Politics & Policy

Bad Deals, and Not-So


If you thought Tom Ridge was the duct-tape king, you’ve never been around when the guys handle the M-60. This old machine gun has been with us since Vietnam, and if you want something that a single soldier can carry and use, and can put one helluva lot of metal on the target, you want to get one of these for your squad. When I shot the M-60, we used a junked car for the target. The bullets went through one door and out the other, shredding both and continuing deep into an earthen embankment behind the car. This is a very serious weapon, and our troops in Iraq have thousands of them.

It’s surprisingly easy to use, once you prepare the ammo. The M-60 uses belted 7.62mm ammunition, and you don’t want to do a Rambo dance in real combat, wrapping your arm with the 100-round belts. What you do is take the cardboard box the belt comes in, reinforce the sides and bottom with duct tape (black only, please) and make a loop of the tape to hang the taped box on the angled metal piece that sticks up from the left side of the receiver. Then you can get down to bidness. If you’re the squad’s M-60 gunner, you probably have a half-dozen of these six-pound boxes in your pack. And you stuff several more in the packs of the other guys. The thought of carrying all the weight of a typical soldier’s rucksack — over 100 pounds — would make most of us give up.

Giving up is what thousands of Iraqi soldiers have already done. Not because of the weight of their packs, but the weight of the ordnance being dropped on them 24/7. Nevertheless, as the president said earlier today, this fight “…could be longer and more difficult than some have predicted.” The president is wise to not overstate our success. Though what’s left of Saddam’s government may surrender at any time, there’s no assurance that the remaining Republican Guard divisions will perform the French Salute. From the resistance the Marines have run into in the south near Basra, we are seeing a different Iraqi force than we saw in 1991. Then, being driven out of Kuwait, the Iraqis surrendered to anything that moved — even a Predator drone, which couldn’t stop and put the handcuffs on them. Though Saddam’s conscript divisions are surrendering enthusiastically, the Republican Guards are putting up some serious resistance. And there are probably two reasons for this.

I was talking to a retired Army colonel earlier today. In his three tours in Vietnam, he was alternately welcomed and shot at in the same villages. He reminded me of an exchange of letters between Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman and his brother, a senator, during the Civil War. Gen. Sherman told his brother of his surprise that slaves had taken arms in support of the South, and were shooting at their would-be liberators. The senator reminded the general that people will fight for their land against an invader, even one with the best intentions.

We have to remember that though the population of Iraq has been brutalized for three decades, Saddam’s Republican Guards have been the privileged class. We shouldn’t be surprised that they fight with some tenacity. The Republican Guards will be defeated, but first they will fight to hold their own nation much more than the fought to keep Kuwait. They may give up today, tomorrow, or next week. But they must have a different mindset than they did twelve years ago. The “elite” Republican Guards aren’t in the same league as our guys, nor do they have the training or equipment that we have put in the field. But they are fighting for their nation, and that makes 2003 a different war than 1991.

The other reason they may fight is that some of them, and their immediate commanders, know they are guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Either we will try them as war criminals, or the post-Saddam, free Iraqi government will do the same. The result will be the same. These men may think they have nothing to lose. They may also hold out hope that we will stop short of removing Saddam’s regime as we did in 1991. In that, they are sadly mistaken. And because of that, some or all of them will pay the full price. In advance. And then we have to deal with Baghdad, and whatever awaits there.


Earlier today, Tommy Franks’s tanks made an even bigger impression on Iraq than he did on the American media massed in Qatar. Gen. Franks showed himself to be the opposite of what his critics have often said. He was direct, intelligent, and even a little humorous. It’s a good thing we don’t run out of Texans like that. He said that he really didn’t know if Saddam is alive, or where he is if he is. What he didn’t say is that Saddam’s regime has been decapitated. All my sources tell me the same thing: we are detecting no command and control radio traffic coming out of Baghdad. If that’s true, we may have hit a home run — or at least a three-bagger — on the first night of the war. Weighed against that is the fact that someone there — not some Madison Avenue ad agency — keeps putting out those pictures of Saddam and messages that are supposed to be from him. There must be some level of control or at least information flowing from Baghdad to the Iraqi troops.

At about the same time as Gen. Franks’s press conference, the tanks began crossing the Euphrates River, the only substantial natural obstacle between them and Baghdad. Now it’s a straight run at the Republican Guard. With maybe a little help.

Once again, the television cameras showed the Buffs lined up on the flight line at RAF Fairford, droopy wings and all. I’m still having a hard time with the idea of broadcasting when and how many aircraft we’re launching to strike the enemy. It smacks of overconfidence. The B-52s take about eight hours to fly to Iraq from the U.K. to Iraq. Plenty of time for any Iraqis who are watching to plan their retirement from Saddam’s army. When the bombers arrive, the two Republican Guard divisions standing between our tanks and Baghdad are in for a very rough morning. First the Buffs, then the tanks. This is another time when the old preacher’s saying, “It is better to give than to receive” will be proven in ways he never imagined.

While the Buffs are flying, we are creating ambassadors of good will. Though we have taken almost 10,000 prisoners, about 80% have been disarmed and told to go home. How better to demonstrate that we are liberators? In the last war, convinced that American soldiers were cannibals, many Iraqis who surrendered were screaming, “don’t eat me.” Now, they probably hold much the same beliefs. When they are disarmed, identified, and sent home, anyone in their town or village who tells lurid tales of our brutality will have to face the reality of his neighbor’s testimony. Give ‘em a couple of MREs, a pack of cigarettes, and turn ‘em loose. For every dozen we release, if even half tell their story truthfully, we will have created real ambassadors of peace and westernization. Not a bad deal.

There are bad deals all over the place, including the story of the British ITV news crew probably killed near Basra. As well as the NEP’s (newly-embedded pressies) are doing accompanying the troops, there are still free-range idiots roaming the desert. This crew of three apparently came between some Iraqis who hadn’t surrendered, and some coalition troops who were going to change their minds about that the hard way. One report said that the good guys had to stop to administer first aid, and that one of the ITVidiots was medevac’d out by helo. Which means: (1) our guys were slowed down to come to the assistance of the ITVidiots, perhaps exposing themselves to danger; and (2) that the medevac helo might have been diverted from rescuing a wounded soldier while it carted the ink-stained wretch off to the hospital. As far as I’m concerned, if reporters follow the rules, we should give them every protection and assistance. If they don’t, they’re on their own, even in a free-fire zone.

It’s time for me to admit something. I’d give significant parts of my anatomy to change places with a young guy named Steve Centanni. He’s a Fox News reporter embedded with the Navy SEALs, running up and down Iraq with some of the smartest, toughest and most skilled adrenaline junkies in the history of warfare. Ok, ok. I couldn’t keep up with them at my age. But I’d die before I’d wimp out in the company of those guys. It’d be worth it.

We’re waiting for more news about who threw two hand grenades into the 101st Airborne’s command tent in Kuwait tonight. Someone had to know which tent to attack, and when. Two interpreters were detained, and later released by investigators. At this hour, there’s no more information about whether this was a terrorist attack, or something the Iraqis managed. About a dozen men were injured, and we don’t know how seriously. Decapitation is a tactic that the enemy knows as well as we do. Force protection is always a priority, but never more so than now.

I’ll be on Fox News tomorow morning about 0900, and Canada’s CTV about 2000. More tomorrow.


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