Dedicated to the brave Tunisian people who had what it took to attempt the (quite literally) impossible (no matter how harsh that reality is).

Note that this was originally written in the context of the replacement regime quite clearly trying to cling on to power, meaning that there was a clear imperative to forcibly dislodge the regime, which meant going toe-to-toe with men in the streets weilding automatic weapons. Since 2011-01-28 the regime went through a large purge that is likely (but not guaranteed) to prevent the need to clash with the security forces and hope that they defect. However, it serves as a reminder to anyone else attempting to repeat the same thing and wondering why they aren't meeting with the same success and wondering if it is them that is doing something wrong (short answer is no, it isn't your fault).

Winning wars is a two-step process:

1. Develop superior weapons to the opponent.
2. Use those superior weapons.

Right at the moment (in the whole world, not including nuclear warfare), the superior weapons that matter are:

1. Air-to-air missiles to defeat the other guy's planes.
2. Planes to defeat the other guy's tanks.
3. Tanks to defeat the other guy's automatic weapons.
4. Automatic weapons to defeat the other guy's fists and bravery and numbers and inspiration and anything else he may think he has going for him.

Think - rock, scissors, paper - except only 50% (e.g.) chance that paper can take rock - a coin flip determines that.

The normal thing for an invading force to do is to start at the top and work his way down.

The normal thing for a dictator to do is start at the bottom and work his way up.

So far in Tunisia the order hasn't even come through to start at option 4. Certainly not in a serious and determined manner. (We now know that the order had been given, but the Chief of the Army refused the order, and effectively staged a brief military coup, which is how he managed to eject Ben Ali (the Tunisian dictator). Apparently the dictator didn't vett the security forces properly. A properly vetted (by the dictator) security force will be loyal to the dictator, not the people.)

In Iraq in 1991, Saddam gave the order, and force was escalated up to option 2, except it was helicopters that were used instead of planes, because planes weren't allowed due to a ceasefire agreement he had signed. But that's OK, because the other side didn't have helicopters or planes.

100,000 Iraqis were slaughtered, for no actual benefit to anyone at all.

Why did this mass suicide occur? Because of a gigantic misunderstanding at multiple levels.

Bush Snr asked the Iraqis to rise up. Why? Because he was an American, and Americans are raised with fairy tales about how they had a glorious revolution, which would be far more accurately described as "French military victory", but Americans don't like to admit that, because their entire national identity is based on stealing a French victory and claiming it as their own. It's a bit like the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan bragging that they defeated a 7-fold superior force to their own (ie the Taliban) in just 2 months all on their own. Were they all alone on the ground? Yep. Besides some minor quibbling, anyway.

In addition to the French doing the heavy-lifting in that war, the Americans never had to face automatic weapons. Some of their (French-supplied) weaponry was even superior to what the British were using. So the difference in military technology wasn't that great. It was very very far from Americans waking up one day and pouring into the streets and defeating the security forces. It can't even be described as a popular revolt, when less than 50% of Americans even supported it (French military prowess meant that that was unimportant - what percentage of the population did Ben Ali have on his side? 5%? So long as those 5% are the majority of the security forces, all is cool - cool for the dictator, anyway). But you have to go to the dark corners of the internet to find an American willing to admit this. There are some dark corners available for public consumption, here's one:
(that's a blog by an American soldier by the way - you know - as in - in America).

Even when it's spelled out in black and white, most Americans will not give up their folklore. It's too much for them to take. Don't bother trying. Just focus on what it means for Tunisians since that is what is at stake at the moment. The intended audience of this article is Tunisians, not Americans, anyway - since American weaponry is currently silent (thus rendering it unimportant and irrelevant by political fiat), while Tunisian weaponry is moving around the streets of Tunis and more importantly moving in an unpredictable manner. Arguing the toss about 1991 is not worth debating either. Because it isn't entirely the American's fault. Someone translated "why don't you rise up?" into "we will support you if you rise up, despite the fact that we just legally committed ourselves to a ceasefire agreement".

The folklore can be ignored to an extent. America is a sovereign country and they are welcome to lie to themselves.

What they are not welcome to do is say:

1. Iraqis, rise up "just like we did" if you want your freedom and then distance themselves from the resultant suicide. It's technically impossible. Nothing to do with right or wrong. Nothing to do with bravery. Nothing to do with loving freedom. It's a minor technical fact. War is a science, not an opportunity to make music videos. The correct thing to do was to say "Iraqis, we would love you to be free, but I'm afraid we have other priorities right now, we'll be back later, and by the way, it is technically impossible for you to defeat a sophisticated modern military, so I'm afraid you'll just have to wait".

2. Nobody deserves freedom unless they rise up and do it themselves "just like we did".

3. Tunisians - you are now safe, since you have just done a successful revolution like we did. So relax, don't use force, just go back home and relax and stick with "peace" (usually code word for "dictatorship") and "security" (usually code word for "decades of insecurity under a dictatorship").

Not unless they want a savage rebuke in the free marketplace of ideas, anyway.

Count them. 100,000. For nothing. It's not just a number. And it's not even for freedom when they didn't actually get freedom in 1991. That happened much later. If they had at least got freedom at the end of it you can an at least (attempt to?) make the case "that blood of our martyrs was the price for freedom". After all, the Russians were willing to sacrifice 20 million in WW2 just to get a better dictator - nevermind total freedom. There's no perfect way to crunch such numbers.

Tunisians will not have won this war until it is laughable that anything more than 1% of the security forces (police and army) would oppress the people. And that 99% of the security forces would in fact be honoured to die in defence of the people, as that's what they signed up for, and what they swore an oath to do, and that's what the culture's folklore says is heroic and honorable and you even get streets/airports named after you for doing so. The situation we have right at the moment is, shall we say, "some distance from that".

However, the dictatorship doesn't have what it needs either. The dictatorship doesn't know what percentage of the military will obey an order to attack the people. So they are probably scared to give the order (they will be in serious shit if they give the order and it goes the wrong way for them). The only people who know the truth are the security people themselves, and even they only know about themselves. The only way to extract the truth from their brains is via secret ballot in free and fair elections.

That is why the situation at the moment is militarily unknown and unknowable until you see the end result. Anyone who tells you they know the end result is a fool, and when we do find out the end result of this conflict, assuming their 50/50 chance went the wrong way, they will be the first ones to scream "it was obvious", even when their predicted result was wrong. They instead come up with another line of bullshit to explain away the first one, and then viciously defend both bits of bulllshit.

All this would be so much simpler if you just called up NATO air support to support whichever elements of the Tunisian security forces that wish to pledge loyalty to the people. The regime will quickly fold at that point, assuming they have read the "Dummies Guide to Winning Wars" and know that it is all over, bar the shouting. Only an idiot like Saddam who insists that the Laws of Physics don't apply to him asks to see the shouting. Anyone with a brain just accepts an asylum offer and a pile of cash (amounting to about 0.01% of one year's GDP as a once-off cost) and goes to Saudi Arabia, along with their scabby little kids. Note that when Saddam chose to do that, I was wondering if he had some sort of secret weapon that western military scientists hadn't taken into account, because the behaviour was inconsistent with all number-crunching I was able to do. The fact that he was simply a complete moron who didn't use science to fight wars was the second possibility, but it's wise not to underestimate your enemy. There's a great article about "Saddam's logic" available on the web:
A must read for anyone with a logical brain. For everyone else, a "source of inspiration" for how the human spirit can even overcome the Laws of Physics if you try hard enough, and use John Edwards as a medium.

But there are two reasons why NATO planes will not be doing that:

1. For historical reasons, the Tunisians have deep distrust of western security forces - even though Turkey is a member and could be the ones providing the planes.

2. For historical reasons, western leaders are too scared to send NATO forces to Tunisia because they are scared of one nasty word from both westerners and non-westerners - "colonialism". They would quite literally rather see 10 million Tunisians lose their freedom than have that nasty word used against them (even though it gets used against them constantly anyway).

Both of these things are REAL WORLD CONSTRAINTS. EVERY problem in the world has real world constraints, otherwise the solution to every problem would be "wave a magic wand and make it so!".

Within the parameters of those constraints, you need to get the security forces to change sides. There is no "guaranteed solution" to that problem. There's too little historical data to work with to even begin coming up with average and standard deviation values to allow intelligent guesses to be made.

Note that it is a human truth that a teaspoon of honey (ie get some old women to walk up to the soldiers and offer them sweets and say "why is my son pointing a weapon at me?" hoping that they will change sides) catches more flies than a bucketful of lard. So my advice would be to set up a win/win situation, cut a deal, and your children will have a bright future, even if you are a bit pissed off that you didn't get everything you wanted. You need to learn to live with that situation regardless. In a democracy you never get everything you want and have to compromise. Our societies wouldn't function otherwise.

Over to you Tunisia - only you can win this (still unwon) fight ...

P.S. If you think this article suggests that I am anti-American, then you have yet another misunderstanding, which I will clear up in another forum another day.

P.P.S. Even if you think I'm completely full of shit, and there is a 99% chance of victory, rather than "50/50 - who the hell knows", then I urge you to remember the saying "the price of freedom is eternal vigilence" - spend your time worrying about the 1% - like I would do - even if I really believed it was 1% - and the 99% will take care of itself. ie assume worst-case scenario and whatever happens, you'll end up with a bright future for your children. Or killfile me - whatever dude.

P.P.P.S. Regarding all the "what about xyz battle/war" inevitable questions, I can answer the ones I have researched, but it is generally easier to take these discussions to one of the military forums where you will generally find that x% of the participants have a grasp on harsh reality.

P.P.P.P.S. If you take an "all or nothing" approach to negotiations with the former regime, you may well end up with "nothing". If you concentrate on what is best for your children - your children will be COMPLETELY UNAFFECTED if you give amnesty to the former regime. However they will be TERRIBLY AFFECTED if you fail. Some people call this a "no brainer". Other people don't go overboard with spoiling their children.

P.P.P.P.P.S. Whatever you do - do NOT surrender the streets until you get 100% victory or you cut a deal for your children's sake. If you surrender the streets, you may well be on the wrong end of vengeance like the poor Iranians were. Nothing short of external invasion can change the military reality of the Iranians (and I have no faith at all that Obama will order one of those - or Sarkozy for that matter - at the end of the day, western politicians are just glorified baboons). And do not listen to Slim. He has sold you out for whatever reason. Probably a fiber-optic broadband connection and unlimited download quota and a lifetime pass to every porn site in Europe. Hell - wouldn't you?