As the military campaign unfolds in Iraq, we are hearing much talk of forces spread too thin, inadequate military power and insufficient numbers of combat units at the point of decision. The image of an under-strength coalition being slowed -- or worse -- by greater numbers of hard-core Iraqi regular and irregular forces has become somewhat of a popular theme. But is it correct? Most likely not, and for reasons that lie in the very definition of combat power, which is, after all, more than a casual term of reference.
The military, like the church, is an institution steeped in doctrine. Its very essence -- how it organizes, equips, trains and fights -- is formed by that doctrine. And although it produces much doctrine (from how to dig foxholes to how to operate a maintenance cell or provide religious services in the field), the centerpiece, or keystone, of all military doctrine is how to win wars. Each of the services has its own doctrine, but at the core of each of them is the notion of how best to project combat power. Moreover, in seeking to win campaigns (and the fight in Iraq is but one campaign in the larger war against terrorism), the outcome is determined by how that combat power is applied at the operational level, that level of warfare that integrates the individual tactical events to the larger strategic purpose.
As technology advances, the conditions of warfare change, but the essential elements of combat power remain timeless, no different today than when the Greeks and Romans marched through the Tigris and Euphrates valleys. Simply put, combat power is the sum total of the ability to move relative to the enemy, to hit him and to protect yourself from his attempts to hit back -- or, in military parlance, to maneuver, to apply firepower and to defend yourself while doing so.
In each of these areas coalition forces are dominant, particularly at the operational level of war. Within days we are at the gates of Baghdad in force, with more coming on hour by hour. We have had complete control of the air from the outset, can strike freely from ground and air, are moving up Iraqi waterways and roaming widely over the majority of Iraqi territory. We can pinpoint our targets and strike with unerring accuracy at the level of devastation we choose to inflict.
The enemy for its part can move only at great risk and is compelled to seek cover among the population or to await extreme weather conditions to foray out, and then only at the smallest tactical levels. The enemy's ability to strike has been relatively impotent, reduced to small arms and explosives from terrorist groups or to venting frustration in barbaric war crimes against prisoners and atrocities against fellow Iraqis. While chemical and biological weapons use may remain an option, their operational effectiveness remains uncertain, while their political consequences for the Iraqi regime's cause would be devastating. Iraqi protection is completely passive. Only in bunkers buried deep and sheltered by innocent civilians placed in proximity can enemy forces hope to stave off destruction. Their fighting forces lie exposed, vulnerable if they move, more vulnerable if they stay in place. Contrary to what a tally sheet of division counts might imply, the gap between Iraqi forces and coalition forces is wide, tilting the balance of combat power heavily toward the coalition.
But while maneuver, firepower and protection are complementary factors, what truly gives them force is the ability of leadership to apply them in the right mix. If the operational calculus is presented as a mathematical formula, the elements of combat power are additive, but their sum total is multiplied by the strength of the leadership applied to their use. As the strength of the leadership goes to zero (which is the direction Saddam Hussein's regime is headed), so does the overall measure of combat power, regardless of the weight of the individual elements.
Herein lies the abject futility of Iraqi resistance. Its leadership is bankrupt. Blind determination cannot move forces adroitly. Criminality, barbarity and savagery stripped of the oppressive power of coercion do not inspire loyalty. And zealotry in combat runs out of steam in direct proportion to the evaporation of lines of supply. In short, Iraqi combat power is fast deflating, while the coalition's builds steadily.
Let us not be in a hurry to win today what we will inevitably win in a short enough time, not if we have to do so by paying a much higher price in friendly and innocent casualties. And let us not be too quick to bemoan a supposed insufficiency of combat power. Measured by the essential elements of military doctrine, the odds are heavily stacked in our favor.
The writer, a retired Army colonel, was the principal author of the Army's central war-fighting doctrine for the 1990s and the editor in chief of the 1997 National Defense Panel report "Transforming Defense: National Security in the 21st Century." He currently heads the Florida governor's Office of Drug Control.