So I picked up a copy of the International Herald Tribune, which is The New York Times‘s International Newspaper, edited in Paris. Page one is splayed with scenes of the disorder of Baghdad. American soldiers haplessly watching as people ransack every building they can get into. And why the hell not? The city is empty of anyone who has stuff to defend… and all the people left behind, all those who are busy surviving this “operation”, have very little or nothing to lose. So they plunder: they plunder the houses of Saddm’s sons, which I have no problem with. They plunder the houses of the wealthy, and that’s not such a problem to me. (The wealthy, lacking in the humanitarian compassion needed to empty the city, fled in classic “me-first” style, so my sympathy with the plight of these propertied people is minimal.) They plunder government offices, which is neither here nor there.
But they also plundered the Iraq National Museum. They’re attacking schools, hospitals, homes of regular people. There’s no power to run lights or fridges, there’s only a trickle of water from the taps, and nobody knows when things are going to calm down. And there are a considerable number of very unhappy people looking to the Americans to secure some kind of peace or at least law and order, since they’re the ones who stirred up the mess.
And Baghdad isn’t even the whole picture. In Kirkuk, in Kurds and Turks are trying to find a way to avert a disaster. The Kurds have, according to online news sources, “said they would yield to the Americans once enough of them arrived to secure law and order”. The Sunnis in Tikrit, Saddam’s hometown and apparently a hideout for some of his cronies, are worried about what kind of government will be set up, and whether they’ll have any power in a Shi’ite Iraq.
Meanwhile, Americans are running Spielbergesque commando rescues and desperately searching for weapons of mass destruction. I don’t think finding a basement full of suicide attack vests counts. My Herald Tribune claims that in Al Qaim, a border town near Syria, there’s a tough fight going on and that means there’s probably Scud missiles there. More suspicion, and still no proof of the ostensible cause for the battle.
But then, everyone knows that regime change, and not the finding of suspected weapons of mass destruction, is the real goal of this war. It has been the case from the start.
And the “hawks” say, happily, that they were right. This was all a good idea, there is no shortage of soldiers, everything is going along swimmingly.
They can’t see the faces of the Iraqis who will be looking at America in five, eight, ten years. Hell, next year. Hell, now. Those people are pissed off, because it’s clear to them what the real impetus is, which isn’t even regime change. Regime change, after all, could have been made to happen far more quickly, much more smoothly, with more soldiers. As bogus as I think the idea of a Pax Americana is, it seems many people would be willing to submit to American forces policing Baghdad and other centers, at least temporarily. The Kurds want enough American troops to keep Kirkuk quiet… the same Kurds who were massacred under Bush Senior’s blessing by Saddam himself, even these Kurds are willing to trust Pax Americana, at least temporarily.
Regime change means changing the government. That isn’t the goal of this war, any more than finding weapons of mass destruction are… not if the Bush administration has any intelligence hidden in the off-camera movers and shakers. Completely destabilizing a country, building up piles of enmities, and crushing the extant modes of dissent in favour of semi-permitted looting (which is essentially what sending too few soldiers is) is not the most effective (or even the most cost-effective) way to bring about regime change.
But it is the most cost-effective way to completely screw up a country that was already, in terms of ethnic tensions and wealth distribution, a powderkeg on the edge of boom. It is a great way to make such a bloody mess that people are busy rebuilding for ages, too busy and too in debt to wrest control of their major industries, too distrustful of one another to cooperate politically, too wearied by the whole mess to build a “regime” that can be sustainable and good for the people of Iraq.
But that, I’m certain Bush officials would say, is Iraq’s problem.
And it will be. For a while. However one thing I have learned outside of North America is that resentment is powerful, and when memory is powered by resentment, memory can be exceedingly long. And I believe this thing will bite America in the ass, sooner or later.