On Point: Cascading Effects of Saddam's Capture

by Austin Bay
December 18, 2003Discussion Board on this On Point topic

What are the "cascading effects" of Saddam's capture?

The following quick history serves as a example of what strategists mean by "cascading effects" from a successful operation -effects that may have long-term impact.

When Alexander the Great's Macedonians defeated the Persians at Gaugamela (331 BC), the "pursuit phase" began when the Persian line caved and panicked imperial troops fled. The Persian units became a disorganized throng of frightened men, easy targets for Macedonian cavalry. Persian casualties skyrocketed into the tens of thousands. Historical sources estimate Macedonian losses at fewer than 300 men.

Gaugemela was touch and go at times (the Persians vastly outnumbered the Hellenes), but when the Persians shattered, the Macedonians' advantages multiplied. The relentless Alexander chased Darius, the Persian emperor, over 400 miles, before Darius' own retinue turned on the potentate and killed him. Alexander became the unquestioned ruler of Persia.

"Cascading effects" occurred on the battlefield, with the Macedonians exploiting their tactical success to destroy the Persian army. The military victory then "cascaded" into a large-scale political pay-off.

Check the map. Gaugamela is near Irbil, Iraq, which is north of Saddam Hussein's now world famous rat hole outside of Tikrit.

Scooping Saddam from his spider den isn't history the size of Gaugamela, but it ain't bean bag, either. Saddam's capture has the potential for producing extraordinary change in the world's most politically dysfunctional region, the Middle East.

The short and long term significance of these "cascading effects" depend on many things, including American diplomatic skill and the emerging effectiveness of Iraq's Governing Council, but here's a list of interesting "could-bes":

  • Immediate security effects in Iraq: Saddam's capture provided immediate operational intelligence, with the names of financiers, bomb-makers, and resistance leaders among his papers. His documents fingered another dozen terror cells in Baghdad.
  • Damage to fascist morale: Though Baath and Al Qaeda terror attacks continue, Saddam's arrest saps the morale of even the most hard-core thugs. Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers said it well: "When you take this leader ...and find him in a hole in the ground, that is a powerful signal that you maybe on the wrong team and maybe should be thinking about some other line of work."
  • Strategic intelligence: Pumping Saddam for details on his Weapons of Mass Destruction programs will take time, but the long-term pay-off will be an improved US and UN capability to counter the proliferation of nuclear and chemical weapons. Likewise, the evidence that Saddam facilitated both secular and religious terrorists is mounting, Our ability to counter terror networks will improve.
  • Intermediate domestic political effects: In US domestic politics, the arrest makes anger-driven anti-war candidates like Howard Dean look even more fatuous and fringe. Senator Joe Lieberman's candidacy is revived. Of course, the big winner is President George Bush. His strategy of reconfiguring the War on Terror as a war of liberators versus tyrants gets a huge boost.
  • International political effects: Every Middle Eastern autocrat saw the haggard Saddam pulled from the hole. The message: America means to see this war through. To avoid Saddam's fate means political liberalization. The Iranian mullahs are on notice.
  • Long-term cultural effects: Good-riddance to the myth of the Middle Eastern strong man. The photos of a weary Saddam smash more than just his reputation and ability to inspire fear. Saddam compared himself to the Mesopotamian conqueror Hammurabi. He compared himself to Saladin, the Kurdish Moslem knight who beat the Crusaders. Long-abused populations throughout the Middle East have been fed the poppycock that their miserable conditions will suddenly change if they just support the tyrant. It's a delusion that drives fanatics in Palestine. Now the man who threatened the Mother of All Battles turns out to be momma's little wimp. No martyr he - Saddam surrendered without firing a shot. Western peaceniks and other terrorist enablers will call this further humiliation of Arabs. As usual they're wrong. It's a chance for cultural liberation, to escape the dismal oppression of autocratic bullies.
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