Thursday, Apr. 3, 2003. Page 9
A Disinformation Strategy
By Pavel Felgenhauer
In his famed book "The Art of War," Chinese general Sun Tzu wrote 2,500 years ago: "War is all deceit. If you can do something, make the enemy
believe you cannot; if you are close, pretend you are far away." Last week in Iraq both sides were playing Sun Tzu to the limit: The allies faked
weakness and disarray, the Iraqis faked strength and confidence.
It's easy to understand why Hussein and his cohorts were claiming victory was at hand. Their only hope is to coerce Iraq's army and people to
continue a senseless resistance and hold out while growing casualties fracture U.S. moral.
The 1993 withdrawal of U.S. troops from Somalia after an unsuccessful encounter in Mogadishu (the story told in the movie "Black Hawk Down") is
still very much on everyone's mind. Americans are soft and afraid of close encounters: If more than Mogadishu's 19 soldiers are killed, the American
public will press for an end to hostilities. After Sept. 11, this it is not so, but that notion has not yet sunken in.
The U.S. and British allies also had a good reason to cheat. By faking weakness and portraying an inability to make a decisive push for overall
victory without weeks of preparation and reinforcement, the U.S. military command apparently hoped to trick the Iraqis into keeping their best units
in the field rather than withdrawing immediately to Baghdad, where defeating the Republican Guard would come at a higher cost.
All last week, the authorities deliberately fed the press and pundits with fake stories of the campaign plan gone wrong, of Iraqi resistance having
"bogged down" the troops. There were constant reports that the allies had too few solders to win the coming battle for Baghdad and that crucial
reinforcements would arrive only in three to four weeks.
The most outrageous piece of strategic disinformation released last week was that U.S. forward units were out of food and that restocking would take
more than a week. Perhaps the intelligence officer who invented that yarn was reading some account of the American Civil War, when food rations
arrived by mule.
Of course, the disinformation was fed to the public and to the enemy correctly: It all came from "unnamed reliable sources." Toeing the official
line, the Pentagon repudiated stories of the war plan gone awry. But their denials were feeble and not convincing. When the allied troops began a
concerted advance earlier this week, I heard a Western reporter in Baghdad relay the mood there: This cannot be true. They do not have enough
If one pierces through the many lies both sides have circulated, the true picture looks like this: The allies have never been truly bogged down. The
supply crunch and the reported lack of sufficient troops were grossly exaggerated. And the "Iraqi resistance" was more an annoyance than a real
In two weeks of fighting, the Iraqis have not been able to shoot down a single allied warplane. (In 1991, they took down 38 jets and maimed many
more.) In two weeks of intense ground fighting, the allies have so far lost less than 100 men, which includes casualties of friendly fire and
accidents, not Iraqi action.
In comparison, the German blitzkrieg against Poland in 1939 that is considered a masterpiece, took the lives of 13,799 German solders in 18 days with
30,322 wounded. The losses were considered insignificant. The Polish army of 1939 is comparable in overall strength with Hussein's force. In their
Middle East wars, the Israelis have encountered far greater casualties than the allies today in Iraq.
"Iraqi resistance" has been patchy and highly inefficient. Hussein's forces have given up a number of intact bridges to the allies -- over the
Euphrates, the Tigris and the Shatt al-Arab, indicating Iraqi forces' lack of discipline and organization.
The several-days pause by advancing U.S. and British forces was needed to pound to bits the Republican Guard lingering outside Baghdad. Attack planes
were moved to the front from Kuwait to improvised airstrips in the desert to provide better close air support.
But Iraqi forces were tricked into believing they still had time since the enemy was strategically "far away," when in fact a potent allied force
was in Hussein's backyard ready to advance to victory.