Has America Lost?
War Doctrines Of Kutusov vs Clausewitz May Help Explain Iraq War
First published in The Statesman, Editorial Page, Special Article, July 3 2007, http://www.thestatesman.net
By Subroto Roy
Has the United States lost the war in Iraq? How would we tell if it has or not? If American commanding officers of general rank, once they go into retirement, say the Iraq war is lost or if the vast majority of the American people say it is not worth fighting, does that mean the USA has lost? When someone loses someone else wins ~ there are no “draws” or runners-up in war. If America has lost, does that mean Saddam won? How can a man who was hanged in sight of the whole world win a war from beyond his grave? It is all very strange in this most abominable of all wars.
Battle of Borodino
In the Battle of Borodino in 1812, the Russians under Marshall Mikhail Kutusov withdrew and the French held the field of battle at end of day ~ the single bloodiest day of warfare in modern times with between 66,500 and 125,000 casualties including several dozen generals. Though the French won, it signalled the end of French power and fall of Napoleon. Borodino was a Pyrrhic victory.
Marshall Kutusov, against his generals’ advice, and courting extreme unpopularity with St Petersburg, continued to withdraw after Borodino and declined to give battle to defend Moscow itself. His remaining forces and most of the civilian population withdrew beyond Moscow. The city was emptied and allowed to burn. The French took it without a fight, Napoleon entered and tried to feel himself its ruler, his generals tried to create a cooperative local government from among the remaining residents.
Kutusov waited, waited and waited some more without giving battle. Then one day, some months later, just as Kutusov had been praying, news came that Napoleon and the French had gotten up and left. Napoleon’s retreat was the biggest catastrophe his Grande Armée suffered, and they were harassed by Russian attacks all the way to the border.
Saddam was reported to have had two Russian generals advising his army, who quietly left before the Anglo-American attack occurred. Russian generals learn about Kutusov on mother’s knee. Even Stalin invoked Kutusov’s name when his 1939 pact with Hitler had failed and Hitler attacked Russia on 22 June 1941. (Iraq had both Nazi and Soviet influences: Stalin tried to appease Hitler in June 1941 by recognising the then pro-Nazi Government of Iraq.)
Saddam’s propaganda spokesmen in the early stages of the March 2003 invasion alluded to a Kutusov-like defensive doctrine: “the US and British administrations have depended on their strategy and planning based on the information obtained from the traitors, whom they call opposition, and from some intelligence services of some Arab countries…. They said: ‘Let some missiles be fired for the maximum of three days and then everything would be over.’ Therefore, we find them in a state of confusion. They prevent the media from having access to the facts about the military operations under security pretexts. They say that they are heading towards Baghdad and that they covered more than 160 or 180 km towards Baghdad. I would like to tell them, that in the course that they are following, let them continue up to 300 km and let them mobilise all the tanks and marines they have, and we will not clash with them soon. We will give them enough time. However, in any contact with any Iraqi village or city, they will find what they are now witnessing in Umm Qasr and Suq al-Shuyukh.” Iraq’s Army did a vanishing act, men and materials disappeared, Baghdad fell without fighting.
By contrast, the USA has followed textbook doctrines from Baron Clausewitz’s On War ~ a work influenced by Napoleon’s successful campaigns though Clausewitz himself fought at Borodino as part of Kutusov’s armies. Like Napoleon and now the Americans, Clausewitz was unable to reconcile his notion of war as aggression and destruction with his notion of war as a means of politics. Clausewitz’s “Absolute War” is “an act of violence to compel our opponent to fulfil our will…as each side in war tries to dominate the other, there arises a reciprocal action which must escalate to an extreme”. Hence “disarming or destruction of the enemy … or the threat of this…must always be the aim in warfare”. But Clausewitz’s “Real War” sees war as “a political act… an effective political instrument, a continuation of political commerce and a carrying out of this by other means”
What we may have been witnessing ever since the Bush/Blair attack on Iraq is the outcome of a clash between the doctrines of Clausewitz on the American side and Kutusov on the Iraqi/ Russian side.
American forces began with “Shock and Awe”, followed by disbanding Iraq’s Army and banning the Baathists. Then came “Light Footprint” or “War Tourism”, where American forces left their bases only for specific jaunts outside, while attempting to create a new “Iraqi” Army in an American image. Recently, the purported strategy has changed again to “Clear, Hold, Build” requiring the current infantry “surge” of 30,000 extra troops to try to pacify specific Baghdad neighbourhoods and then “build” political institutions.
Thirty years ago, Professor WB Gallie pointed to the contradiction Clausewitz had been unable to reconcile: “All commentators are agreed that Clausewitz’s greatest difficulty was to explain the relationship between (Absolute War and War as a Political Instrument)”, Philosophers of peace and war, Cambridge Univesity Press 1978. War-making as destruction and war-making as politics are incompatible. The cruelties of Iraq may explain and demonstrate the root of this contradiction most clearly: defeated, disarmed and destroyed victims of an Absolute War are hardly going to feel themselves agreeable to then being manipulated into any political institutions or agreements designed by the perpetrators of the violence. You cannot declare “Absolute War” on Fallujah, kill or arrest every able-bodied male citizen there, and then expect Fallujah’s women, children and old people to participate happily in town hall meetings you wish them to hold. “America has lost because it has not behaved like a great nation”, said one ordinary Iraqi initially in favour of Saddam’s overthrow. America’s retired generals are saying Iraq has been America’s greatest strategic defeat.
The result of the clash between the two doctrines of war has been 30,000 American casualties (dead and wounded at about 1:8), while Iraqi dead exceed 650,000 with millions more wounded, rendered homeless or made refugees. Future historians may speak of a genocide having occurred in Iraq.
Did Saddam win if the Americans have lost? Of course not. Iraq had its Mir Jafars, and Saddam was at most a Shiraj, not even that given his odious past. Iraq now has its Tippus, Bhagat Singhs and Khudi Rams as well.
“The Resistance is the natural reaction to any occupation. All occupations in history faced a resistance. Occupation is not for developing people and making them better. It is for humiliating people, and chaining them and taking their freedom and fortunes away. These are my convictions which make me feel that this occupation is an insult to me and my people.” Such was what an anonymous Resistance officer told the Australian journalist Michael Ware.
It seems impossible for one nation to govern another in the 21st Century. The cycle of imperialism followed by nationalism and socialism/ communism may merely restart. What Iraq needs urgently is for its Tilaks, Gokhales, Jinnahs, Gandhis, Jawaharlals and Vallabhais to arise, or it may be condemned to extinction and being consumed by its neighbours. As for the United States, its military may find a need to revise its war doctrines.
Subroto Roy hears Mr Blair’s testimony to the Iraq War Inquiry and recalls Hannah Arendt’s profound distinction in “Truth and Politics” between the mere liar and the fully self-deceived — the liar tells the lie but at least knows the truth himself; the self-deceived tells the lie to himself as much as to others and believes it too and so the truth is hopelessly lost to him.