Q & A: US military strategy

Developments on the war front have come fast and furious. For a bigger picture on the US-led military strategy in Iraq, csmonitor.com's Josh Burek spoke with war analyst Tom Nichols. Tom Nichols is the chairman of the Department of Strategy and Policy at US Naval War College in Newport, R.I.

csmonitor.com: What is the essence of the allied war strategy as you've seen it unfold since Wednesday night?

Nichols: Well, it seems to be at this point an attempt to convince Iraqi forces to surrender with a warning that there could be a lot worse to come. I also think it's an initial campaign meant to show that we're only after the regime and not the people. If we had started with massive bombardment, that would've been a harder message to get across.

csmonitor.com: What's been surprising to you?

Nichols: The initial attack on the leadership - evidently a target of opportunity - caught me by surprise.

csmonitor.com: Do you still expect a "shock and awe" campaign?

Nichols: I don't know. I don't have any inside information about the Pentagon. However, a group of B-52s just took off from England. I think when B-52s take off, things are about to get more violent. These are going to be targeted munitions - we don't do carpet bombing.

csmonitor.com: What are key benchmarks to watch for? What hurdles must US troops overcome to reach and overtake Baghdad?

Nichols: One thing to watch is the what the Republican Guards do - how may surrender; how many fight. If more of them surrender than fight, that might suggest we have already killed or isolated Saddam [Hussein] himself. Units that are out of touch with their own command and control are more likely to surrender. If the allies are approaching and [an Iraqi] commander picks up the phone to get instructions and the phone is dead, then that puts him in a new ballgame. I would've expected stiffer resistance already, but it hasn't materialized.

csmonitor.com: How much control would you say the military has exercised over media coverage? Is the military generally pleased with how this war has been covered?

Nichols: I'm certainly pleased with the coverage, I think it's important for the media to actually experience what our soldiers are experiencing. It provides better coverage and gives the media a better understanding and helps bridge the gap between military and civil experience. In a way, we don't know what we don't know. I don't know how much is being held back. It doesn't seem to me that the media is upset about it. Both sides have been looking to live more peaceably since the bond of trust was broken in Vietnam. "Embedding" makes it more real to journalists why [certain rules are in place]. By giving journalists more trust on the spot, they come to understand operational security.

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