At the risk of injecting some facts into the current “Bush lied us into war” campaign, I’ve been talking to some of the people who might actually know something about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Though NRO lacks the budget of CBS — we wouldn’t buy interviews anyway, and only wish we could promise our sources stardom on MTV — we still manage to get facts the old-fashioned way. We ask questions, and sometimes get lucky enough to get the right people to answer. One person who not only knew what the intel said about Saddam’s WMD but had to study the information — and decide how lives would be risked based on it — is a gentleman by the name of Brian Burridge.
Air Marshal Brian Burridge (his rank equal to a three-star American general) was National Contingent Commander of U.K. Forces in the Iraq campaign, the top Brit on the job. Burridge has a degree in physics, an MBA and a fellowship at King’s College, London, and a lot of years in uniform. Like Joint Chiefs chairman Gen. Richard Myers, Burridge is a highly experienced command pilot. All of that adds up to a warrior who is also part teacher and part political scientist. In the buildup to the Iraq campaign, his job required him to focus his attention on planning and the intelligence on which it was based. To paraphrase Churchill, Air Marshal Burridge was the man deciding how the British lion would use its claws. This is part of what he told me.
In the buildup to the campaign, he saw a great amount of intelligence material, which — based on his years of experience — he believed to be correct. That material indicated that Saddam did have one or more programs for the development and/or production of weapons of mass destruction. “We were looking at it from the campaign-planning perspective, which means from the most dangerous potential it could represent,” he told me. “Whichever way you look at it now, Iraq wasn’t compliant with UNMOVIC” needs to inspect and verify the destruction of the WMD. In short, when the Coalition entered Iraq, it had to be prepared to fight an enemy that was expected to use chemical or biological weapons, or both, and planned accordingly. So where are the WMD? Was the WMD smuggled out to another nation in the area? From other sources, I’m hearing unconfirmed but very specific reports of where the WMD were moved, from people who are confident that they were not destroyed. Burridge doubts this.
Air Marshal Burridge believes most of the WMD had not been “de-weaponized” and was probably destroyed at Saddam’s orders. But why? Why allow himself to be thrown out of power in defense of weapons that weren’t there? Why would he deny and then destroy the WMD before we began the battle? “There is an illogic to what Saddam apparently did,” Burridge said. A masterful understatement, that.
The “illogic” in Saddam’s actions is something we can’t yet explain. Air Marshal Burridge doesn’t have that answer yet nor, do I expect, do we. But it may be a part of the fact that Saddam mistook many things. For starters, he relied on the Somalia playbook of Mohammed Aideed: cause some casualties, and the Coalition will retreat.
“We needed to show that we could fight in urban areas,” he said. Saddam thought we couldn’t do it after reviewing the “Blackhawk Down” action in Mogadishu. But we did, in Basra and then in Baghdad. “We needed to show that we could do it and still leave the city turned on,” meaning without significant damage to the city’s infrastructure. So why was Baghdad, for example, left so long without power and water? “What neither nation (we or the Brits) understood was how awful the infrastructure really is.” In short, before any attack by Coalition forces, the cities of Iraq were already without much of what they needed.
There are a great many other things we need to learn from the Iraq campaign, and filtering what we think we know through the eyes of the experts on the other side of the Pond is a good place to start. I asked Air Marshal Burridge about the perception that special ops has evolved from a tactical tool to a strategic weapon. He reminded me that the Brits have long viewed spec ops as strategic, ever since those guys in red berets were chasing Rommel all over North Africa, raising merry old hell.
“Afghanistan was really the watershed,” he said. “It began in Haiti, when Gen. Shalikashvili recognized their real value.” But in Afghanistan, and then Iraq, the special operations units, combined with focused U.S. and Brit air power, “…allowed for more close air support in what became a strategic effect.” The importance of that evolution is understood even in Congress, which has now authorized a doubling of the Special Operations Command budget over the next five years, and an increase in its troop strength by 4,000 slots. Beyond spec ops, there are many other things we can learn from the Brits and they from us. Our computer networks are better, our logistical organization faster than the Brits’. Seeing how they help us, we should cooperate in helping them in any and all of those items.
When American troops entered Naseriyah and then Baghdad, our doctrine kept our men in their helmets and body armor. One columnist recently objected to their “Star Wars storm trooper appearance.” Burridge points to the Brit doctrine, developed not just in Northern Ireland, but in Bosnia and other places where the hearts and minds game has to be played. “We take a little more risk than you do,” he said. “Perhaps on Day 3, our people will take off our helmets and body armor so that by Day 50, the risk is much lower.” U.S. doctrine measures risks to forces on a day-by-day basis. We need to think more about how the Brits invest in risk and see if part of their doctrine would work for us as well.
Risk — managing it, judging it, taking it — is a lot of what war planning is about. I raised the risk to the world if Iran obtains nuclear weapons. I asked Air Marshal Burridge — perhaps with too much of an impatient edge in my voice — whether we need to do unto Iran before Iran does unto us. “Relax,” he explained. Iran is not “…crazy like bin Laden.” If they are advised of the severe consequences they face, Iran — he believes — will back down. So will Syria.
Most of my military friends and I have a hard time relaxing when Iran or Syria comes up. Late reports say that even the IAEA is concerned about the heavy-water facility the Iranians are building, and which would only be used for producing plutonium. Air Marshall Burridge may be right to counsel patience with Iran at least in the short term. But the ayatollahs with a nuclear arsenal is not an outcome we can live with. In thinking about this and the rest of the war on terror, two heads are definitely better than one. Provided that one is American, and the other is Brit.
— NRO Contributor Jed Babbin was a deputy undersecretary of defense in the first Bush administration, and is now an MSNBC military analyst.