Coalition’s battle in Iraq has barely touched war on terrorism

We fired our guns and the British kept a’comin. There wasn’t nigh as many as there was a while ago. We fired once more and they began to runnin’, down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico. (from the song The Battle of New Orleans by Johnny Horton, 1959)


On January 8, 1815, Major General Andrew Jackson led a small, poorly equipped American army to victory against 8,000 British troops in the Battle of New Orleans.

The battle of New Orleans was not only a triumph of  the underdog rebels over a superpower, it was the success of new military tactic over an old one.  On that fateful day, British Major General Pakenham marched his soldiers towards the American lines.  The Americans were well positioned on the other side of a canal, up a steep slope, barricaded behind bales of cotton and earth-filled sugar barrels.

Despite the advantage of position, the superior British forces could have overpowered the Yankee rebels if not for fate and the rigid British command structure.  During the march, General Pakenham and another general were killed, and a third wounded.

Leaderless, the British soldiers stood rock-like, in close formation, and were picked off by the Americans.  At last the surviving general was at able to give the withdrawal command.  The remaining soldiers retreated with parade-ground precision, leaving three-quarters of their total strength killed or wounded.

Fate and inflexibility were just part of the problem for the British imperial power.  The rebels developed superior tactics.  Small bands terrorized the British.  The freedom fighters worked independently using the element of surprise.  They moved rapidly over difficult terrain to defeat larger British armies.

In the opinion of  the British military, the rebels used cowardly colonial tactics – –  not fair according formal rules of military engagement.   For the Americans, the guerrilla tactics represented a new way of fighting.

The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, were viewed by the modern world as despicable acts of cowardly terrorists.  For many fundamentalist Muslims, the attacks were seen as heroic and a legitimate tactic – –  a new kind of soldier and a new way of waging war.

The Al Qaeda has redefined modern warfare by modeling themselves after global corporations.   They’re lean, flexible, and don’t require a great deal of money.

“They’re catalysts, for the most part, and their greatest strength is their intellectual organization. The costs involved here are not very high. You know, the technology makes it possible to communicate cheaply, to get these goods easily.  If you think about this entire operation, it probably cost well under a million dollars. But what they have is organizational skill and savvy. In a way, it’s very much like one of these great investment banks or money management firms where the assets are the people.  So it’s very much a globalized organization in that sense,” says Fareed Zakaria, foreign correspondent for Newsweek International.

It’s a sick military fact that the goals of weapons of mass destruction are to generate fear and confusion.  When civilians get in the way, their deaths are written off  as “collateral damage”.  Those goals were achieved by the Al Qaeda on September 11 with their unconventional use of weapons of mass destruction.  When our allies use WMD on innocent civilians, as in the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, their actions are glibly justified.

The Americans have not made the same mistake as the British did 188 years ago.  The invasion of Iraq is a different mistake.

When the British attacked New Orleans, they knew where the enemy was.  They were just across the canal, up a slope, behind the barrels and bales of cotton.

The terrorists of September 11 are not in Iraq.  They are not waiting across the Euphrates, just past Babylon, in Baghdad.

And even if they are, they will not be found.   They are not wearing bright red uniforms with a bull’s-eye on the back.  They look pretty much like everyone else.  Unless the U.S. were to slaughter all 24 million Iraqis, some terrorists could remain.

The invasion of Iraq is a big a mistake.  The war on terrorism is being fought in the wrong place by the wrong kind of army.

The battle of Iraq will be won but the war on terrorism is barely started.


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