On the Tuesday edition of ‘Hardball’, MSNBC host Chris Matthews interviewed the former commander of U.S. forces during Operation Desert Storm. General Norman Schwarzkopf analyzed the situation in Fallujah, the impact of former insurgencies, and what it exactly takes to be a soldier in Iraq.
Troops to the test
HARDBALL HOST, CHRIS MATTHEWS:
What is it like for the troops, for our guys and our women over there as they head through the streets of Fallujah?
NORMAN SCHWARZKOPF, NBC MILITARY ANALYST: I saw one young man who was asked the question, how do you know who is the enemy? And he looked you straight in the eye and said, I know who the enemy is. The person that shoots at me, they‘re my enemy.
MATTHEWS: Have you got any information about the quality of the fighting by our allies over there? The Iraqi security forces that are backing up this operation?
SCHWARZKOPF: This is a rather significant difference from the last time we had this brouhaha going on in Fallujah. And that’s the fact that you had 2,000 Iraqi that apparently did a great job and are doing a great job.
MATTHEWS: Is this the first big test for the Iraqi army that we‘ve created over there?
SCHWARZKOPF: I think that anything we’ve done up until now, it really has not been on the scale that this is. They really weren‘t assigned specific missions. This group that is over there now were assigned specific missions, which they in fact carried out perfectly.
MATTHEWS: Is there a ratio of troop strength you have to observe when you go into a situation where people are hiding behind windows and hiding behind buildings and around street corners? We have 15,000 troops going into Fallujah right now, fighting their way block by block. Apparently there are 3,000 people on the other side composed of insurgents, former members of the government army over there, and outside terrorists. Is that a good enough ratio, 15-3?
SCHWARZKOPF: My attitude has always been the same. I want to have everything I can get. I think the commanders involved in this operation probably feel the same way. Remember, we’re doing things much differently than we did when we had the problems with Marines. We’re using our bombers. Most of the civilians are out of town. So, therefore, when you run into somebody dressed that way, you know, it could very easily-I think you‘re a lot more cautious about how you approach them than otherwise. So there are some significant differences between now and then.
Rules of engagement
MATTHEWS: Can you size up the rules of engagement? In other words, how do you avoid blowing up a bunch of kids that are being held hostage or being used as a shield, a human shield, over there in the streets of Fallujah?
SCHWARZKOPF: I think that the rules of engagement are very, very clear. The troops understand what they can engage, what they can‘t engage, and that sort of thing. I don‘t think, honestly speaking, I can see one of our soldiers shooting a child because a child was in front of an insurgent. I think they probably would avoid shooting anything at that time and wait to get a better shot or just move on.
MATTHEWS: What‘s the difference between a trained infantryman going into a city block-by-block campaign like Fallujah and just some hot shot guy on the other side who has a lot of zeal and he‘s anti-American or he’s whatever, pro-Islamic, and he just wants to fight? When you’re in a firefight with somebody like that, and they‘re just all guts and craziness, how is that different than fighting another military man?
SCHWARZKOPF: Well, you know, the person that has kept his head about him, who has kept his cool, that‘s the person that is going to prevail. We don‘t train our soldiers to be fanatics and just run recklessly in--like the Iranians did--during the Iran-Iraq War. You know, committing suicide and then picking up the gun of the man in front of you and fighting some more or something like. Our guys are very, very, very well trained. Rules of engagement are very, very carefully spelled out to them. And, by and large, they‘re going to follow those rules of engagement. If they don‘t, they‘re going to be taken down right away.
Ready for combat
MATTHEWS: How long does it take an American soldier to become a battle-ready fighter?
SCHWARZKOPF: Well, you know, at the end of the basic training, they‘ve had all the fundamental skills that they need to start off with. But I think it is the training, the exercises. You know, we have a national training center out in the middle of the desert. And battalions go through every six weeks or so. And it really is a tough, tough course of training that they go through. So I think it’s a product of their initial training, then, subsequently, when they join their outfit, the training that their outfit goes through and that sort of thing. They really, really get tremendous training.
Video: Fierce fighting in Fallujah
Video: Fierce fighting in Fallujah
MATTHEWS:What did we learn from Mogadishu in Africa, where we went over there and found ourselves surrounded by a bunch of people in the streets who hated us? Have our guys gone through that kind of training, where they‘re facing mobs?
SCHWARZKOPF: Yes, in many different varieties. When I was in Berlin, we used to train all the time about what we would do if a mob came from East Berlin into West Berlin. But more specifically, the Mogadishu thing was-the number of mistakes that were made there, you can count on both hands and still have some-need more fingers. The after-action reports showed that there were a lot of disasters that occurred over there. They never should have been committed the way they were.
MATTHEWS: One of the brigade commanders over in the operation in Fallujah says he is damned and determined that none of the people over there escape, the people on the other side. How do we set up this cordon? How do you do that to prevent people from getting out that were part of the action?
SCHWARZKOPF: It is a combination of manning key points throughout the terrain where people could be coming out. Then, of course, you have constant rolling patrols that are moving around through the area. You have devices of all sorts to measure movement, to measure lights and that sort of thing. It is a combination of all of those, plus just being very, very alert along the roads of access.
MATTHEWS: When you look at the war we‘re fighting over there, which is Fallujah and a lot of those cities in the Sunni Triangle, where those people obviously had a lot to gain from the old regime. They don‘t like what the new regime is becoming--especially if the Shia, the people with different background from the south, dominates it. Is this like the French occupation fight for Algeria? People say they‘re looking at movies, the old movies, “The Battle of Algiers,” as a training film. Is it like that? Where you’re constantly confronting people in alleys who are going to kill you, rather than let you establish rule?
SCHWARZKOPF: There are a lot of parallels to them, although there are some people that said the French actually won the war in Algeria and then had the rug pulled out from under them by de Gaulle. So it depends upon which side you‘re looking at things from. Basically, the civilian population has left Fallujah. Therefore, you‘re pretty darn sure that when you run into somebody out there who is dressed as a civilian, you‘d better be very much on your guard. And I think it is product of every individual over there has sort of thought through this thing and what they‘re going to do if they run into that sort of circumstance. They‘re not taking anything for granted, obviously.
MATTHEWS: In terms of the French reference and a war you fought in, Vietnam, don‘t these wars always tend to be wars of attrition? That, sooner or later, the more powerful country from somewhere else says, all right, the expense has gotten too high? The casualties are relentless; we never seem to clean this place up the way we want it, so we‘re leaving? Isn‘t it always the politics in the end of the war, rather than the fighting spirit or the ability of the troops?
SCHWARZKOPF: I guess, historically, you can go back and say that. You certainly could say that about Vietnam and the way we abandoned the Vietnamese. And we left and left all of our equipment behind for them to use and then voted not to let them have any spare parts or any ammunition. And then we wondered why they lost the war. So there‘s certainly a pattern there.
MATTHEWS: And there’s also a pattern on the other side of countries that were just tired of colonialism, like the Portuguese. They fought for Angola and they fought for Mozambique. And, after a while, they said the cost of fighting this war is higher than the benefit of keeping the colony. That‘s a lot cruder way of looking at things. It is not, apparently, the American view of the way we’ve fought these wars. But, in the end, it comes down to, don’t we have to win or we will lose? Don‘t we have to establish peace or we will have to leave?
SCHWARZKOPF: I don’t think there’s any question about that. You pay a price for peace. And many times, that price is too high and you‘re not going to have peace. You hope for peace and you expect peace. That’s what you‘re fighting for. You‘re not fighting to lose, obviously. And they’re a bunch of very, very committed soldiers and sailors and airmen out there. And, believe me, they‘re fighting for the right things they believe in their heart.
MATTHEWS: Do you think the South Vietnamese, the armed forces you served with, could have held off with enough materiel, enough money from us and support after Nixon left and Jerry Ford came in and Congress cut off the money? Had they kept the money flowing to Saigon, do you think our forces could have won over there, historically?
SCHWARZKOPF: I am absolutely convinced that they could. They would have. I spent a year with Vietnamese paratroopers, national reserve, and they were some of the finest troops I have ever served with anywhere. And I saw an awful lot of great troops. But we left and said, OK, we‘re leaving, but we‘re going to leave all this stuff behind for you to use, so you won‘t be abandoned. And, if you need something, just ask for it. Then Congress passed a law against it. They had helicopters over there that couldn‘t fly because they didn‘t have the spare parts. They had guns that didn‘t have ammunition to go with them. You couldn’t expect them to survive. I think it was one of the biggest betrayals I‘ve ever run into.
MATTHEWS: Maybe somebody ought to write a book like that because that‘s an argument that you don‘t hear.
'Hardball' is the source for all political coverage. Tune in weekdays at 7 p.m. ET.