Iraq War #3

Originally posted April 20, 2003

As of this writing, the combat part of the Iraqi war seems to be winding down. Several aircraft carriers have been sent to other locales, and the marines have turned over their part of Baghdad to the army. There are no major pockets of resistance left. A large majority of Americans seem pleased with our efforts there. I remain opposed to the entire enterprise, and I am dismayed that so far events in Iraq are progressing as I feared they would.

The duration of the war was about as I had predicted earlier, about a month. But the combat itself has never been my concern. I’ve always been more worried about how we handle Iraq after the serious fighting stops, and how the various groups in Iraq relate to each other in the absence of a strong government in Baghdad. Ancillary concerns of mine include our general reputation and effectiveness in international affairs, and how much the Arab world increases its hatred of us.

To be fair, I have been pleasantly surprised by a few things. First, the number of U.S. casualties has been very light – lighter than I would have expected. Second, no chemical or biological weapons have been used, at least not to date. Third, the Kurds and Turks have behaved, more or less, so far. My biggest surprise was that Saddam apparently did not have even a few suicidal agents in this country to create any problems here. Given that just a handful of dedicated enemy agents could have created quite a bit of panic here, I really thought he could have at least pulled this off. That he didn’t (or couldn’t) makes me even more dubious of the threat his regime was supposed to have represented. Some unpleasant surprises include not protecting the national museum, not clamping down on the looters quickly enough, and not having better resources in place to repair the water and power systems.

But the hard part now begins. And it is beginning badly. Aside from the sycophantic exile leaders that are sponsored by the U.S., I haven’t heard one significant Iraqi group that wants the Americans to stay around, or that has given us more than token thanks. The Kurds and the Shiites have already started maneuvering for power in their respective parts of Iraq. I worry most about Iran and its ties to the Shiite majority. It was the Imams that managed to bring some order to their cities, not the U.S. forces, and there will be a price to be paid for that. I have not yet heard even a proposed plan for giving Iraqis control of their own country.

As for Arab hatred of the U.S., I understand that it is quite intense across the world. Many Americans won’t care about this, or will say that they hate us anyway, so what’s the big deal? I will answer by saying that maybe 10 years ago they liked us quite a bit. I’ve travelled the area enough to have picked that up. They’ve always not liked our support of Israel, but a while back we seemed to be getting more even-handed. As just one example, remember Camp David? There are at least two reasons why we should care about how the Arabs feel. First, if just a small percentage of them hate us enough to commit terrorist attacks, we’ll have a big problem. Second, it makes the leaders of any Arab country less able to be friendly to us, assuming they even want to be.

Now I see news items about us having to stay there for 5 years, or wanting 4 permanent military bases in the country. Neither of these is official, yet, but they are indications of just how deeply we have gotten ourselves involved in a part of the world that has long memories and holds deep grudges.

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