Is Iraq Bush's Moscow 1812?

This morning on C-Span’s Q & A, Joseph Cirincione, author of Bomb Scare, said that he believes that the U.S. military effort in Iraq mirrors Napoleon’s failure in Moscow. He mentioned the book Moscow 1812 by Adam Zamoyski and it’s now on my to-read list.

Specifically, he said:

LAMB: What’s your sense of what will happen eventually in Iraq and what impact will it have your whole discussion of nuclear weapons?

CIRINCIONE: I don’t think there’s a good solution for Iraq. I mean, one of the things I tell my students is to read history. It’s not like this hasn’t happened before. Last summer I read a book called ”Moscow 1812.” It’s about Napoleon’s invasion of Moscow. Best army in the world, best generals, best weapons, terrible strategy, a strategic blunder that led him to conquer Moscow, but not defeat the army. He was stuck as the winter roared in, couldn’t stay, he couldn’t leave, no good choices, but he had to choose. He left, the retreat was debacle, his troops never recovered, his army never recovered, his reputation never recovered, he lost his empire. I think there’s a lot of parallels to Iraq. I don’t think there’s going to be a happy ending to this story. I think we have to get out. We cannot stay and we have to try to get out in such a way that gives the Iraqi people the best chance of rescuing their country, of stabilizing it. It may be that they have to go through their own civil war. It did – maybe it doesn’t have to be that way, but it sure looks like it’s going to happen to me. And it’s going to take us decades to recover from this, both the turmoil in the Middle East and the loss of legitimacy and credibility of the United States. We have squandered a reputation that took us decades to build up.

If anyone is familiar with that incursion (I’m not) or the book, or both, I hope you’ll comment. Is it an apt comparison? Or not, and why?

Cirincione also says that Pakistan is more frightening, in terms of nuclear power, than China.

Read the C-Span transcript here or watch here.

4 thoughts on “Is Iraq Bush's Moscow 1812?

  1. Well, if we’re going to discuss historical analogies, perhaps the one that forms the subject of this editorial would be of interest. The editorial begins, “Could the presidential election of 2008 shape up as an analog of the election of 1864?” There’s even a (former) Congressman from Ohio who wrote the “peace plank” in the Democratic platform of 1864.The editorial does close with the statement, “It would, no doubt, be a mistake to make too much of the analog between 1864 and 2008.” Similar caution would probably also be wise with any analogies drawn between 1812 and 2007.

  2. Cirincione also says that Pakistan is more frightening, in terms of nuclear power, than China.I forgot to mention, I agree with Cirincione on this one. One small coup d’etat, and it could be nukes on the loose.

  3. He was stuck as the winter roared in, couldn’t stay, he couldn’t leave, no good choices, but he had to choose. He left, the retreat was debacle, his troops never recovered, his army never recovered, his reputation never recovered, he lost his empire.Off the top of my head (and I have no expertise in military history), I see some similarities, but several ways in which the analogy is imperfect. (Information about Napoleon’s invasion of Russia is here.)1) Weather is not a defining problem in Iraq; insurgents/terrorists are. There was absolutely no way that Napolean could affect the winter. There are ways that the U.S. can affect the insurgency and those parts of the Iraqi populace that support/tolerate them.2) Much of Napoleon’s problem was the length and fragility of his supply lines. (The Russians destroyed as much as possible that would be useful to the French invaders.) While U.S. supply lines are long in Iraq and not absolutely secure, supplies are getting through.3) Napoleon couldn’t stay in Russia because it was militarily unsustainable. If the U.S. leaves Iraq, it will not be because the situation is unsustainable militarily, but unsustainable because of domestic politics. 4) Napoleon’s retreat was a debacle, with 98% of his forces lost by the time it was complete. Napoleon was facing large organized armies. If the U.S. departs from Iraq, it would not be facing armies (unless Iran intervenes). I don’t see why a U.S. withdrawal should not be orderly, with limited casualties.5) Napoleon’s army never recovered in part because of the loss of life noted above, as well as the loss of equipment. The primary damage to the U.S. military will not, in my opinion, be the loss of life or equipment. Rather, I think the most important damage will be a loss of confidence in the civilian leadership (and I don’t restrict that to the executive branch). Is that recoverable? Probably, although it may take a long time.6) Napoleon lost an empire. Despite beliefs of some to the contrary, the U.S. does not have an empire and can not lose one. What we can lose by defeat is the confidence of current and potential allies. (“When the people see a strong horse and a weak horse, they naturally gravitate toward the strong horse.” — Osama bin Laden)

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