TCS Daily


Killer Lies

By Glenn Harlan Reynolds - April 16, 2003 12:00 AM

The more you know in warfare, the less you have to do. The best example of that comes from the use in this war of so-called "concrete bombs" - bombs that are, literally, bomb-shaped lumps of concrete with laser guidance, allowing them to destroy a tank or bunker without exploding. You can do that - if you can spot the target precisely, and then deliver the bomb to the target with a very high degree of accuracy. And we can. (Brian Micklethwait thinks that this sort of precision may have encouraged Iraqi desertions, and may thus account for the apparently low Iraqi casualties. Could be.)

But that's just one case, however attention-getting, of a more general trend: the economical application of force, made possible by intelligence. And I mean "intelligence" in both common military senses of the word: intelligence as in knowing what's going on, and intelligence in taking advantage of that knowledge.

Allied forces possessed both kinds of intelligence. The Iraqis, on the other hand, lacked both. It was clear that they didn't know what was going on, even, as Knight Ridder's Juan Tamayo points out, at very high ranks:


Maj. Gen. Sufian al Tikriti left Baghdad on Sunday in a white Toyota sedan, in uniform and alone except for a chauffeur.

Just outside the city, the Republican Guard general came upon a Marine Corps roadblock, where he died.

His sudden death, and a great deal of other evidence, suggests how little Iraq's military knows about the whereabouts and movements of the U.S. and British soldiers who invaded their country three weeks ago.

"I think they are basically clueless," said a senior officer of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (IMEF). "They have no situational awareness," he said, using the military term for knowing the locations of friendly and enemy forces. . . .

"It's eerie. They're moving units around, but it's almost like they are two days behind their sync," IMEF planner Col. Christopher Gunther said last week.


Well, of course. Allowing excellent communications among Iraqi generals wasn't in Saddam's interest - it would have made a coup easier. When you're a dictator with no legitimacy, you don't want independent thinking - you need centralized control, with units punished for moving without orders. But that has a serious cost in terms of combat effectiveness. So does the standard tyrant's technique of punishing people who deliver bad news - which meant, as U.S. intelligence intercepts discovered, that Iraqi commanders were lying to headquarters about their circumstances. Thus, the orders coming down from above were often useless.

According to Sky News, the lying worked both ways, as one Iraqi colonel, captured at an airport supposedly still under Iraqi control, learned:


A captured Iraqi colonel being held in one of the hangars listened in astonishment as his information minister praised Republican Guard soldiers for recapturing the airport.

He looked at his captors and, as he realised that what he had heard was palpably untrue, his eye filled with tears. Turning to a translator, he asked: "How long have they been lying like this?"


The answer, of course, was "all along." Contrast this with coalition troops, who were encouraged to use initiative and who had far more access to truthful information about what was going on, so much so that the entire style of warfare employed against Iraq depended on quick thinking and easy access to information.

Tyrannical dictatorships depend on lies for survival - in fact, near-universal lying about nearly everything by nearly everyone is one of their hallmarks. Meanwhile those things that aren't lies (and a great many that are) are secrets. Which raises an interesting point regarding the style of warfare demonstrated in Iraq.

One of the great worries of a country that pioneers a new military technique is that its rivals will imitate it. But that may not be a major worry where the new, high-intelligence style of warfare employed in Iraq is concerned, at least not if you assume that our military opponents are likely to be tyrannies of one sort or another.

To practice this style of warfare, information has to circulate freely, and be put to rapid use. And that requires an ability to think independently, and to focus on defeating the adversary, not on random slaughter. That seems to be difficult for some people, as this report from the Moscow Times illustrates:


It would appear that Russian generals and Ivanov assume it's the Americans that should be learning from them how to flatten cities - the way our military destroyed the Chechen capital, Grozny.

Many Russian generals truly believe that a bombing campaign that leaves some buildings still standing is ineffective. Precision-guided munitions are widely considered to be costly pranks - not real weapons. In Chechnya, we tried to use some of these gadgets, but they did not work, as most Russian officers and men have not been trained in how to use the limited number of modern weapons our military inherited from the Soviet armed forces.

The worst possible outcome of the war in Iraq for the Russian military is a swift allied victory with relatively low casualties. Already many in Russia are beginning to ask why our forces are so ineffective compared to the Brits and Americans; and why the two battles to take Grozny in 1995 and 2000 each took more than a month to complete, with more that 5,000 Russian soldiers killed and tens of thousands wounded in both engagements, given that Grozny is one tenth the size of Baghdad.


Perhaps one day the Russians will be able to employ the sort of approach that the United States, Britain, and Australia have used in Iraq. Fortunately, if they reach that point, they will probably be no more of a threat to us than Britain or Australia.
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