The week we lost the war

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I train my son to kill Americans. That is one reason I am grateful to Saddam Hussein. All Iraqis know how to use weapons.

—Abdul al-Muaimy, 32-year-old laborer, quoted in The New York Times


The United States of America has lost the war for Iraq. We may not admit that to the rest of the world for some time, let alone to ourselves.

But that became clear last week when, suddenly, evidently without warning, massive resistance erupted in at least seven cities. Deaths included hundreds of Iraqis and at least half a hundred American soldiers.

For months, Donald Rumsfeld, our swaggering bully of a defense secretary, and his various puppets have insisted that the almost daily violence in Iraq was mostly coming from a few die-hard Ba’ath party members.

Nobody even tried to pretend that was the case last week. Sunnis and Shiites alike rose up, killing American soldiers and seizing foreign hostages and large sections of a number of towns. They reason they did this was crystal clear:

They don’t want us in their country, period.

Yes, we suppress them in most places, other than, as of this writing, Falluja, where we asked for a cease-fire after utterly failing to “pacify” the city.

Yes, we killed many more of them than they did of us. It’s a wonder the ratio of their dead to ours wasn’t even greater. We have massive and enormous firepower, the world’s best equipment, well-disciplined troops.

We did the same every time we fought a pitched battle in Vietnam too. The Soviets in Afghanistan also butchered the natives in vast numbers.

And they lost that war, and we lost in Vietnam, and the end result is almost certainly going to be even worse for all concerned in Iraq. Here’s why:

Vietnam is a nation. Hanoi had a well-organized government that was able to immediately step up and put a system in place when the war ended.

Yes, it was a largely harsh and brutal system. But it had an ethnic and historic legitimacy we could never achieve. Today, we have diplomatic relations with our former enemies, and sell them Coca-Cola.

Iraq, however, is not a nation in any meaningful sense. Instead, it is a country created by (mainly British) diplomats less than a century ago out of the wreckage of World War I, a collection of tribes and provinces and religious factions who largely hate each other, but hate our being there even more.

Their loathing of us might have not been so sharp, at least not yet, had the Bushies made any thoughtful, creative or even coherent plan for the occupation and administration of our new conquered client state, but they didn’t.

In Vietnam we at least were backing an actual government, as weak and corrupt as it was. We don’t even have a puppet we can put in place in Iraq. What may be even scarier is that there apparently isn’t even an “enemy” government prepared to assume power. Just bands of murderous thugs and fanatics.

A year ago, our comic opera diplomats evidently thought all we had to do was drive Saddam from power and everything would right itself, and moving Iraq to some form of legitimate, friendly and stable government would be a breeze.

They might have done better to consider Yugoslavia, a nation similar to Iraq in that it was made up of peoples filled with ethnic hatreds of one another.

Yet it worked as a country because from 1945 to 1980 it was ruled by a strongman named Tito, who kept everyone on a short leash and occasionally hanged a few troublemakers as an example to the rest. Seen by some as a brutal dictator, he was pretty much a saint compared to Saddam Hussein.

Yugoslavians hung together for a decade after Tito’s death, in large part because of the lingering fear that otherwise the Soviet Union might swoop down on them, once a very real possibility. But with the Soviets imploding, Yugoslavia collapsed and broke apart after years of civil war in which perhaps 200,000 died.

There is every reason to believe that Iraq has the potential to make the carnage in Yugoslavia look like a Vermont town meeting, with Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds gleefully killing each other wholesale. The odds are Iraq will end up with an Islamic republic in the end, one that might not sell us oil but which might offer bed, breakfast and bombs to bin Laden and his boys.

Naturally, we dare not let that happen … yet. So we’ll “stay the course,” at least for a while, and even though we haven’t the faintest idea where we are sailing, and the deaths will mount, as will growing American frustration.

If we choose, we can stay in Iraq for years. We can do that as long as we are willing to pay the increasingly steep costs, which include, as I write this, 650-plus dead Americans and more money than any of us can count.

But do we have the stomach to stay for the long haul? The as-yet-nameless “Coalition of Iraqis Who Don’t Want Us There” think we won’t.

History (see Vietnam) suggests they are right. About all that is certain is that we will find out. What is faintly amazing is how fast things turned. Even the lapdog media are arguing over whether Iraq is more like Vietnam or Lebanon. Tellingly, for most of last week, George W., his handlers and programmers struggling to get a grip, was nowhere to be seen.

We are at a point it took us years, and many more dead, to reach in Vietnam. Everything seems to happen much more swiftly now, thanks in large part to our all-news, all-the-time media. Last week’s sea change in Iraq was, at the very least, the end of the beginning. Sadly, the dying has barely begun.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]
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