No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy

Mackubin T. Owens

July 1, 2003

The unlamented deaths of Saddam Hussein’s two sons at the hands of soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division last weeks put me in mind of an old Texas saying. A sheriff investigating a homicide asks the perpetrator “why’d you kill him?” The perpetrator answers, “’cause he needed killin’.”

So it is with Uday and Qusai, the guerrillas, whether Iraqi or foreign, as well as Saddam himself. As Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz observed recently on Meet the Press, Saddam’s Ba’athist loyalists constitute “a criminal gang of many thousands of rapists, murderers, and torturers.” The 101st just bagged two of the gang’s top rapists, murderers, and torturers.

Critics have claimed that the United States was unprepared for the security challenges its forces would face in post-war Iraq. Maybe, maybe not. But most of the critics lack historical perspective. For instance, allied soldiers were still being killed in Germany long after the Nazis surrendered in May 1945. Indeed, some were killed as late as 1949. The Wall Street Journal’s “Best of the Web” of 23 July notes a 2000 History Today article about the Nazi “Werewolves” a guerrilla/terrorist movement founded by Heinrich Himmler in 1944, which fought the occupying forces of Britain, America and the Soviet Union until at least 1947.

The Werewolves specialized in ambushes and sniping, and took the lives of many Allied and Soviet soldiers and officers—perhaps even that of the first Soviet commandant of Berlin, General N.E. Berzarin, who was rumored to have been waylaid in Charlottenburg during an incident in June 1945. Buildings housing Allied and Soviet staffs were favorite targets for Werewolf bombings; an explosion in the Bremen police headquarters, also in June 1945, killed five Americans and thirty-nine Germans. Techniques for harassing the occupiers were given widespread publicity through Werewolf leaflets and radio propaganda, and long after May 1945 the sabotage methods promoted by the Werewolves were still being used against the occupying powers.

The Werewolves’ approach was the same as that of the Saddam loyalists: attack occupying soldiers and those who cooperate with them.

In dealing with the guerrillas, allied forces in Iraq have proven to be adaptive, learning organizations. For instance the new tactics that led to the killing of Uday and Qusai illustrate that the Americans have realized that there is some truth to Nicolo Machiavelli’s observation in The Prince that “it is better to be feared than to be loved.” In fact, success in Iraq requires that the two be balanced. According to Bing West, writing last week in the Wall Street Journal, the Marines maintaining order in southern Iraq do so by adhering to the principle of “no better friend, no worse enemy.” He writes that “it’s hot south of Baghdad, the towns are a mess. The Marines are patrolling there in small units, often without helmets and flak jackets. But shoot at them and they will kill you.”

The fact is that there have been few attacks on the Marines. Some might argue that the reason for the disparity in attacks on soldiers and Marines is that the former are patrolling the dangerous “Sunni Triangle” between Baghdad and Tikrit, a region that is home to many Saddam loyalists. But the Marines are responsible for maintaining order among the Shia, whom the experts claimed would be the real threat, given the likelihood that they would be infected with virulent anti-Americanism of the Iranian ayatollahs.

In any case, the key to allied success against the guerrillas is to keep the pressure up. On the one hand, provide services for law-abiding Iraqis, on the other root out the loyalists by means of stepped-up raids on guerrilla safe houses. Aggressively exploit the intelligence provided by the increasing number of Iraqis coming forward voluntarily to pinpoint guerrilla locations and arms caches. Such a walk-in provided the information last Friday that resulted in the capture of 13 of Saddam’s security guards.

In order to succeed against a more powerful adversary, guerrillas require the support of the civilian population. In Mao’s famous formulation, the guerrillas are the fish and the population is the sea. In Iraq, there is at best a pond, and the Americans are working hard to drain it. As they drain the pond, they should be chanting, “no better friend, no worse enemy.”

Mackubin Thomas Owens, an Adjunct Fellow of the Ashbrook Center, is on leave from the Naval War College to write a history of U.S. civil-military relations. He led a Marine rifle platoon in Vietnam, 1968-69.