Sunday, March 12, 2006

# Posted 9:26 AM by Patrick Porter  

THE DESPOT'S WAY OF WAR: One of the features of a constitutional democracy is civilian control of the military, or at least in theory. But under some dictatorships that are not military juntas, this supposedly democratic principle can be taken to extremes. Do dictatorial governments ruled by masters terrified of military-led insurrection have an intrinsic inability to permit delegated officers to make decisions, hamstringing their state's efforts in wartime? Prizing personal security above military talent, Stalin's purge of Mikhail Tukhachevsky and the cadres of the Red Army comes to mind. According to todays NYT, a US military study has concluded that even during the American-led invasion, Saddam believed that the greatest threat to his rule would be an internal revolt from within, and that he deliberately crippled his military.

There are various indications that he disadvantaged his military out of distrust and paranoia. Saddam refused to blow up bridges that facilitated the coalition's advance, convinced he might need them to quell a Shiite rebellion. He blocked communications between senior officers. Again like Stalin in the face of Babarossa, he rejected advice to conduct a fighting withdrawal into the interior. He was so secretive and evasive about his arsenal that his army shared one disappointment with the Bush and Blair governments:

...his top military leaders were stunned when he told them three months before the war that he had no weapons of mass destruction, and they were demoralized because they had counted on hidden stocks of poison gas or germ weapons for the nation's defense.

Additionally, there is another dynamic at play. Saddam was convinced that Americans were 'soft' and could not take casualties, therefore would not take the risk of a ground invasion. Apart from the fact that he and others drew this conclusion from the Somalia withdrawal and NATO's confinement of its effort in Kosovo to a bombing campaign, is this another generic miscalculation made by dictatorships when they fight capitalist democracies, to overstate how casualty-averse their enemies are?
(9) opinions -- Add your opinion

Rather than taking his cue from Somalia and Kosovo, he probably considered the more recent example of Afghanistan (air strikes supporting local anti-regime forces, backed by Special Forces) to be the technique the US would use to bring him down.

I imagine that he saw our failure to get Turkey to allow the 4ID to use their country as an access point to Iraq as even further evidence. If we planned on actually invading, surely we would bully them into submission so the northern route to Tikrit would be open, right?
Hey Mattj,

quite possibly the Afghan campaign was also a major influence for him, and the failure to get Turkish permission for access.

But at least according to CIA reports, Hussein made officers read ‘Black Hawk Down’, Mark Bowden’s book about the downing of American helicopters in Somalia, to persuade them that the U.S. would have to leave if it suffered major casualties. Major General Robert Scales also claims that he distributed 3000 copies of the movie to his 'senior leaders' to make the same point:
Though I can't find the original source for these claims.
P - I have no doubt that this is true. It is strange that he didn't mount a similar urban campaign though, at least until later. He must have known that he wasn't going to accomplish those casualties on the traditional battle field. Or, I suppose the military leaders to which he circulated the movie might not have been the brightest lot.
Maybe Saddam's mistake was reading The Nation. After the American left exposed the neo-cons he might have just found the letter from 1996 outlining a plan to annex the south and eventually destroy the regime.
I could never understand why the anti-bush retired military all came out screaming that we went in with to few (Mind you they put up arguments at each stage of the attack, whenever it looked as if there was a problem.)

The element of surprise was critical. I would suggest that surprise saved many coalition lives and countless Iraqis.

Your lead--"One of the features of a constitutional democracy is civilian control of the military, or at least in theory"--has me wondering (and not a little concerned) re the 'in theory' bit. Are you suggesting there are exceptions--there are weak democracies, I'll grant you (Indonesia and the Philippines spring to mind)--or that there's a problem with the principle?


Hey qoz,
I really like the principle of civilian control. I'm just not sure whether its always that way
in practice. Trying to rack my brains for examples of where military chiefs have dictated to the civilian authority, but I'm massively jet lagged. Might try again later! The Kaiserreich is sometimes cited as an example of an illiberal democracy, but given the powers wielded by elites outside the control of the Reichstag, it was in some ways more a semi-authoritarian state despite its wide franchise and legislature.

just to add to that, trying to think of examples where military chiefs have dictated to a civilian government in a democracy. but falling asleep at the keyboard...
Don't limit yourself to the second-hand reporting in the NYT; Foreign Affairs has the actual study itself, and it's worth a look:

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