This is Only the Beginning
Some more thoughts about the war (6):
By Uri Avnery, 12.4.03
# The white man’s burden. A depressing thought: the Iraq war proves that in the year 2003 AD, the world has not
essentially changed since 2003 BC. A military power can attack a weak nation, conquer its territory and plunder its resources. There is no world law, no world moral order. Might is right.
The weapons are of the 21st century, but they serve 19th century aims. This is a classical colonial war. Iraq is becoming an American colony, to remain so for a long time.
The pretexts come from the old colonialist phrase-book. A country is conquered in order to “liberate” the natives from their cruel tyrants. Their resources are stolen, in order to raise their
standard of living, give an (elementary) education to their children, keep a colonial administration that will teach them democracy.
This is also a divine mission. The missionaries always come
with the army, and sometimes even precede it. The cross and the canon, religion and oppression, the church and the plunder of resources go very well together.
For the poet laureate of the era, Rudyard Kipling, that was the “white man’s burden”. But when colonialism retreated, it left behind a social, cultural and economic desert, which persists in
the “third world” to this day.
# To shoot a lame duck. The triumphalism of America, Britain and Israel is a little misplaced.
The only super-power in the world has attacked a little country of 26 million people, starved for years by sanctions. A mighty and well-fed army, equipped with the most sophisticated
arms the world has ever seen, confronted an army that has been largely disarmed before the fighting even started. The powerful air force that controls the skies without opposition was sent
against a country whose air defenses have been bombed for years beforehand.
In a modern war, control of the air is the decisive factor. Sixty
years ago, when the air force and its weapons were much more primitive, Field Marshal Rommel told Hitler that the Allies’ domination of the skies made it impossible for the German army
to maneuver and bring in reinforcements. Therefore, he said, his army would be unable to defeat the Anglo-American forces once they succeeded in securing a bridgehead on the French coast. If
we don’t destroy them in the first few hours, he told Hitler, the battle is lost. The Fuehrer did not listen to his advice, and the results are well known.
If this was true then for the mighty Wehrmacht, it was true now a thousand times for the battered Iraqi forces. From the first minute on, no Iraqi tank could appear in the open without being
destroyed from the air. No division and no company could occupy a position, let alone move, without the missiles and bombs pounding it to dust. Decent hunters do not shoot at sitting
ducks. But that is exactly what happened in Iraq.
Not long ago I said, quoting the Bible, that the Americans should not boast before the war is finished. This is true after the
war, too. There is nothing to boast about. Tommy Franks will not go down in history as one of the great leaders of armies, next to Alexander and Napoleon. If the Iraqis held on for 21 days, that
itself was an achievement.
# A stupid brute. Saddam Hussein can take no credit for that achievement. As it turns out, he was not only a brutal and cruel
dictator, but a stupid one to boot.
Clearly, he had never read a serious book about strategy, and did not receive good advice from his generals. That is one of
the troubles of dictators, dating back to Biblical times, when Absalom, King David’s rebellious son, rejected the good advice of Ahithophel: generally the dictator does not listen to advice, and
the advisors tend to tell the dictator only what he wants to hear.
From the Iraqi point of view, it would have been right to avoid battle in the open desert, where a modern army has an immense
advantage, and to draw the invaders into the cities. But for that purpose, Saddam had to dispose his army inside the cities and prepare for a Stalingrad-like defense. Instead, he exposed his
elite Republican Guard outside Baghdad, in the open, where they were systematically destroyed by the US airforce. Inside the city itself nothing was prepared, no plan, no command structure, no
adequate arms. It fell like a rotten apple. Neither the American generals nor the commentators expected this. Neither did I.
Saddam had his chance to go down in history as the leader of
a glorious, if hopeless, last stand. But now his appropriate memorial is the decapitated bronze statue that starred on television.
# The dis-information force. This war was waged simultaneously in two arenas: in the field and on television.
There was hardly any resemblance between the two.
Television was an accompaniment to previous wars. But in this war, television has become an integral part of the war itself,
one of its major battlefields, if not the most important one.
From now on, TV is a component of the armed forces, along with the army, the navy and the airforce. Like them it is directed
by the command structure.
Much thought and effort was devoted to this arm. General Myers, the No.1 soldier in Washington, and General Franks, the
commander of the actual campaign, personally took part in the action. (It was a stroke of genius to put a black general into the center of the picture.)
The aim is to engender in the mind of the home audience, world public opinion and perhaps even in the mind of the enemy a picture of the war that has no connection with reality. That is
easy, because there is no more mendacious instrument than television. He who controls it, controls the picture of reality, and thereby the mind of the viewer.
For example: in order to support the claim that the aim of the war was to “liberate” the Iraqi people, it was essential to show the Iraqi population welcoming the liberators with joy. Television
delivered the goods.
Nothing easier: simply fill the frame with a hundred jumping and shouting people, in order to create the impression that a
whole country is jumping and shouting. Nobody will ask: Who the hell are they? Where did they come from? Who called them together? Did they get anything in return? Aren’t they, by
chance, the same people who jumped and shouted a few days ago “with our soul and blood we will redeem you, Saddam?” And where are the other 5 million inhabitants of Baghdad? What do they think and feel?
During five very long hours all Western TV stations (and Al Jazeera as well) concentrated on showing a crowd of Iraqis trying to bring down a giant statue of Saddam in the center of
Baghdad. A discerning eye could notice that the crowd was no more than a hundred people, certainly half of them journalists. The statue-smashers acted manifestly for the camera. But
television-wise, that was “the Iraqi people”. This picture will remain fixed in the mind of the world as the defining image of the “liberation”.
Only Thomas Friedman, a very arrogant and very patriotic observer, independently interviewed Iraqis and reported that they indeed were glad to be rid of Saddam, but that they viewed
the Americans as foreign invaders who should leave at once. Nothing of this kind was seen on CNN.
In the Iraqi campaign, every Western (and, of course, Israeli)
journalist was a soldier with a job to do under the command structure. The point was reached that Donald Rumsfeld, in a Washington briefing, directly ordered the American journalists in
Iraq to interview Iraqis and get stories from them about Saddam’s atrocities. Sure enough, within hours such stories came pouring in.
Joseph Goebbels would be bursting with envy. George Orwell would not be surprised.
# Gunboat Democracy. How will things develop from here on? It has been said that it is hard to prophesy, especially about the future.
One thing is certain: the Americans did not conquer Iraq in order to leave. They intend to remain there for a long time, even if they succeed in setting up a puppet government. They came to
control the oil sources and the Arab region, and for these purposes they will stay on.
But even if they should wish to leave, they would not be able
to do so. Without an American dictatorship taking the place of Saddam’s, Iraq would fall apart. The old ethnic, religious, regional and tribal divisions would only deepen if an American-appointed
puppet government were to establish “democracy”.
Western democracy developed over centuries in organized communities with solid community values. Only a fool would think
that it could be imposed from above, by force, on a society organized on quite different lines, by family and clan, and with quite different values. A real Arab democracy, when it comes
about, will surely be different in nature and appearance from the Western kind.
The mob-rule that found its expression in the orgy of
violence and looting under the auspices of the US army, including the looting of hospitals, is a bad omen indeed. (It is the height of chutzpah, when the US commanders, who have destroyed the
civilian infra-structure, say that law and orders must be restored by the Iraqis themselves. Thus, millions are abandoned to anarchy.)
The animosity between the Kurds and the Turks in the north, as well as the connection between the Shiites and nearby Shiite Iran in the south, will cause the occupiers many headaches. After
some months of quiet (if at all), they may be faced with a Hizbullah-style guerilla war.
Will that prevent an American invasion of Syria and/or Iran?
Perhaps it will, perhaps, on the contrary, it will push the Americans towards new adventures, in order to distract attention from the results of the this one.
# And Ahmad, what does he think? In order to foresee what’s coming, I ask myself: what would I have thought and felt, if I had
been an Arab? If I were, for example, Ahmad, a young Arab student at Cairo University, what would I feel at this moment?
First of all, humiliation. Once more a magnificent Arab hero
has turned out to be a toy soldier, talking big and failing the first test. Once more an Arab army has mostly given up without a fight. (By comparison, a growing admiration for the Palestinians,
who have been standing up to the mighty Israeli military machine for more than two years, who have sacrificed more than 2000 people and whose youth stand in line to sacrifice their lives.)
On top of the humiliation on the field of battle, the humiliation in the political field. A foreign invader has marched into the center of the Arab world and taken control of its resources, and
the great Arab nation is paralysed, unable to react. Its cowardly leaders hold on to their seats and accept handouts from the occupier. Who will save us?
There is no nationalist Arab force able to offer a solution to the millions of young people from Casablanca to Kuwait city. No new Nasser enflames their imagination. But there is a religious
Muslim force that provides comfort, answers, identity and self-respect. It also provides a weapon for removing the invaders and compelling the West to listen to Arab aspirations: terrorism.
Saddam never used terrorism. Nothing outside Iraq interested him, except if there was a chance to enlarge its territory. He was completely occupied with survival. The American
pretense of having attacked Iraq in order to rout terrorism was a blatant and deliberate lie. And now, Ahmad thinks, after the last of the Arab armies has shown its impotence in the face of
American might, there remains only the alternative of guerilla war and terror attacks.
By courtesy & ©2003 Uri Avnery