Here’s an interesting item from The Washington Post:
Saddam Hussein refused to order a counterattack against U.S. troops when war erupted in March because he misjudged the initial ground thrust as a ruse and had been convinced earlier by Russian and French contacts that he could avoid or survive a land invasion, former Iraqi deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz has told interrogators, according to U.S. officials.
Aziz has told interrogators that French and Russian intermediaries repeatedly assured Hussein during late 2002 and early this year that they would block a U.S.-led war through delays and vetoes at the U.N. Security Council. Later, according to Aziz, Hussein concluded after private talks with French and Russian contacts that the United States would probably wage a long air war first, as it had done in previous conflicts. By hunkering down and putting up a stiff defense, he might buy enough time to win a cease-fire brokered by Paris and Moscow.
While Aziz is hardly an “unimpeachable source,” what he claims sure has the ring of truth. During the air phase of our first Gulf War, Russia damn near did broker a ceasefire — the only thing that stopped it was the intransigence of Saddam himself. Had Russia been successful, Saddam would have kept his Army mostly intact, have kept his WMD program, and we’d have been stuck with a giant army in the Saudi desert left with nothing to do but sit there and look foolish and used.
What’s more interesting about this story, however, is what it doesn’t say. Who were the French and Russia contacts, and what the hell were they thinking?
Oh, their motives were predictably cynical. Blah blah blah, undermine the Americans, blah blah blah, keep doing business with a dictator, etc. Upsetting? Sure — but we’ve been down this road so many times I just can’t get that worked up about it anymore. Getting mad because the French or Russians are acting like French and Russians is like getting upset because the dog keeps licking himself in front of the dinner guests.
But the Russians and French, if Aziz is to be believed, told Saddam that his regime would survive a land battle. Read that again. Now read it a third time, because it’s just that hard to take in. They thought we’d stop short of Baghdad. Again.
Ignorance? I don’t think so. Even if the French believe only half their “cowboy” rhetoric against Bush, they’d still think him “too stupid” to stop until the thing was won, no matter how long or expensive it turned out to be. And the Russians surely knew better.
Underestimation of the US Army/Overestimation of Iraqi forces? Oh, please. In Afghanistan, we accomplished in six weeks with light forces supplied from the other side of the world, what the Soviets failed to do in nine years with heavier forces supplied from next door. After that kind of demonstration, there could be no doubt about the outcome, after we chose to eliminate Saddam’s regime.
Wishful thinking? Perhaps — but only because I can’t think of a fourth possibility.