The commander of U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, knew going into the war that his counterpart in Iraq, Saddam Hussein, was not the best that the Iraqi army had to offer.
Schwarzkopf told us that Saddam is the one general he would prefer to match wits with. The American commander has a higher regard for some of the battle-hardened Iraqi Republican Guard generals than he does for the Iraqi dictator who insists on meddling in all military decisions.Saddam was rejected by Iraqi's military academy in his younger years. Only when he became political leader of Iraq did he make himself a lieutenant general and then field marshal. Saddam's paranoia made him wary of relinquishing any authority to his officers, even if they were better strategists than he.
"The higher the centralization, the happier I am," Schwarzkopf told us. "That just eliminates initiative on the part of the subordinate. And that's a good way to lose."
Schwarzkopf, known affectionately here as "The Bear" among his troops, believes in giving his generals as much latitude as they need. It's a philosophy that flows down from President Bush, who has not proved himself to be a micro-manager of war.
The president rarely communicates with Schwarzkopf. We noted that Bush is famous for reaching out and touching his subordinates. But Schwarzkopf said, "The president of the United States has not personally called me at all," then amended his statement, remembering a call from Bush to wish him a Merry Christmas.
So Bush doesn't call to get a general's-eye view of the situation? "Absolutely not," Schwarzkopf said. "The president hasn't called one time to tell me to do anything." Leaving the war to the generals is not the Iraqi style. "The Iraqi military doctrine emphasizes detailed planning and approval at the highest levels, and no deviation from the plan. In other words, they have a very detailed plan dictated from the highest level, approved from the highest level and properly executed by the troops in the field," says Schwarzkopf.
"We do exactly the opposite. . . . The commander clearly makes his intent known . . . but we encourage maximum initiative on the part of the supportive commanders in the execution of their missions."
U.S. intelligence sources say that Saddam's insistence on micro-managing his war against Iran cost him lives and victory. Saddam ordered a temporary halt to that war in the early days so his people could regroup. At the time Iraq was winning, and military strategists speculate that Iran could have been beaten if Saddam had pressed the war instead of taking a break. The war dragged on for eight years. In 1982, some officers who complained about Saddam's military skills were executed. "Saddam Hussein is not a military man," Schwarzkopf said. "He thought of this war in tactical terms. He never thought of it in strategic terms."
In the early weeks of fighting, Schwarzkopf got several different and sometimes conflicting reports describing Saddam's state of mind when he realized he had miscalculated. "One time he was totally out of control (and) they had to call in doctors to give him tranquilizers." Other reports said Saddam was "serenely calm," and still others said he had taken to "pulling out his pistol and shooting people, which isn't necessarily calm by my definition."