In 1914, Kaiser Wilhelm II, whom history has underrated,
told his Chief of the General Staff, von Moltke the Less, that he wanted to
remain on the defensive in the West and take the offensive in the East, against
Russia. Such a reversal of the Schlieffen Plan would probably have won the war
for Germany. France would have bled to death throwing bodies against bullets
in Elsass and Lothringen, England would have remained neutral, at least for
a while, and Russia would have gone under in a couple years. Unfortunately for
Germany and for history, von Moltke Jr. collapsed in a fit of nerves and said
it couldn't be done.
In fact, the plans for just such a campaign were in the file. They were there
because it was the job of the General Staff to make plans for every contingency.
The disastrous course of America's war in Iraq has created a new task for the
Great General Staff, in the form of more contingency planning. America needs
to make sure it has a plan in the file for a fighting withdrawal from Iraq.
It is still possible the end may not come this way. We may still manage a shaky
hand-off to a U.N.-designated Iraqi government, and that government might last
long enough for us to withdraw with some shreds of dignity. George W. might
awake some morning a new man, announce he was swindled, sack the neo-cons and
bring in someone like Marine Corps General Tony Zinni, who opposed the war all
along, to handle our disengagement. The Archangel Michael might appear over
Mecca and convert all the Mohammedans to Christianity.
But the growing probability is that we will be driven out of Iraq by a general
uprising, an intifada in which every American will be the target of every
Iraqi and our boys (and, in America's Neo-Model Army, girls) will have to fight
their way out in a scene like that which faced Gordon in the Sudan. It is not
a pleasant prospect. It means thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of American
and "coalition" casualties, many times more Iraqi casualties, and one of history's
more memorable defeats, right up there with Syracuse, Waterloo and Stalingrad.
The aftershocks will be severe, as regimes tumble from Pakistan through the
Persian Gulf and Egypt to Britain and America itself. You can look forward to
seeing the Dow at 3000, if not 300.
Facing such a contingency, we can have only one priority: the lives of our
troops. Their chances of making it out alive will be far greater if we have
done some planning beforehand. Our great vulnerability is that our lines of
supply, communication and retreat are long, and they almost all run through
hostile territory. Most lead through southern Iraq to Kuwait, and that is not
likely to be a comfortable way out. North through the Kurds to Turkey may be
the best bet, although as Xenophon can attest, retreating with a beaten army
through Kurd country is no picnic. West lies Syria, no friend, and Jordan, which
may itself be convulsed.
One great snare and delusion lies in our path: the notion that we can always
go by air. Already the Air Force is saying that if the southern supply lines
are cut, as they were in the first half of April, air transport can fill the
gap. Right, just as Goering promised the troops in Stalingrad. Not only does
that assume American and coalition troops can hold the airports, is assumes
they can get to the airports, which at the moment is problematic just between
Baghdad and its airport. Worse, coups in places such as Saudi Arabia could see
Islamic-flown F-15s and F-16s shooting down American C-5s and C-17s.
A Second Generation military such as America's does not improvise well under
time pressure, at least at the higher levels, where vast staffs drilled to Kadavergehorsamkeit
in the sacred "staff planning process" are slaves to procedure. The neo-cons
in the Bush administration and their toadies in the Pentagon will no doubt howl
if the military starts contingency planning for a forced withdrawal. Listen
up, guys: do it anyway. You don't have to tell them. Just make sure the plan
is in the file.
This time, the military may have to play the Kaiser when the Bush administration
falls prostrate on the couch.