Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Napoleon Also Won the First Round

To Our Readers

The Moscow Times welcomes letters to the editor. Letters for publication should be signed and bear the signatory's address and telephone number.
Letters to the editor should be sent by fax to (7-495) 232-6529, by e-mail to oped@imedia.ru, or by post. The Moscow Times reserves the right to edit letters.

Email the Opinion Page Editor

Even as U.S. President George W. Bush proposed a new strategy for victory in Iraq on Jan. 10, those who engineered the war kept on producing self-serving explanations of what, if anything, actually went wrong. By far the most amusing is the version adopted by a coterie of neo-conservative pundits in and around Pentagon, who before the Iraq invasion promised that the war would be "a cakewalk" and that U.S. troops would be greeted as liberators.

In their view, there have been two Iraq wars. The first, lasting barely a month and a half and resulting in less than 200 U.S. and British military deaths, was a stunning success. The Iraqi army was defeated, Baghdad fell and the feared dictator was deposed.

Then came the second war, in which things didn't go quite so smoothly. That second war is now about to enter its fourth year and has produced chaos and civil strife among Iraqis, while also killing over 3,000 coalition soldiers. However regrettable, the reasoning goes, this second, mismanaged war should not diminish the brilliance of their initial campaign.

What a novel idea. It turns out, then, that Napoleon fought two distinct campaigns in Russia. The first was a victorious cakewalk, allowing him to overrun a large portion of the Russian Empire, beat up on the Russian Army at Borodino and occupy and burn Moscow. End of brilliant Phase One. In the longer run, of course, there were setbacks, but that's beside the point.

Of course, this approach conveniently ignores the fact that Napoleon's ultimate defeat in Russia was a direct -- and unavoidable -- consequence of his apparent successes at the start of the campaign. He was allowed to march into the vastness of Russia (or lured there by Field Marshal Mikhail Kutuzov), whereupon his supply lines got stretched and Russian winter set in.

Rather similarly, the swift U.S. victory in Iraq is the root cause of the current unfolding disaster. Former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld introduced a number of reforms at the Pentagon, building a light, mobile, technologically advanced military force. The new military is designed to go in quickly, defeating any adversary in a surgical strike -- which they duly did in Iraq.

However, the United States is no Batman visiting vengeance upon evildoers and then flying into the sunset. It is a dominant economic and political power, a guarantor of global peace and stability. After a regime change -- especially in such a pivotal region as the Middle East -- it has no choice but to stick around and pick up the pieces.

For this, astonishingly, the U.S. Army has never been trained -- just as Napoleon's formidable Grande Armee was not built to winter 2,500 kilometers away from Paris.

Bush believes that victory in Iraq is still possible. After all, doesn't the U.S. military continue to win every battle against the insurgents? Another 20,000 or so troops means there will be more victories, and thus the war will be won.

This is an old refrain, heard after U.S. defeat in Vietnam and, before that, after the German surrender in World War I. In Southeast Asia, too, the U.S. military won every battle, and Kaiser's armies gave up before they were crushed by the Entente. The politicians, we are told by various revanchists, are the ones who stabbed our valiant heroes in the back.

It should be remembered, however, that Napoleon never suffered a military defeat in Russia, either. His army merely disintegrated as it retreated to Russia's borders. As many as 400,000 soldiers, or 80 percent of the original number, perished along the way.

Of course, the U.S. military force in Iraq is unlikely to disintegrate in the same way. But U.S. generals have been warning that the U.S. Army has been overextended to the breaking point. Most Americans still think it is a metaphor.

Alexei Bayer, a native Muscovite, is a New York-based economist.