War on Iraq

The Six-Day War

The Pax Americana that Cheney, Wolfowitz, Perle, and their ilk envisioned for Iraq -- and eventually the whole region -- simply cannot be achieved through brute force alone.
Historians won't call this The Six Days' War; that name belongs to another Middle Eastern military rout with far-reaching consequences.

But by last Wednesday, the outcome of George Bush's invasion of Iraq was decided. The only remaining unknowns are how many months or years it will take America and Britain to figure out that they have already lost, and how many people will die in the interim.

From the beginning, Bush Administration rationales for this invasion have been based on the premise that Americans (and their faithful canine companions, the Brits) would be welcomed with open arms by both Iraqi civilians and soldiers. Once the prospect of life without Saddam appeared truly at hand, the Iraqi tyrant's brutal house of cards would collapse. Whole divisions, whole cities, would surrender without a shot. The war would last not much longer than it would take to drive to Baghdad (albeit on lousy roads), and the victory parade in Baghdad would make Paris on V-Day look tame. Some Bushites took the notion even farther; as with post-war Europe, all the Middle East would come to adore America, ushering in an era of peace and prosperity for all.

As Gilda Radner might once have said:

Never mind.

It was evident by the middle of last week, and has become increasingly evident each day since -- even through the muddle of U.S. media coverage and frantic spinning in Washington and London -- that Iraqis do not want the Americans in their country. Period. We are not welcome. Even if it means keeping Saddam. Even if it means guerilla war against a military using overwhelming force. Iraqis will not simply give up; nor will they spontaneously rise and do America's work for it by toppling Saddam Hussein. It seems to have never occurred to Bush and his advisors that people who hate Saddam wouldn't automatically welcome America -- that not everyone casts their loyalties in black and white, "with us or against us," enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend thinking.

This represents more than a military inconvenience to the American forces. It means more than a loss of the war's purported rationale. What it means is that even with all the firepower in the world -- especially with all the firepower in the world -- the United States cannot win this war. The Pax Americana that Cheney, Wolfowitz, Perle, and their ilk envisioned for Iraq -- and eventually the whole region -- simply cannot be achieved through brute force alone. That's what we're starting to see already.

Amazingly, Pentagon planners seemed to be caught flat-footed by the guerrilla tactics employed by the Iraqis -- tactics which are the only conceivable means of opposition for a resistance with no air power, with few resources, and that knows it cannot possibly compete with the Americans' firepower -- but knows the land like the back of its hand and has been thinking about, and practicing, how to defend it in wartime for over 20 years. Donald Rumsfeld's bellowing about Iraq's unfair tactics evokes the British, 225 years ago, complaining that the Yanks didn't stand in a row and fight the way the Redcoats did.

Meanwhile, Rumsfeld -- and Bush -- deserve to lose their jobs based on the military planning alone. Forget, for a moment, the complete evaporation of all of the other original rationales for this war. Forget that no weapons of mass destruction have been found, and the purported threat of further terrorist attack against the U.S. has yet to materialize.

Because Iraqis don't want to be "liberated" by the U.S., in only a week, the 30-70,000 troops on the ground inside Iraq have been shown to be a much, much smaller force than is necessary to seize Iraq's cities. Even that size force, in only a week, was in many places running out of food, water, gas, and/or bullets -- a completely avoidable logistical nightmare.

The widespread expectation that conquering Iraq would be a military cakewalk, with only minor and manageable resentments by the natives afterwards, has colored every facet of the United States' preparation in the long months leading up to this invasion. The same arrogance that led pundits like Bill O'Reilly to mock guests who didn't think the war would be over in days or even hours, and that led the Pentagon's spin doctors to invite blow-dry reporters along for a joy ride, seems to have generated an invasion plan predicated on the idea that the invasion would be over as soon as the Americans showed up.

The war thus far has been notable for one other element -- the extraordinary measures the Pentagon has, in fact, taken thus far to avoid civilian casualties. This has been more than PR spinning; the U.S. really has undertaken a fundamental shift in military strategy, relying on its surveillance assets and precision weaponry, and not simply unloading "Shock and Awe" type tonnage on Iraq's cities. Ground troops have, in fact, thus far mostly avoided Iraq's cities.

Three major factors have likely gone into this shift. One is that the U.S. intends to run Iraq after it topples Saddam, and would like to both not have to rebuild more than necessary and not offend its new vassals more than necessary. Secondly, the enormous global opposition to this war -- including the opposition here at home -- has likely had an impact. Washington would clearly not like to exacerbate anti-American feelings even more through wholesale slaughter of civilians.

But most importantly, the Americans aren't incinerating vast sections of Iraq's cities and towns because they didn't think they needed to. That could change, and soon. The Americans weren't wanting and won't tolerate lengthy sieges, or holding their fire as sitting ducks in a hostile land. Eventually they'll start unleashing the bigger guns.

Meanwhile, Iraqis living in Jordan and other Middle Eastern countries -- people who, by and large, hate Saddam Hussein with a passion -- are flooding back to defend their country against the Western invaders. Other Muslims and Arabs from throughout the region are starting to join them; already, American officials are warning Syria and Iran (and Russia) about the military weapons and supplies finding their way into Iraq. The murmurings of a broader regional war are barely audible -- or at least a tacit understanding, transcending colonial borders, that the Americans must be driven out. Regardless of whether Baghdad "falls" or the Americans install a replacement government, the resistance will continue until the Americans can find a graceful way to leave.

After only a week, British soldiers were already talking about the similarity between their encirclement of Southern Iraq towns and their experiences in Northern Ireland, where every civilian coming and going must be searched, the locals know the land and the hiding places, and the attacks keep coming anyway. The difference is that Iraq, unlike Northern Ireland, is a desperately poor country where disease and famine already lurk; the privations of wartime threaten to make that bad situation far worse.

Bush's folly wasn't supposed to turn into a Persian version of "Red, White, and Blue Dawn." Now that it is under way, there will be enormous pressure to escalate the military tactics, to discard the caution regarding civilian casualties, to push for the sort of "decisive" military victory our MBA President promised in his prospectus.

But it would be a mistake -- not only for the tremendous loss of life it would cause, and not only because of the global anti-American sentiment it would fuel, but because it would not, in the end, do any good. Somehow, George Bush was so busy invoking World War II that he forgot not only Vietnam, but the lessons of his own administration in Afghanistan. The U.S. managed to rout the Taliban and its rag-tag Army from power, but only 15 months later, it barely controls the capital city and has let the rest of the country slide back into civil war.

With oil resources at stake, the rest of the Muslim world enraged, and America's post-9/11 moral capital forgotten, it's hard to imagine that Iraq will turn out better. Even the most likely scenarios in which Saddam Hussein loses power are ugly: ever-increasing casualties, mostly among civilians, in a protracted Ba'Athist guerilla war; or, Iraq splintering into multiple nation-states or a multi-sided civil war; or, an expanded regional conflict involving Syria, Iran, other Muslim forces, and/or Israeli or Palestinian supporters attempting to draw Israel more directly into the conflict.

Meanwhile, the oil fields are vulnerable to attack; the whole operation is staggeringly expensive; and Bush himself will be under increasing pressure, as an election nears, to answer for his handling of both military and economic matters. And bear in mind that we're only 10 days into this one. With war comes surprises, and most of the imaginable ones aren't good.

The bottom line is that the long-term danger to American security, and damage to America's political and economic standing in the world, is likely to continue to rise so long as American forces are in Iraq. The danger and the damage will only subside when we leave.

And all because we thought they'd love us.
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