April 01, 2003

Where Are We? It has

Where Are We?

It has been a difficult week for those, like me, who advocated American intervention in Iraq. Cascading rose petals, courtesy of grateful locals, are not yet greeting American "liberators." Entrenched and seemingly highly motivated Fedayeen forces are burrowing into civilian areas and using guerilla tactics to inflict pain on coalition forces. Long supply chains remain vulnerable and there are reports that GIs have been reduced to nibbling on one MRE a day. Marketplace massacres (not caused by genocidal Bosnian Serb gunners) make the news as civilian casualty tolls grow steadily. Suicide taxis blow up U.S. GI's--and so new "rules of engagement" are duly passed. The early results, predictably, the deaths of women and children in a civilian vehicle. Meanwhile, Iraqis in the relative safety of Jordan board buses to, you guessed it, head back to Baghdad to fight the neo-imperialistic (or infidel) invaders. Saddam might not be too popular, but nationalistic (or religious) heartstrings are evidently being pulled. For good measure, wider pan-Arab instincts are kicking into higher gear too. Palestinians (and some reports indicate Syrians) are also reportedly being sheperded back to Iraq to take up arms. Meanwhile a combative Don Rumsfeld, apparently not sufficiently alarmed by all these going-ons, was warning Damascus and Teheran to behave lest they be viewed as perpetrating hostile acts. Hell, some wondered, did Perle, Wolfy and Doug Feith really trounce Powell, Tenet and gang to such an extent? Would we take over the whole, damn region if need be? Surely the pinstripes at Foggy Bottom would protest vociferously? No, quite the contrary. Powell would follow up Don Rumsfeld's diktats with his own warning to Syria and Iran--delivered at the unlikely forum of AIPAC. More wonderful imagery to be digested (with difficulty) in the government halls of Cairo, Riyadh, Damascus and Teheran.

And what were the causes of all the above problems, why were we in the "region" to begin with, really? Maybe it wasn't about oil, or Poppy's unfinished business, or WMD, or the integrity of the U.N and its resolutions, or terrorism or Christian evangelical fervor or bringing democracy to the beleagered Iraqi masses? No, a nation was in the grips of a national hysteria. She was flailing wildly to regain her balance after, given her relative insulation by two wide oceans, an attack whose rareness and severity panicked the nation and wounded her psyche greviously. Kicking a little butt in Afghanistan didn't quite restore the nation to equilibrium, it was, well, a tad too easy and quick. In short, we were still smarting big time and needed more targets to take out. And there was a convenient bogeyman out there, we had fought a war with him before, but left him around because we were worried about all these things that we weren't worried about this time. Little things like not surpassing the mandate the international community had provided through U.N. resolutions, not engaging in actions allies of long standing were not comfortable with in terms of expanding war aims, not risking Iraq's territorial integrity. But now, post 9/11, all was different. New doctrines of preemption were needed--and damn the consequences if all those weasely Frogs and Krauts didn't get it. Who the hell needed them anyway? Or the U.N. or NATO? All these institutions were obsolete now as we often heard advocated in precincts like AEI or in the pages of the Weekly Standard.

Legions of Washingtonian think-tankers and politicians and lobbyists and Manhattan moneymen continued to float around their respective centers of American power with omnipresent flag-pins on their suits. Symbolizing what, exactly? That, wherever this war on terror goes, we support you Mr. President. From the Philippines to the Pankisi Gorge, from the tri-border Area in Latin America to the coasts of Djibouti, from Kabul to Baghdad to NoKo to Iran to Damascus to Gaza just do what you gotta do. Because we never want another 9/11. And the 24 hour cable stations began reporting on the latest war in a manner appropriate to March Madness, with a wide moronic den of idiocy emanating from places like Fox News that gave Al-Jazeera a run for their money as a propaganda organ. Meanwhile, statesman of some standing were increasingly widely loathed. Jacques Chirac? Warning us about the creations of little Bin Ladens? Hosni Mubarak the same? What do these cowardly or quasi-authoritarian idiots know? How does war in Iraq create more Saudi multimillionaires hell-bent on jihad (many mocked)? And don't dare suggest that pictures of dead civilians in Nasariyah, Najwan, Basra, Baghdad or Tikrit would lead to any animus in the region. We're just liberating cowed folks from the brutal yoke of Saddamism. They will thank us shortly--including the POWs hooded up a la Gitmo providing more images beamed around Aleppo and Alexandria drawing rooms tapping ever more deeply into wellsprings of Arab humiliation.

It's enough to Robin Cook it--turn tail and advocate we get the hell out. If not quite a Vietnam style quagmire, we at least have "spider webs" of Special Republican Guard awaiting to ambush us in the myriad back alleys of a Stalingrad on the Tigris. Heavy coalition casualties will lead to a "siege" strategy. Humanitarian horrors will result. Civilians will die in large numbers--their suffering beamed about helpfully by al-J (or Peter Arnett). Let's just get out now--strike a deal with Saddam--where the hell is Yevgeny Primakov when you need him!

Well folks, that's certainly one story line making the rounds. But here are ten good reasons why we need (or should) see this campaign through despite all the hand-wringing:

1) This war is not even two weeks old. We are in control of huge swaths of southern, western and northern Iraq. We have near complete control of the skies. We have lost fewer than 100 men in fighting and, even according to likely inflated Iraqi figures, civilian deaths remain under 500 as of this writing. Supply lines are thin and underprotected--but improving daily. We are wearing down the Republican Guard units outside Baghdad--softening them with the use of airpower--before finishing them off with our manpower.

2) To even consider pulling out now would be a blow to American legitimacy and its power and credibility unparalled in my lifetime (I'm 30, btw!). It's is unthinkable as a serious policy option. NoKo and Iran would turn on the nuclear processing with an unprecedented alacrity. We would have been revealed as a paper tiger--full of bluster with no conviction or seriousness of purpose.

3) This is not a war to conquer the Middle East. I still believe, deeply and despite Rummy's recent comments, that we would not embark on the folly of military adventures in Syria or Iran unless grotesque miscalculations are in the offing in either of these countries and they begin to provide very significant supplies or personnel, in consistency and large number, to Baghdad. I doubt either party will do so as each realizes such actions would be reckless in the extreme. So too, however, would it be reckless for us to embark on punitive strikes on these countries at this juncture or, indeed, in the future while reconstructing Iraq. Demographic trends in Iran augur well for liberalization of that society. Syria has cooperated with the U.S. closely on intelligence sharing with regard to al-Qaeda. We have unofficial or official relationships with these countries that shouldn't be easily squandered. So let's cool Rummy down a bit--he's got his hands full already anyway. And let's remember that large segments of Dubya's administration don't want to expand the conflict beyond Iraq, including very likely, the President himself.

4) It's still about the WMD. We find Iraqi units with chemical protection gear almost daily. Why? Saddam flouted 1441 and we were right to hold him to account. Let's not forget that in the fog of war. Containment of WMD by rogue regimes is a crucial post 9/11 strategic necessity.

5) The reception to coalition troops will get warmer as a) the specter of Saddam's terror apparatus fades, not only because locals see coalitions troops patrolling their town and cities, but also because the passage of more time allows them to "breathe" and feel more confident; b) humanitarian aid deliveries become less chaotic and more organized so that not only the fit gain food and medicine; and c) they realize this isn't a '91 replay with rebellions fanned only to be left in the lurch to the mercy of Saddam's henchmen.

6) The Kurds, a chronically abused and stateless peoples, will be able to enjoy the fruits of an autonomy with representation in a central government.

7) The reception among Sunnis (aside from the Tikrit gang) may be warmer than expected. For one, they don't have the memory of being betrayed by U.S. forces as did the Shi'a in '91.

8) Through magnanimity in victory and careful, methodical diplomacy none of the damage done to our relationships with key European allies is irreperable.

9) The U.N. and NATO are not dead.

10) The U.S. still has a chance at gaining respect and trust among the Arab and Islamic world if a coherent and sustained nation-building effort follows a relatively quick victory (say 1-2 months) that doesn't result in horrific scenes of carnage during the Battle for Baghdad with power (and the nation's oil supplies) turned over to Iraqis as quickly as possible.

Posted by Gregory at April 1, 2003 12:20 AM
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