this is the first phase in a much longer battle to bring justice and stability to a region infested with the most virulent forms of violence and hatred.

Harlan Ullman is with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. His next book is Reshaping America's Destiny: The Legacy of George W. Bush.

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