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Saturday, March 29, 2003

Remember Three Things

1. The United States and its motives are viewed with strong suspicion elsewhere in the world, particularly in the Arab and Muslim world.

2. The people of any given country do not like being attacked, let alone invaded by a foreign power, no matter how bad you might think their regime is – and even, to a large degree, how bad the people in said county themselves might think their regime is. Every leader – George W. Bush, Saddam Hussein, whomever – will normally get an boost in their support during wartime.

3. When one side in a war is grossly outnumbered or outgunned, they will tend to engage in asymmetrical warfare - or, “guerilla warfare” if you prefer.

I don’t think any of these are especially difficult concepts to grasp.

Perhaps Joe Sixpack sitting on his couch eating Ding Dongs watching Fox News may not be able to comprehend them, the people responsible for planning a full-scale invasion of another country better damn well understand the parameters. The lives of many of America’s servicemen and servicewomen are on the line.

And yet there is no sign that either the public backing this war effort or the people responsible for sending our troops into this war understand. (The troops themselves are probably getting the idea – witness today’s flap involving William “Scott” Wallace’s off-the-cuff remarks about the opposition being tougher than some leaders had believed.)

The neo-conservative fantasy brigade, led gleefully by Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, Richard Perle, and Paul Wolfowitz had managed to convince themselves, relevant decision makers, and the American people that the United States would be welcomed as liberators, and that the Iraqi army, except perhaps for the elite Republican Guard and other people in or near Saddam’s inner circle, would surrender without a fight, or at least without much of a fight. Why? Perhaps they were misled by self-serving statements by self-styled Iraqi opposition groups about how easy Operation Iraqi Freedom might be.
Perhaps they had bad intelligence, whether from the United States, Israel, or elsewhere.
But heck, it’s not like the three things I put at the top of this essay came from any classified knowledge.

Check out this interview with Vice President Cheney from March 16, less than two weeks ago, on NBC’s “Meet The Press,” in which he says, among other things:

I really do believe that we will be greeted as liberators. I’ve talked with a lot of Iraqis in the last several months myself, had them to the White House. The president and I have met with them…the read we get on the people of Iraq is there is no question but what they want to the get rid of Saddam Hussein and they will welcome as liberators the United States when we come to do that.

Or read this interview with Richard Perle, in which Pearle predicted that “support for Saddam, including within his military organization, will collapse at the first whiff of gunpowder.”


There was an unusually public difference of opinion between the above-mentioned cadre and the professional soldiers with real battlefield experience about the kind of force that might be needed in an Iraq war, and to a large (but thankfully not total) extent, the fantasy brigade’s views prevailed. The long term result is unclear, but the short term consequences – an under-defended supply line, casualties in several southern cities - are unmistakable.

Furthermore, most of the fighting thusfar has been in the south of Iraq, populated mostly by Shi’a, who, to put it mildly, have no particular love for Saddam Hussein. If “coalition forces” are not welcomed with open arms there, where in Iraq will they be? Among the Kurdish, who have been totally sold out by the United States on two separate occasions? Certainly not in Baghdad, nor in Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit.

The outrage felt in many circles about Iraqi war tactics is perhaps not surprising, but it’s not as if anyone should be shocked. Consider this…if you were running Iraq, would you fight the kind of war the pro-war Americans want you to? No, it’d be suicide. Guerillas dress in civilian clothes and disguise their weaponry all the time in wars like this. It’s in many ways a dangerous gambit, since it is almost certain to result in more Iraqi (particularly Iraqi civilian) deaths; the “fake surrender” bit is even more fraught with peril. But countries fighting for their existence led by those with little left to lose will act differently in war than the world’s only superpower fighting on the opposite side of the world.

I’m not being a moral relativist here – I’m being a realist, far more of one than those people running the show in Washington, who like to pat themselves on the back for their “tough-minded realism.”

Now it’s far too early to use words like “quagmire” to describe the military campaign. It could still be a relative cakewalk. The U.S. military is top notch, and their technical superiority is overwhelming. Iraq’s military is arguably weaker than it was during the first Gulf War. (As I have said before, I figured overthrowing Saddam Hussein would be the easy part; dealing with the after effects would make the task of overthrowing Saddam’s Baathists in Iraq seem like child’s play by comparison.)

Now, Not only does it appear that our leaders have sent our brave men and women into harm’s way in a fashion that unnecessarily endangers them, they have the unmitigated gall to push through a cut on veterans’ services, all while claiming that war protestors such as myself don’t care about our troops. I honestly hope things go well for the United States. It will minimize the suffering and death on both sides of the conflict, as well as the international diplomatic fallout. But this administration has presided over one debacle after another; I wonder if this war will turn out any different, and I have much reason to doubt that it will.


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