I am wondering if the battles playing out every day in the streets of Iraq are more like the trench warfare of World War I than the oft-made Vietnam comparisons. Except, the advantages in Baghdad are the reverse of those at Verdun and the Somme.
In the First World War the defensive technologies of the machine gun, barbed wire, mines, and trenches stalemated the lingering 19th-century offensive tactics of massed infantry and cavalry charges. The result was a bloody slaughter and front lines that moved only hundreds of yards during years of combat.
In Iraq the insurgents are benefiting from numerous offensive technologies that make them a more formidable fighting force. Cell phones, shaped-charged warheads, digital timers and electrical components for detonators, downloadable satellite maps, abundant motor vehicles, and even chlorine gas and YouTube are all elements of their arsenal that didn't exist in previous insurgencies. When military historians look to the past to learn how to quell uprisings, the most recent examples they can cite are from the 1950s and 60's--several technological ages ago. And our soldiers in Iraq--armed with tanks designed to fight tanks and helicopters designed to destroy massed formations of enemy armor--are scrambling after flip-flop wearing young men who design and execute their deadly attacks with military technology that can be purchased at a strip mall Radio Shack. Could we have forseen this incredbile leveling of the asymmetry in insurgent wars? I don't know, but the daily newspaper headlines show that it is happening.