April 02, 2003

Food for Thought As of

Food for Thought

As of today, 75 individuals have died from the Severe Acute Respitory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak. Total allied fatalities to date in the Iraq campaign? Seventy-three.

Of course, there is no way of knowing how many members of the Iraqi military have perished. As for Iraqi civilians, this website keeps a tally. Each of these deaths is tragic, not only civilians deaths but also Iraqi military personnel that have been forcibly sent to fight rather than Baathist loyalists and the like fighting of their own volition.

But, and bearing in mind the cautionary note that we are entering the most difficult phase of the war, note that total casualties to date (discounting the unknowable tally for the Iraqi military) are under 800.

In terms of U.S. military casualties, as this site indicates, these are casualty totals well under historic norms. As warfare becomes more precise and the U.S. enjoys unmatched military supremacy, war fatalities appear to be on a steady downward trend for both U.S. military personnel and civilians.

Regarding civilian casualties, the totals so far remain well below recent conflicts including, for instance, Chechnya. Western media, over the course of the two Chechen conflicts spanning from 1994 to the present time, estimate between 100,000 to 200,000 civilian deaths as the above linked site indicates. So far in Iraq there have been, at most, fewer than 750 civilian casualties.

Let's keep that in mind in the coming days. The United States, because of its incredible "hard" and "soft" power, because it is so widely resented as a hegemon, because it so often breeds an odd hybrid of fascination, resentment, fear and, yes, enthusiasm (still)--is often held to standards in the conduct of its warfare wholly different than, say, a Russia. That's fine, of course, as we wouldn't want to compare the conduct of a war of supposed "liberation" with a conflict aimed at continuing to keep an entire peoples involuntarily under the Russian yoke.

But the massive difference in civilian casualties, and the fact that the Islamic world is so much more alarmed by the conflict in Iraq than the one in Chechnya, tells us something. At least 100,000 Muslim civilians were killed in Chechnya--and the streets of Cairo or Damascus were much more quiet than they are today--when a relatively modest 750 or so civilians have been killed. Why?

In large part, obviously, because this war is taking place in the heart of the Arab world and there is concern that the U.S. wishes to dominate the entire region--while Chechnya is tucked away on the southern periphery of Russia. And, of course, the close relationship between Washington D.C. and Tel Aviv is another reason that much suspicion and animosity exists among Arabs regarding U.S. motives in the region.

But I remain optimistic that, assuming relatively low casualties and a somewhat speedy conclusion to hostilities, and making all efforts so as not to appear as occupiers during the postwar scene, this ambitious project might yet yield a warmer reaction in the Arab world. As Tom Friedman points out today, there is a "skeptical curiousity" among some Arabs about what a liberalized Iraq might mean for the region. Tapping into that skeptical curiousity and transforming it into something altogether friendlier and more constructive presents the grand challenge to American policymakers once this conflict is over. More on this last soon.

Posted by Gregory at April 2, 2003 11:36 AM
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