TFF logoFORUMS Power Columns

TFF Home | About us


Iraq Forum

Features by others

Links to all issues

New stuff

Other associate articles

Burundi Forum

Publications on-line

Paul McCartney

Nyt på nordisk

Jonathan Power

EU conflict-handling

The 100 best books

Annual Reports

TFF Associates


Reconciliation project

Øbergs Kalejdoskop

Support TFF on-line

Activities right now

Gandhi & India

Teaching & training

Oberg's photos

Support TFF off-line

PressInfos - Analyses

Macedonia Forum

Lærestof på dansk

TFF News Navigator


How Iraq might defeat the mighty U.S.A.



Jonathan Power
TFF Associate since 1991

May 31, 2004

George Bush may be averse to reading up on the Vietnam war, which he managed to duck, but how about recalling the famous "rumble in the jungle" in the Congo, the heavy weight fight between the unbeatable George Foreman, none of whose opponents had lasted more than three minutes in the ring, and the up and coming, always boasting, Muhammad Ali? The fight was at 4.a.m so that the air was cooler and the American TV audience could watch it in prime time. In round two, the weaker Ali appeared to cower against the ropes and Foreman pounded him again and again, whilst Ali whispered taunts in his ear, "George, you're not hittin'" and "George, you disappoint me". Foreman lost his temper and his punches began to flow wild, while Ali let the spring in the ropes help him absorb those he landed. By the fifth round Foreman was exhausted and in round eight Ali simply knocked Foreman to the ground and he stayed there.

History is replete with examples, long before Vietnam, when the weakest win. In his book "Why Big Nations Lose Small Wars" Andrew Mack argues that a country's relative resolve explains success in what the war jargon now calls asymmetric conflicts. And Stanley Karnow in his landmark study of the Vietnam war observes, "As a practical strategy the bombing backfired. American planners had predicted that it would drive the enemy to capitulation, yet not only did the North Vietnamese accept the sacrifices, but the raids rekindled the nationalistic zeal, so that many who may have disliked Communist rule joined the resistance to alien attack."

It goes without saying that victories of the weakest are a minority outcome. One doesn't have to go back to Thucydides to be convinced of that- the bombing of Afghanistan, Belgrade and the first Gulf war are evidence enough. Yet it happens enough to be worrying. Ivan Arreguin-Toft writing two year's ago in Harvard University's "International Security" has examined all the wars of the 200 year period 1800 to 1998 and found two related puzzles. Weak actors were victorious in 30% of all wars and that in the more recent era it has happened more often. Could it be that strong but now comfortable countries have a lower interest in winning because their survival is not at stake? Delays and reverses on the battlefield all work in the modern media-dominated world to discourage war-weary publics from pursuing a war, if victory seems very far away.


Would you be reading this now,
if it wasn't useful to you?
Get more quality articles in the future

Guerrilla warfare as perfected by Mao Tse-tung has been one, well copied, way of reversing the tables. "In guerrilla warfare", the victor in the Chinese civil war wrote, "select the tactic of seeming to come from the east and attacking from the west; avoid the solid, attack the hollow; attack; withdraw; deliver a lightening blow, seek a lightening decision…" It was probably Mao's contribution to military thought, influencing wars in Cuba, Algeria, Malaya and the Mujahideen against the Soviet forces in Afghanistan that has changed the balance of the statistics in favour of the weaker one winning over the last half century.

Long ago the U.S. should have tried to put itself in Saddam's shoes. Saddam was at an immense disadvantage. Thanks to Gulf War 1 his air force was gone, half his navy was destroyed, and half his tanks. He had no nuclear weapons and only rudimentary chemical ones.

Clearly his objective from the beginning was to draw the U.S. into urban guerrilla warfare. Saddam's strategy was to be as much psychological as military- to convince neighbouring Muslim populations that an injustice was being done. His plan was to do his utmost to make the fighting as bloody as possible and push the U.S., as the French were pushed in Algeria, to overreact and use methods that bring it into disrepute, knowing that world opinion would hold the U.S. to a higher standard than Iraq.

I wrote this column six months before the war began. (The only change I have made is to put the last two paragraphs in the past tense.) No newspaper in Europe or the U.S. published it; only papers in the Arab world, Africa and Asia. I feel depressed to see much of it vindicated not least because it is hard today to see a workable solution. Every option has serious flaws. Even the UN at this late hour cannot produce miracles. The only thing I'm sure of is that now it's everyone's problem and through the UN we have to pull together to find a way to save Iraq from civil war and anarchy and from Al Qaeda building up its strength. The White House and Downing Street have a duty to show the way by committing themselves unreservedly to UN leadership.


Copyright © 2004 By JONATHAN POWER


I can be reached by phone +44 7785 351172 and e-mail:




Follow this link to read about - and order - Jonathan Power's book written for the

40th Anniversary of Amnesty International

"Like Water on Stone - The Story of Amnesty International"




Här kan du läsa om - och köpa - Jonathan Powers bok på svenska

"Som Droppen Urholkar Stenen"



Tell a friend about this article

Send to:


Message and your name






S P E C I A L S & F O R U M S

Iraq Forum

Gandhi & India

Burundi Forum

Photo galleries

Nonviolence Forum

TFF News Navigator

Become a TFF Friend

TFF Online Bookstore

Reconciliation project

EU conflict-management

Make an online donation

Foundation update and more

TFF Peace Training Network

Make a donation via bank or postal giro

Basic menu below












The Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research
Vegagatan 25, S - 224 57 Lund, Sweden
Phone + 46 - 46 - 145909     Fax + 46 - 46 - 144512

© TFF 1997-2004