There are many complaints about the post-war planning in Iraq, but of course we don’t much commentary on the post-war planning by the Ba’ath and other Caliphascist factions. They don’t seem to have done all that well either, leading one to believe that perhaps things were difficult to predict.
The buzz now is that the forces of resistance to civilization are preparing a large counter attack, in the manner of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam in 1968. There are some parallels but some differences as well.
The Tet Offensive was a military debacle for the Viet Cong. Although the US and ARVN forces suffered heavy casualties, the Viet Cong were wiped out. This was the last time the Viet Cong ever managed to field significant field forces. After Tet, the war was run on North Vietnamese regulars, not insurgents. Beyond this, Orrin Judd notes that
The war was effectively won for the South at that point because it was no longer an indigenous guerilla war but a traditional war between the nation of the North and the nation of the South. Over the next couple of years that war too was essentially won for the South. Only Watergate brought an end to the conflict on the North’s terms and even then the South, abandoned by its only ally, acquited itself reasonably well. Mere bombing, which we’d promised, of Northern supply routes might have deferred the South’s collapse indefinitely.
I would add that even continued arms and logistic supplies from the US would probably have preserved the South but that was cut off by Congress in 1975, dooming hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese to imprisonment, torture and death.
On the propaganda front, however, it was a major strategic victory for the Communists. The major ally of the South was pushed into domestic turmoil and eventually withdrew its forces and aid. It removed any prospect of an aggressive defense of the South.
In addition, it eliminated the Viet Cong, which was considered a feature by the North because the Viet Cong might well have resisted what the North later did to the South. As is common in Communist politics, factions that aren’t useful need to be disposed of or expended. In this case, the North expended the Viet Cong to sever the alliance between the US and the South. Overall, I think that it was good strategy, although Judd contests (as quoted above) that it would ahve cost them victory in the war except for accidents of US politics.
With regard to Iraq, what are the parallels with Tet? A strong similarity is that there is a US army in place, along with opposition by a mix of native and foreign forces against a relatively weak local government. While the opposition forces don’t have a super power backin them, they do have access to a lot of weaponry, money and troops so that’s roughly similar as well. It is, as Vietnam was, a proxy fight between two powers, the Anglosphere and the Caliphascists. The Anglosphere is again fighting a restricted war against an unconstrained opponent (for instance, there are reports that US forces don’t return mortar fire, even though they know the location of the enemy mortars, for fear of civilian casualties). In many ways the set up is quite similar.
What does this mean for strategy? In some sense, a Tet style attack would be a good thing, not a bad one. As noted, Tet destroyed the local opposition forces. A similar battle now, even if costly in American and Iraq blood, could be of enormous benefit if it eviscerates the remaining Ba’ath loyalists. A situation where it’s Iraqis vs. foreign forces would be much more tractable for the Coalition.
Would it be a good move from the point of view of the opposition? Probably not for the Ba’ath loyalists or the foreign jihadis, but what about their backers? I think we can take as given that the Caliphascists view the Iraqi Ba’ath as expendable munitions. It’s likely the in-country jihadis are viewed the same way, since they’re easily replaceable1. Achieving significant successes against the Coalition, regardless of how transitory or imbalanced, is a very valuable political goal. It’s hard to see the Caliphascists holding back just because their current forces in Iraq would be decimated if there was a good chance of getting in some hard hits on the US forces. It’s just one big suicide bomb.
However, my view is that because of other changes in US politics that Tet style propaganda will be much less effective. It could be that the constant harping on this by US media will mislead the Caliphascists into overestimating their ability to spin the casualties from a big, coordinated attack. Just like there was an emerging skepticism about the government that drove the success of the Tet propaganda efforts, in my view there is now an equivalent rising skepticism about Big Media which will blunt any such propaganda and may well do for Big Media what the Vietnam war did for government credibility.
1 In fact, one might argue that it’s good for backers like the Saudi Entity to expend them. One of the primary goals of the Saudi Entity is to deflect the jihadis away from themselves. Getting them chewed up in Iraq serves that purpose quite well.