My previous item got me to post about something war-related that I’ve been thinking about since the war started. Clearly, the moral authority for our going to war rests on the fact that our plan is to liberate the Iraqis from the brutal regime that controls the country. That’s why the operation is called “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” But it seems to me that one of the inevitable trends in any invasion is that the people become alienated from the invaders and vice versa just due to the unavoidable effects of war. That’s one of the reasons why it was so important for this war to end rapidly.
The equation hoped for by the US was that the Iraqi people would see the coalition troops invading the country as liberators, and turn against the regime immediately. The real hope, in fact, was that the Iraqi military would throw down its weapons and let us in to bring them the American way, or whatever. In a war where it’s the US military and the people of Iraq versus Saddam Hussein and his hardcore loyalists, the outcome is not in doubt. So for Saddam Hussein, the key is to get the Iraqis to see the invaders as the enemy, and fight against them tooth and nail every step of the way. We’ve seen the Iraqi military (and paramilitaries) use any number of tactics to blur the distinction between soldiers loyal to Saddam and innocent civilians trying to save their own lives.
The other half of that is to train American soldiers to mistrust all Iraqis. This increases the number of civilian casualties, thus inciting the Iraqis against the Americans, and also causes the Americans to fear everyone, not just the soldiers wearing Iraqi uniforms. The atrocities of the Saddam Hussein era in Iraq were well documented before this war began — it’s hardly surprising that he would do atrocious things when his regime and his life are on the line.
We haven’t even been at war in Iraq in two weeks, and I’m already seeing people everywhere backing away from the idea that civilian casualties must be avoided at all costs. The spectrum now ranges from “civilian casualties are inevitable” to “Iraqi civilians are the enemy just like Iraqi soldiers” to “kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out.” I’m sure that we’d find a similar spectrum of opinions among the US infantrymen coping with a confusing and brutal war zone on a day to day basis as well.
The point here is that this is what going to war meant from the beginning. The idea that we would somehow surgically extract Saddam Hussein and his loyalists from Iraq without destroying a lot of healthy tissue as well was foolish, and the idea that we, the invaders, could be buddies with the citizens of the country we were invading was silly as well. Even if the bombs going off in markets were planted by Iraqis to put blame on Americans, or women walking with children are acting as spotters for Iraqi soldiers, the people of Iraq won’t find out before it’s too late. Even if they saw on CNN that every civilian death in Iraq happened for a good reason (and even if that were true), they’d assume that the reports were false (just like Americans don’t seem to believe anything reported on Al Jazeera).
I don’t really know where to go from here, but I wish that this outcome had been discussed more before the war. It’s going to cost lots of Iraqis their lives, some Americans their lives, and a lot of American soldiers are going to come home with horrible memories of women and children they killed either because they weren’t really given any other choice or because war destroyed their perspective, the way it always does.