The West returned to the East yesterday, as a victor.
Tony Blair contributed to the repair of what one of his predecessors in the Labor Party, Harold Wilson, fouled up. If Wilson had not decided on the evacuation of the British forces "East of Suez" at the end of the 1960s, Saddam Hussein never would have been strengthened and become so arrogant to try to go nuclear and attack Iran and Kuwait.
That withdrawal was the continuation of the decolonization process, the retreat of the British Empire from its holdings in the wake of the victory that impoverished it after World War II. Over two decades, the British left India, Palestine, and its bases along the Suez, and the Americans, who slapped the British for lining up with the French and Israelis in a military operation against Gamal Abdel Nasser, didn't fill the vacuum the British left behind.
The man who pushed the West to go back, this time under American leadership, was not Saddam Hussein, nor Ayatollah Khomeini. Both provoked the Americans, mocked their weakness and dragged them into essentially defensive operations - the failed rescue mission of the hostages in the embassy in Tehran, wrestling with the Syrians and their proxies around Beirut, and then the eviction of Iraqi forces from Kuwait.
The person who sent the Americans on this mission was Osama bin Laden, who believed the American escape from Lebanon, after the attack on the Marines headquarters there, would be replayed even more intensively if he were to hit American targets in America itself. But already on September 11, 2000, a few hours after the Twin Towers fell, it was clear to anyone who knows the American character, its ruling party and their president, that a worldwide campaign had begun and that President Bush and his army had drawn a bull's-eye around bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.
That wouldn't have happened with Bill Clinton or Al Gore in the White House. But the team Bush put together, to cover up his weakness in matters of security and foreign affairs, especially Vice President Richard Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, pushed Bush toward Afghanistan and Iraq.
Rumsfeld stocked the top tiers of the army with his own people, after bidding farewell to the chief of staff Hugh Shelton, a weak Clinton appointee, in favor of Shelton's deputy, Gen. Richard Myers of the air force.
Rumsfeld, Myers, Rumsfeld's deputy Peter Pace, and Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz became an efficient team, despite the frequent reports of grumbling in the upper ranks over the secretary's blunt manner.
Those reports, which were compounded at the start of the war by vocal doubts about the wisdom of Gen. Tommy Frank's plans for the war, lowered expectations for success. And the lower the expectations, the greater the amazement from the achievement.
Franks was not afraid of comparison to his predecessor in the 1991 war, Norman Schwarzkopf. Like every American military man, he learned how right the first chairman of the joint chiefs - and the last of the WWII veteran generals - Omar Bradley was, when he warned "never get entangled in a land war in Asia."
Douglas McArthur in Korea and the next decade, William Westmoreland in Vietnam, put Bradley's statement into a prophetic dimension. But now a Bradley is an armored personnel carrier, working in Iraq alongside the tank that carries Westmoreland's heir's name, Creighton Abrams.
Bradley lived in the era of wars that were manpower heavy, with the advantage held by millions of Chinese, Koreans and Vietnamese. The U.S. Air Force, which operated separately from the navy and Marines, did not provide enough air support to the ground forces. Nowadays there are no more "land" wars, "air" wars or "naval" wars. The battlefield is integrated, with 50 satellites circling the planet and decisive American technology and combined forces.
It takes a political decision to bring the full force of that military strength to bear, and September 11 and its 3,000 casualties, the risk of weapons of mass destruction and world terror all combined to bring Bush to the decision last year that has been executed since March 19.
The British and Americans have already imposed and deposed rulers in the Middle East, through appointments, schemes and revolutions, but new generations of youthful fighters born in Isfahan and Alexandria, Baalbek and Basra, Hebron and Aleppo didn't believe - not even after the Taliban were thrown out of Kabul - that a western army could conquer a large Muslim capital, indeed one of the two most important Arab capitals after Cairo. They received a sobering lesson over the last three weeks.
The former commander of the Marines, Gen. Charles Krulak, who pioneered the Marines as a force capable of combat in urban areas, warned his soldiers could become entangled in a "three-block war," like in Mogadishu, Grozny or Baghdad. The next war, said Krulak, won't be the off-spring of the war of 1991 but the stepchild of Somalia and Chechnya. So that's what the Americans prepared for, a major entanglement in the maze of Baghdad's streets and underground tunnels. For them, too, it was a pleasant surprise when instead of a three-block war, they had a three-week war.
Last summer, when the Israel Defense Forces was afraid of Iraqi missiles, Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon wanted to strengthen Israel's deterrent capabilities by putting on a show for Saddam. Israel remained outside the war and Saddam was defeated in an American show. The audience for the show was in Damascus, Gaza, Tehran, and Pyongpang, and now asks itself, where will they go from here.
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