Hitler’s first attempt at invading Russia across the whole front in 1941 resulted in a near miss for the Russians. But Hitler treated local populations horrifically, not realizing or caring that most ethnic minorities hated Stalin. He was successful in rallying a partisan insurgent movement to stop him until spring and leave him with a weakened German army. That spring he focused initially at his prime target.
His greatest need to support his imperialist expansion was oil and the Caucasus region in southern Russia had oil. Capturing control of the oil would not only deprive the Russians of oil he would gain, but allow Hitler to turn north into the rear of the Russian population and industry. The Russian Army would not be able to shift south without exposing Moscow to invasion. To do it he would have to maintain long supply lines vulnerable to being cut off, but his belief in quick victory suppressed those concerns. Initially the Germans were successful, seizing the westernmost oil fields within six weeks.
Years earlier, Napoleon followed a similar pattern but aimed instead at Moscow, entering Russia with 700,000 French and allied troops against approximately a half million combined Russian troops. The Russians retreated steadily except for two battles, one the battle of Borodino, the bloodiest day of the war. While he easily entered Moscow, it was a city vacant of two thirds of its population and stripped of useful items with no support from the remaining population. The cause of the fire was disputed; the French, the Russians, an accident in a wooden city in the winter, who knows, but Moscow burned around Napoleon’s troops while the Russians were busy scouring the countryside to press into service another 300,000 drafted soldiers.
Hitler made a fatal mistake, like Bush with Iraq; he became obsessed with the conquest of Stalingrad (Stalin’s City) and split his forces. It was personal. The Russians giving far more resistance in Stalingrad then expected while the early easy advances in the south led Hitler to divert resources and men to Stalingrad away from the more strategic victory. In the south he soon ran into resistance from local forces having failed once again to differentiate the enemy army from people defending their homes. A situation the United States faced in Afghanistan as they penetrated semi-autonomous mountain tribal regions, pushing non-aligned locals into the alliances with the enemy. The same mistake we made in Vietnam.
Bush, like both of his predecessors with Russia, invaded Iraq with more fire power available then in any war in history against a demoralized, underequipped and undertrained force. It was a clear grab for oil as well as securing a strategic base in the Middle East to intimidate Iran, limit the sphere of influence of any resurgent Russia while expanding our own and of course like I said before, it was personal. The initial invasion was as successful as Hitler’s and Napoleon’s.
Stalingrad was easily taken, but like Baghdad it was in ruins from preparatory artillery and air attacks, and again like Baghdad, was no where near surrender. Hitler like Napoleon in Moscow or Bush claimed victory prematurely. Chaos erupted in the devastated city with no area in certain German control, sound familiar. They fought house to house to take the city.
Napoleon found himself in similar straits, the victor of a city with the majority of the population and resources removed, those left of no help, any shelter for winter burnt to the ground, harassed by insurgents and Cossacks. Napoleon had to retreat and was immediately turned by a renewed flanking Russian army into a path already stripped of any supplies by both armies.
In the middle of one of the greatest military disasters in history, Napoleon deserted his men on the battlefield to return to Paris to strengthen his grasp on power in light of an attempted coup d’état. All three put self serving power interests ahead of the interests of their army or their nation. The army suffered a string of running defeats, disruption of supply lines by Cossack cavalry, typhus and winter weather that ground the 700,000 man Grand Arm’ee down to 20,000 survivors with nothing to show for it. It was the turning point to Napoleon’s end, even though he was able to embroil Europe in war for another two years with the British and Germans.
Hitler’s obsession proved fatal by February. He was surprised by a Russian counter-attack; two German Armies of 300,000 were surrounded. 90,000 survived to surrender. Hitler lost a million men, killed 25 million people and gained nothing, the Nazi demise inevitable from there on.
Bush has made the same mistakes and now faces the same choices. When and how we will withdraw from Iraq is yet to be determined, but that we will withdraw is certain. The only question is whether Bush will press on like Hitler and destroy an army in the process or follow Napoleon and desert them for political concerns at home, leaving them to hold out in a slowly worsening war of attrition with the same result. One thing is for sure, Bush shares the hubris of both.