Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Gary Hart 's Napoleon Complex

UPDATE: I had a little mathematical error. I should have said two centuries, not three, when I spoke about the gap between Napoleon in Russia and the U.S. in Iraq.

Gary Hart’s latest column on the Huffington post calls to mind an unfortunate incident in the late astronomer and science advocate Carl Sagan’s career.

During the first Gulf War, Sagan famously opined that Kuwaiti Oil Well Fires set by Iraqis would spell ecological disaster for planet earth. The outrageous prediction was proved wrong shortly after the late Dr. Sagan uttered the words in front of a live television audience. Sagan was foremost an astronomer, so he was likely a tad out of his lane to predict the effects of oil

Similarly, the former Senator and candidate for the Democratic Presidential Nomination erroneously compared the U.S. military’s situation in Iraq to Napoleon’s Army in Russia when he wrote


[The Russians] burned Moscow down around Napoleon. Denied his last great
triumph, the disappointed emperor abandoned Moscow and started home. Along the
way, he lost the world's most powerful army. Recently one of Islamic Shi'ites'
most revered sites, the golden mosque at Samarra, was destroyed by sectarian
enemies. By this act and the reprisals that followed, Iraq moved a substantial
step closer to civil war. Though a remote, but real, possibility, an Iraqi civil
war could cost the United States its army. . . It is strange to contemplate the
possibility that the greatest army in world history could be slaughtered in a
Middle East conflagration.

People who dismissed my Japan/Iraq analogy as inadequate should righteously tear into Hart’s view of the U.S. Army as the tattered Grande Armée, slogging across Russia en route to France on tenuous, unsecured lines of communication. It was in Napoleon's retreat, across the immense distances of Russia, that the French Army was utterly decimated.

A very poor analogy, indeed.

The tactical situation on the ground in Iraq could hardly be more different, even if one did not take into account the differences three centuries have brought upon the endeavor of war. American and Coalition forces enjoy multiple lines of communication in Iraq to resupply, move, and reinforce their positions. Moreover, they can harness and mass a nearly unimaginable level of lethality at the time and place of their choosing. The Russians were largely united against the French, whereas coalition forces enjoy the support of much of the populaton ( and a civil war, after all, would be between different Iraqi factions). Napoleon’s forces enjoyed none of these advantages in the disastrous retreat back to France.

Also, the largest and most pointed critique of the U.S military is that it has difficulties operating during low level conflicts (ie insurgencies, unconventional warfare, stability operations et al); the “comfort zone” for the majority of senior level commanders in the military is mid intensity conflict (ie conventional warfare), which is what Hart seems to imply would be the outcome of an Iraqi Civil War.

Hart seemed to cherry pick the French in Russia more to portray President Bush as Napoleon than to compare the American Army to the Grande Armée. Again, another poor analogy.

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