Fighting the Long Defeat

I knew it was going to be easy, but hell, I never thought it was going to be this easy. Baghdad, a city of five million people, fell in a week. By rights, it should have taken months: if Saddam had any brains at all, he would have secured Baghdad with his elite troops and forced us to either bomb the city completely into oblivion or try and take it street-to street. But he didn’t do that, in fact he didn’t do much of anything. In war games months before the invasion, the American general who was playing “Iraq” managed to inflict a great deal of damage on American troops using simple, low-tech techniques that were readily available. He was so successful, the ones running the games had to call a “do over” and resurrect US soldiers from the grave. They had to do this in such extreme ways that the general running Iraq finally threw up his hands and retired from the field. This information was hardly a secret: it had been printed in both British and American newspapers, and Hussein had easy access to it. So why did he just ignore it? The ease of the victory showcased both how stupid a military leader he was and how much his threat was exaggerated by the Bush regime.

But no matter how easy the victory, this “war” has set some horrible precedents. Taken to a personal level, it means that, if I felt threatened by anyone, that I not only have the right, but the duty to take them out before they do the same to me. It means that Don Ciccio, who killed six-year old Vito Andolini’s father, mother, and brother, had the right to have six-year old Vito Andolini killed so that the boy wouldn’t take vengeance on him when he grew up (which of course young Vito did, though when he did so his last name was Corleone, not Andolini. In the eyes of the neoconservatives, Don Ciccio’s only failure was letting Vito get away). It also means that if someone feels that I am a threat to them, they also have the right to take me out. Conservatives love to use jungle analogies to justify their sophistry: Every day an impala awakes on the African plain and must run faster than the fastest lion to survive. Every day a lion awakes on the African plain and must run faster than the slowest impala to survive.

Even if that analogy were correct (it’s not: lions are social animals who work together, so are their enemies the hyenas), is that the way we want to live? And is that the way we want nations to behave? If this attack on Iraq was justified, then so was 9/11: Osama bin Laden obviously felt we were a threat to Islam, so he attacked us before we could attack him. But unlike Saddam, bin Laden isn’t stupid: the destruction of the WTC was a spectacular moral victory for him, but militarily meaningless, and I’m sure he knew that. It could very well be that the attack produced the exact result he wanted: the hardliners in the US felt free to wage a massive war against the Middle East, and they began, to Osama’s great pleasure, with Iraq. Wherever he is, bin Laden is laughing. He has no love for the former Iraqi dictator, but by attacking the US he helped to get rid of him without having to lift a finger. And the easy defeat of Iraq is making Arabs seethe with fury over US hegemony. If the Bush regime is as reactionary as Osama thinks they are, we’ll go after Syria next, and that might even unite “the Arab street” against governments like Egypt and Saudia Arabia, overthrowing them and replacing them with fundamentalist regimes of their own. It’s something he’s wanted to do himself for years, but could never have accomplished otherwise. And the Bush regime’s belligerence over the matter has angered even its allies, driving wedges between countries who might otherwise unite against Al Qaeda.

The easy victory has also marginalized any opposition in the United States, an opposition that may have been more patient, that may have sought a more international solution to the problems of terrorism, or that might have even found a way to overcome the religious and social differences that separate the East and the West, but there’s little hope for that now. Westerners are endangered in Arab countries, Arabs are endangered here, and as long as this “patriotic fervor” continues, the gulf between us will grow. This gives the hardliners on both sides a ready-made political excuse to do anything they want in the name of survival. In the West, endless wars will cover up the corruption of corporate oligarchies and the slow, systematic destruction of American freedoms. It will provide cover for the removal of the economic safety nets that helped make this country the economic and military powerhouse it is today. It will give a blank check to the policies of a warmongering President, giving him all the money he needs to battle every new Saddan Hussein, which will bleed the US dry. In the East, anger and resentment will force moderate Islamic regimes to take harder and harder stances against their ow people. And the lessening scope of international law will alienate one country from another and see to it that peaceful solutions are less and less considered, as nations pursue their own versions of the Bush Doctrine.

But if this was Osama’s intent, he’s made a horrible mistake. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Admiral Yamamoto understood that all he had accomplished was to “awaken a sleeping giant.” After 9/11, similar analogies were made. But the United States is no longer a sleeping giant, it’s an unleashed dragon. It won’t be satisfied with Iraq, it will want more, and it’s defeat will be a long and slow one which will result in millions of deaths, Christian and Muslim alike, the kind of war that no one truly wins. All we can hope for is that, in the aftermath of war, a new world will rise, if not a perfect one, then at least a better one. To Osama, I say enjoy your accomplishments while you can, they are meaningless. And to Mr. Bush and the members of his regime who believe that the ease of Iraq justifies the wars to come, I say enjoy the short victories that lie ahead, because the long defeat is what awaits you.

Joseph Vecchio, a veteran of both the US military and of the internet, is a freelance writer. His daily blog, “Pax Liberalis,” can be seen at He contributed above perspective to Media Monitors Network (MMN) from Georgia, USA.