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What Is The Real Cost?
Posted: Wednesday, April 2, 2003

by Charley Reese,

There has never been any doubt that the United States will win the military war against Iraq. After all, we are a superpower, and Iraq is a poor and bedraggled country without a single piece of military hardware that is not obsolete. Still, the Pentagon's early scenario of "shock and awe" followed by quick surrender has not panned out.

As of this writing, the Pentagon has been boasting of a battle in which 150 to 500 (the estimates keep changing) Iraqis were killed, while our guys suffered not one single casualty. We can be thankful for that, but we should be alarmed that Iraqis, dismounted and armed with Vietnam-era weapons (rifles, rocket-propelled grenades) are willing to make a suicidal charge against an armored column. Furthermore, they disabled at least one Abrams tank and a couple of Bradleys.

We should be alarmed because this indicates a willingness to fight and die that, quite clearly, the Pentagon had not anticipated. The regime was supposed to collapse. The people were supposed to rise up and greet our troops as liberators. As of this writing, this has not happened. This is because our intelligence, despite its technological wizardry, always runs up against the xenophobic ignorance and hubris in Washington among the analysts, policy wonks and politicians. They seem to have completely discounted the idea that Iraqi patriotism can override religious or ethnic differences. It is not only that people who launch a war will generally come together; the people who are being attacked will generally unite.

However evil Saddam Hussein is, he has never been a stooge of Americans or the British. However good the poor soul we pick to be our front man is, he will be immediately tagged as an American stooge and will not last long as a living human being. Like our stooge in Afghanistan, he will stay alive only as long as we can protect him. Iraq is an infinitely more complex place than our policy mavens in Washington believe.

Don't be fooled by smiling faces once we have defeated the Iraqi forces and completely occupied a place. This, too, is an ancient phenomenon. Certain people always greet the latest conqueror with public smiles. A friend in China immediately after World War II went into a Chinese shop that prominently displayed a decal of an American flag on its window. The shop owner was effusive in praise of Americans. But as my friend left, he could see that underneath the decal of the American flag was a decal of the Japanese flag. People from very old civilizations get used to seeing conquerors come and go. It is not the public smiles and words that count; it is what they say and do in private.

The best thing to do would be, after Saddam's government has been defeated, to say within 24 hours: "Goodbye, folks. We have destroyed your tyrant. Now you're on your own. We're going home." That would win us good will, not only in Iraq but also in most of the Arab world. It is the only thing we could do that would make our propaganda true. Alas, we won't do that. We will establish a military occupational government, and that will create a quagmire. Iraqis will fight us any way they can, and eventually they will drive us out, just as the Lebanese eventually drove the Israelis out. They will drive us out by making us pay a price that is more than the American public will tolerate.

I wish I could be more optimistic, but we are seeing today really the only part of the American government the military that works well. We are diplomatically inept and far too naive as a people to be a successful empire. President Bush has risen above his level of competence, and there is not a single member of his administration anybody would call wise. I'm afraid electing Bush president was like handing a loaded gun to a 6-year-old.

© 2003 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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