Rushville Republican

September 10, 2013

History is repeating itself (again)

By Paul W. Barada
Rushville Republican

---- — During the earliest days of the Civil War, more than 150 years ago, the Northern press was demanding action by the federal government against the rebels. Just to show how naïve the country was, the New York papers were running banner headlines that read “On To Richmond,” as if capturing the rebel capital ought to be the goal of the federal army. Capturing Richmond, however, was just a symbol of the rebellion. The real target was the Army of Northern Virginia. None of the federal generals seemed to realize that until years later when General Ulysses S. Grant was given command of all the Northern armies.

More significantly, when the federal army started to move south toward Manassas, Va., during the summer of 1861, nearly every step of the way was reported in Northern newspapers! The point was that the rebels didn’t need an elaborate intelligence operation to find out what the federal army was doing. It was all being reported in the papers. The result? By the time the newly formed federal army lumbered its way to Manassas, the newly formed rebel army was there waiting for them. The battle, called the Battle of Bull Run because of a small stream that ran through the area, could have gone either way. Neither army was prepared, and late in the day the federals were routed and retreated back to their camps around Washington. The rebel army didn’t follow and, at least for a while, nothing much happened.

What’s the point in retelling the story of another Civil War battle, you ask? The point is you don’t tell your enemy what you’re planning to do. What relevance does that cardinal principle of warfare have to do with anything going on today? Do you suppose the Syrians have any idea that we’re planning a limited strike against them?

Why in the world would we announce that we’re planning a limited air campaign against them? If you were the Syrians, wouldn’t you hide your military hardware, knowing that some sort of air strike was coming? If I were them, I would hide my missile and anti-aircraft batteries in a heavily populated civilian area and dare US armed forces to attack them with cruise missiles. Then, even if my weapons systems were destroyed there would undoubtedly be civilian casualties which I would plaster all over the international news and make the US look like the bad guys.

Another tactic I would use would be to keep my mobile weapons on the move. Long range missiles can’t hit targets which are on the move. I would hide my troops in mosques and schools and other public places – particularly if I knew the enemy was about to launch a punitive, but limited air strike against my armed forces. The recent debate about whether or not the United States should launch such a limited strike against Syria is a lot like telegraphing a punch. If you know it’s coming, you can pretty much get out of the way.

But the situation in Syria is so confused that it’s difficult to know who the real enemy is. Are we after Bashar al-Assad or Al Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood or somebody else? Ostensibly, our use of military force is based on Assad’s apparent use of poison gas on his own people. But just a few days ago, a doubt was raised that the Assad regime were the ones who released the poison gas.

There’s another problem with an air strike on Syria. The first is it’s not possible to attack the sites where poison gas is stored because that would only release who knows how much more poison gas into the atmosphere. If sarin gas is one of the chemical agents the Syrians have, that further complicates the issue. Sarin gas is a nerve agent that causes death by asphyxiation in about one minute, regardless of whether it’s inhaled or merely touches the skin. According to Wikipedia, sarin gas is something like 500 times more toxic than cyanide. So, just hitting a stockpile of sarin gas would only serve to release the odorless and colorless gas into the atmosphere killing every living creature in the area.

That would leave the administration looking weak. Doing nothing in retribution for somebody’s use a poison gas on the Syrian people, or not being able to destroy their stockpile of chemical weapons if we do attack, or deciding who the real enemy is – al Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, or the Assad regime – all of whom are essentially fighting each other in essentially a Syrian civil war, or bombing some other target if we can find one – makes the US look both weak and inept.

None of the obvious targeting options look all that attractive, especially since they know we’re apparently coming after somebody. Worse yet, if we do any real damage to a valuable target, who knows what sort of retaliation we’ll be inviting for attempting to punish them? The most absurd part, however, is we’ve told them we’re coming! Haven’t we learned any of the lessons from history? Even during World War II, one of the most closely guarded secrets was where and when the invasion of Normandy would take place. The Syrians already know they’re the target and that the aerial attack will last only a few days. The only thing they don’t know is the exact date we’re going to start blowing up their public parks, swamps (if they have any), and deserts.

If General Irvin McDowell, commander of the Union forces at the Battle of Bull Run were only still alive to lead the assault!

That’s -30- for this week.