Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

A Refutation of Arithmetic: An Interview with Nikolai Zlobin
Nikolai Zlobin, Director of Russian and Asian Programs, Center for Defense Information, Washington DC
Originally appeared in "Expert" magazine
March 31, 2003

One of the lessons of the military operation in Iraq is this - the arithmetic principle does not apply in military circumstances, said Nikolai Zlobin, director of Russian and Asian programs at the Center for Defense Information in Washington DC. A colossal advantage in military armaments and maintenance of British-American forces does not lead to an equivalent superiority on the battlefield. Roughly speaking, to double the army's fighting ability, it needs to increase expenditures ten-fold, and to triple its fighting ability, in needs to spend a hundred times more.

Q: But the American army spends a thousand times more than Iraq. Maybe the real issue is the inability to conduct a ground-based war that leads to a large number of casualties.

A: Yes, that's true. American military commanders are judged not by their victories, but by their ability to achieve victory without major casualties. A high casualty rate spells the end of a career for politicians and military commanders. But I think the American army is ready to accept more casualties than ever before. And American society is psychologically ready to accept more - more than at any other time since the Vietnam .War. But these are only theoretical estimates. It's possible the Americans will shift tactics and will want to focus once more on trying to kill Saddam. An old conflict between the CIA and the Pentagon resurfaces here. The CIA stresses decapitating the leadership, while the Pentagon supports wide-scale military action. A lack of coordination really gets in the way.

Q: Isn't this an overestimation of Saddam's personality? Shiites hate Saddam, and they are fighting the Americans. Maybe they take the phrase "Operation Iraqi Freedom" to mean something else?

A: No one is talking about freedom. The name of the operation "Iraqi Freedom" is designed for America's domestic consumption. And liberating the country from Saddam does not mean an establishment of a democratic regime. It's not about democracy - America needs a country that can be controlled and that will not be a source of instability. The problem is not that Arabs don't want democracy, but that their life for the past two generations has been inextricably linked to Saddam's regime. Americans believe that if they can show the Saddam's regime has crumbled, many Iraqis will cease fighting the Americans and join them in building a new order in Iraq.

Q: Many analysts consider time to be a decisive factor - the longer the war drags on, the more anti-American sentiment there will be around the world, especially in Muslim countries.

A: Yes, today even Saddam's enemies in the Arab world are openly expressing pride that he is able to withstand America. They are happy that Arabs can put up that sort of resistance to the greatest military power in the world. I think that drawn-out military actions could really change the international situation, and not only in the direction you are talking about. America could become more isolated than today, and the ability of the world's leading power to solve problems via military measures will be questioned.

This tendency may prove to be a double-edged sword. If America is unable to solve similar problems, then who will? In such a situation, countries that sympathize with Saddam or want to play a role similar to Iraq's in withstanding Western civilization will have a greater stimulus. Because they understand: even America, after sacrificing lives and a colossal amount of money, cannot destroy Saddam's regime. And what then of North Korea of Iran? I think many regimes will pick up their heads. They were under such pressure from American superiority, but today the pressure is weakening. And this increases the risks for all of humanity.

Q: There is much speculation about American economic interests in this war

A: I think it's the other way around. Bush fell into his own trap and he will have to delay, at least partially, his economic reform plan - in part, the significant tax cut that we are very much counting on. But war expenditures and the unpredictability of the situation may damage the long-term potential of the American economy as well as its ability to recover.

But at the same time, after 9/11 the problem of homeland security became Americans' number one priority. The president is judged not by his economic successes or diplomatic dealings, (which is why Bush is ignoring these,) but by his ability to protect the country and its citizens - on their own territory more than in Iraq or in the world in general. Washington has been successful in convincing Americans that this war is conducted in order to ensure their security.

Top    Next