I’ve read too much analysis of the Saddam capture in the last 24 hours. I wish I could say I’ve read too much good analysis, but it is not the case. Although some of it is pretty good. (Oddly, the New York Times hasn’t been half bad.)
So as a public service I’ll offer my take. Pick and choose from among the myriad opinions out there and you’ll probably get something close to reality. Reality in this case is defined as looking at the world how it actually works — realpolitik if you will — and not wishful thinking, temper tantrums and bad sportsmanship that you find, oh, almost anywhere in the media or the left side of the aisle.
Why this is important: Saddam probably did not have operational control on a day-to-day basis of the insurgents (even though he alludes to it). Reports from the scene have no communications gear or any evidence of hands-on direction where they found Saddam, or even in the immediate vicinity. So if anyone out there is harping on the fact that we can come home now because we got the guy in charge, they are W-R-O-N-G. The insurgents are semi-autonomous and will continue if for no other reason that there is little else to do (Starbucks and Wal-Mart having yet failed to open their Sunni Triangle outlets…).
But Saddam clearly knows a lot about the “movement” and the “dead enders” don’t know if he’ll talk or not. That is why this is important right now. It introduces an element of uncertainty into the insurgent’s plans and war presents more than enough “fog” without deliberately adding still more uncertainty.
Saddam knows how they are set up, where many of the weapons sources are, what funding links are available and what the strategic and operational (if not the tactical) plans are. The insurgents don’t know if Saddam will talk, and the uncertainty that fact inspires will slow their operational tempo. This introduces uncertainty into their calculations and their uncertainty puts time on the side of the Coalition.
Moreover, given Saddam’s unwillingness to put up a fight and the concurrent disappointment with this in the Arab world, means the insurgents are probably pretty disheartened right now. An enemy without hope is an enemy half beaten. Nowhere is that more true than in insurgencies.
Honor is paramount in the Arab world and leaders stay in power only by establishing their hayba, as Reuel Marc Gerecht puts it, hayba–the “awe that belongs to indomitable authority.”
The capture of Hussein increases the hayba of the United States and, since he didn’t even fire a shot in his own defense, decreases the hayba of Saddam Hussein. Guerilla war relies heavily on intangibles and pubilc perceptions (VC in the courtyard of the U.S. Embassy in ’68 Saigon ring a bell anyone?) Saddam Hussein cowering in a hole makes a powerful statement here and we should not easily discount the cultural effects of that statement.
Take uncertainty and add it to fear and a cultural dislike of those who do not defend their honor and you have a critical win for the Coalition.
In order to restablish their hayba the insurgents need to come up with something big, and do it quick. But they are uncertain and under more pressure now than before. Every single day that passes where they don’t strike hard diminishes their stature and gives the Coaltion more time to break up anything planned.
With their diminished pride we may find that typical Islamic fatalism (Insh’allah – It’s God’s will) will set in. Mistakes will then appear due to this and will multiply geometrically. These mistakes over time will form patterns that appear random but are not. They will have a rhyme and reason to them. (Al Maviva can quote chapter and verse on this). Which brings me to my next point…
A lot of pundits, semi-pundits and outright twits have failed to comment on a key point even though LTG Sanchez made quick reference to it in the original press conference – the criticality of good intelligence.
(Yes, Al, I know “Why MI?” is not a question on the meaning of life…)
A friend forwarded me an extract of a piece on Stratfor.com (registration and fee required). Here’s the golden nugget of wisdom:
“Hussein’s capture proves that to a great extent, U.S intelligence in Iraq has penetrated the opacity of the guerrillas. If the United States could find Hussein, its forces could operate more effectively against the guerrillas.”
The insurgents thought they had an advantage and that was control of information. They (obviously) had the info on their own movements and they felt the U.S. did not. They were wrong and to understand in a macro sense why this was bound to happen read Norvell de Atkine’s article from the December 1999 Middle East Forum, “Why Arabs Lose Wars.”
In the near term, expect from the insurgents an attempt to avenge the loss of their honor. In the mid-term, expect hard-core Islamist fighters to attempt to fill the gap while those current fighters for whom the intangibles weigh most heavily melt away. In the longer term, and this is a stretch at this point but I’ll say it anyway – expect Islamists to die in much larger numbers as they throw themselves against the rocks of the Coalition.
All of this comes with more U.S. casualties. It doesn’t stop here. It goes on a while longer.
But the outcome is not really in doubt anymore, if it ever was.