Progressive Resistance

Shortly after declaring major combat operations complete, President Bush was faced with the reality that Iraqi resistance to 'liberation' was on the rise.

Just wait until Saddam's sons are captured or killed, cautioned Bush, then the resistance of the few diehards will end. Uday and Qusay were dispatched in a six hour gun battle with U.S. forces, who utilized superior numbers, attack aircraft, anti-tank weapons and assault vehicles. (Oh yes, Uday and Qusay had their own secret weapon ' a fourteen year old boy.) Yet, the resistance continued.

Next Bush promised that the capture of Saddam would end resistance as the few remaining Baath loyalists would surrender. Saddam was plucked from a spider hole looking like a street beggar and went directly to jail. Still, the resistance increased. In a feeble attempt at being a tough guy, Bush taunted the resistance with 'Bring 'em on.'

The resistance accepted the Presidential invitation. Americans were being attacked and killed in ever increasing numbers. Then the resistance expanded its reach to attack and destroy oil pipelines, international agencies, the troops of other coalition nations, supply convoys, even Iraqis who were desperate enough to cast their lot with their occupiers.

Bush counseled further patience. He pointed out that it had been less than one year since American forces entered Iraq . Americans could not expect that all would be quiet on the Middle Eastern front in that short time.

What Bush failed to recognize was that American forces were not the only ones disadvantaged by the short engagement. Indigenous resistance had also had less than one year within which to organize and deploy.

As the Israelis learned painfully in their occupation of Lebanon , what appears to be an insurmountable military and strategic advantage can almost imperceptibly slip away in the face of a determined resistance. One moment, Israel was using attack aircraft and howitzers to lay siege to Beirut with impunity. The next, its army was beating a hasty retreat across the southern border. Did Lebanon develop a superior military? No. Israel 's conventional military advantage was even greater when it evacuated Lebanon than when it invaded. So, what happened?

Organizing a resistance takes time. Certain developments in warfare are axiomatic. As the superior military force learns about its opposition, its opposition is equally busy learning the capacities and vulnerabilities of its attacker. Make no mistake about it, superior military forces also have vulnerabilities.

The superior conventional force often enters the battle with new tactics and technology. These innovations usually catch their victims off-guard, provide tremendous advantage for the conventional force and extend the learning curve for the indigenous force. However, with each new technology comes a corresponding weakness or vulnerability. Resistance forces eventually learn how to counter or disable the edge. It takes much longer to develop new technology than it does to counter the existing technology. Also, the methods used to counter the technological edge are usually more primitive and inexpensive.

A weapon which will destroy a multi-million dollar plane or tank may cost less than one percent of the cost of the weapons platform it can destroy. A rocket-propelled grenade is inexpensive, easy to transport and conceal, and simple to mass produce and supply. Its destructive capacity is out of proportion to its cost. The same is true of shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles.

When pressed by an overwhelmingly superior conventional force, resistance movements become very adaptive. If they do not, they perish. The human imperative of survival drives battlefield innovation at a pace which out-strips that of a factory operating cozily in Silicon Valley . The car bomb or suicide bomb is perhaps the crudest example of what can be accomplished with low grade weaponry and a desire to resist.

Near the end of its 15 year occupation of southern Lebanon , Israel experienced the humiliation of losing one of its elite forces to an ambush by Lebanese resistance forces. The force ' the equivalent of America 's Delta Force ' was attempting a sea-borne landing to kidnap a prominent Lebanese resistance figure. Despite extensive planning, the best technology and presumably deep intelligence assets, backed by air force, satellite and naval support, the defenders were laying in wait when Israel 's force made land. Surrounded, the Israeli force was destroyed. Even attempts to extract them were unsuccessful.

How did a relatively small force of resistance fighters accomplish such a feat against one of the world's most sophisticated military forces?

Over time, the conventional military edge enjoyed by the occupier gives way to the natural advantages and counter measures of the resistance. A leader of one Islamic resistance movement in Lebanon explained that his forces ' never numbering more than a few thousand ' patiently observed and documented every movement of the Israeli forces. They gained an understanding of Israeli tactics, transportation, supply and communication. The rest was relatively easy for a force which could exist in stealth among a friendly population and had access to basic weaponry.

While the Bush Administration publicly celebrates every apparent military victory, the Iraqi resistance is in school. It has infiltrated Iraqi units supposedly loyal to the American forces. It is studying the pattern of American operations. It is establishing its own networks of supply, information and transport. It is developing coded communication.

With each heavy-handed display of American force, resistance ranks swell with angry citizens who have no jobs, have had their homes destroyed and their relatives jailed, maimed or murdered. This improves the operating environment and deprives the occupiers of assistance. Slowly, imperceptibly, the advantage is shifting away from the coalition forces.

Also unconsidered by the Administration is the history of occupation in Iraq and the Arab world generally. That history is important for what it portends. First, there has never been a successful occupation of Iraq either directly or by proxy. Secondly, the Arabs have proven themselves extremely patient and enduring in the resistance mode. They fought the Crusaders for decades. Testimonials to the failure of the Crusades exist in the form of perfectly preserved Crusader castles which dot the landscape of Syria . Like the U.S. in Iraq , the Crusaders were initially able to overwhelm the indigenous population with superior force and tactics, establishing fixed fortifications which crowned mountain tops and were impenetrable. The castles never crumbled, but the will of those who occupied them eventually did.

The Arabs endured Ottoman rule for almost five hundred years, before rising to expel them in the tide of World War I. A Turkish blockade on Syria led to the starvation of tens of thousands. Yet, the resistance endured and grew. A leader of the Arab rebellion against the Turks, T.E. Lawrence, described Arab resistance as being like waves crashing on the shore, slowly grinding down and wearing away the obstacles in their path.

Iraqis fighting the U.S. occupation have endured nine years of war with Iran , Operation Desert Storm, and 12 years of starvation-producing sanctions. Despite the capture of Bush's deck of 52, the killing of Saddam's sons, his capture and the best forms of destruction that American taxpayers' money can buy, nothing has stemmed the rising tide of resistance in Iraq .

Nothing in history suggests that anything short of withdrawal will.

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John Peters's picture
Columns on STR: 15

John Peters is an attorney in Michigan, a Libertarian, and a freelance author.