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Our friend Saddam

By William S. Lind
web posted July 7, 2003

At the moment, U.S. forces in Iraq are straining every nerve to find, capture or kill Saddam Hussein. As best we can judge from its statements, the American command there thinks that if Saddam is dead, the remaining Ba'athists will cease resisting the American occupation. That, in turn, means the end of the war, because the Ba'athists are our only enemies. And even they are not much of a threat, because their spreading guerilla campaign is not centrally controlled.

This chain of reasoning shows just how little America's leaders, military and civilian, understand Fourth Generation war. All of their assumptions are wrong. First, there is a great deal more to the Ba'ath than Saddam Hussein. Ba'athism, which was funded in the late 1940's by a Lebanese Christian, is a secularist, modernist, socialist ideology, similar to Kemalism in Turkey. While many Ba'ath Party members no doubt were members from convenience, some still do believe in Ba'ath ideology. More, the Ba'ath was the political vehicle of the Sunni community in Iraq. Without the Ba'ath, they have no political future, which also means no patronage.

The death of Saddam might set off a power struggle inside Iraq's (now underground) Ba'ath Party, but it is not likely to make the Ba'ath vanish. And so long as the American occupiers insist on banning the Ba'ath, the Ba'ath has no choice but to wage war on the Americans. The only action America could take that might entice the Ba'ath away from its strategy of guerilla warfare would be to re-legalize it, thus once again giving secular Sunnis a place in the political process.

But this leads to the second error: the assumption that most if not all of the Iraqi Resistance is led by the Ba'ath. The essence of Fourth Generation war is that it is many-sided, not two-sided. Further, sides shift as the war continues; today's enemy is tomorrow's friend and next week's enemy again. I suspect that the guerilla war we are now facing is but a small sample of what is to come, once the Shiites take up arms against us (the Brits got a taste of the Shiites recently and didn't like it much, with six dead and more wounded).

The Shiites defining tradition is heroic martyrdom, which leads straight to an ample supply of suicide bombers. As the Israelis can attest, the suicide bomber is a highly effective weapon.

Saddam HusseinIn fact, our best chance of keeping the Shiites neutral is to keep Saddam alive and well. So long as there is any chance of Saddam making a comeback, the Shiites are likely to want us around. The day he is killed, or captured and sent to the Hague, is the day the Shiites can confidently turn on us. Saddam alive and at liberty is a very useful insurance policy for our soldiers in Iraq (if we do capture him, we should keep him as an "honored guest," pending potential future employment.

This brings us to the last American error: the belief that a decentralized opponent is less dangerous than one under central control. The opposite is the case. An enemy with a centralized leadership is a much easier opponent, because he offers us what the American way of war must have: a target. A decentralized enemy, or more accurately collection of enemies, is our worst nightmare. Like the Soviets in Afghanistan, we find it impossible to wage war at the operational level. Everything is reduced to small fire-fights, and winning one small fire-fight has no effect on any other. We suffer a death of a thousand cuts, from a thousand knives in a thousand independent and unrelated hands. No target is of more than local importance, and even local targets are ambiguous and amorphous.

Welcome to the Fourth Generation. The Iraqi Resistance is growing, not waning. It will continue to grow, so long as we remain in Iraq. We had a few opportunities to take another road - running Iraq through the Ba'ath, using the Iraqi armed forces to restore order, inviting a massive international effort to rebuild Iraq - but we blew those chances and now they are gone.

We may have one last ace in the hole, bad old Saddam himself. Will we blow this one too? As the man in the White House likes to say, count on it.

William S. Lind is Director of the Center for Cultural Conservatism.

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