February 12, 2004

IN THE MAIL: Got a copy of Rick Atkinson's soon-to-be-released book In the Company of Soldiers : A Chronicle of Combat. Looks pretty good overall. The striking thing, to me, is just how surprised the U.S. military was by the swiftness of Saddam's collapse. Even well into the three week war, the brass and the commanders on the scene expected a lot more resistance than they got.

They got so little, apparently, because Saddam never expected an actual invasion, and was thus caught flat-footed. It's funny, because at the time it seemed to me that we had completely lost any advantage of surprise -- but by not living up (down?) to Arab beliefs that Americans were too casualty-averse to actually go to war, we apparently fooled Saddam completely. Of course, he fooled us, too, by looking more formidable than he was. This just shows how hard it is to be certain of anything where war and diplomacy are concerned. And so does this:

When a wave of calls went out to the private telephone numbers of selected officials inside Iraq, asking them to turn against Mr. Hussein and avoid war, the Arabic speakers making the calls were so fluent that the recipients did not believe the calls were from Americans.

Instead, the Iraqis believed the calls were part of a "loyalty test" mounted by Mr. Hussein's secret services, the officials said during questioning. Afraid of arrest, incarceration, torture and even death, they refused to cooperate.

But as a result, the officers limited their calls or stopped using those telephones altogether, hampering their ability to communicate in the critical days before war.

A brilliant psychological-warfare success -- for entirely unforeseen reasons!