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Tuesday, November 23, 2004


fighting and fuelling the insurgency

reaction, at least among neighboring governments, continues to be muted to american offensive operations in iraq despite the devastation. what kind of humanitarian situation is arising in fallujah is unknown, but time will reveal more.

though no one can say what the future holds, the characteristics of the insurgents seem to be becoming clearer. panarabist jihadis seem to make up a small part of the fighters; and they join sunni ba'athists fighting tenaciously to hold onto old privilege in the face of new circumstances; and shi'ite groups (like moqtada al-sadr's) also engaged in maneuvering for post-occupation power.

i also suspect there is an underlying fourth motivation -- beyond ba'athist tenacity, panarab islamist jihad and shi'a empowerment -- which in a sense binds these three in common cause: insurgency against western imperial misrule, whether real or perceived.

i know many americans have a hard time accepting that they are the indirect imperial ruler of the mideast, but it seems to be common knowledge to the arabs and an open discussion everywhere. many in the west have too conveniently ignored this aspect and placed primacy on islamist fundamentalism because that's easier for us to demonize. but all of this -- from the 1960s forward -- is in many respects a war of rebellion against the west.

in any case, taking the harder line on the insurgency presents us with a basic paradox we're faced with.

politically, no one wants more troops, yet more troops may be the likely solution to the problems; more violence on our part may be the only way, but it is anathema both to the west and to the muslim world and may also be our undoing; everyone wants the americans to come home, but that would risk destabilizing the country and allowing it to fall into irreversible chaos and destruction (if that isn't what is already happening, as may well be).

so we're faced with the desperate need for something like 'artful' violence -- effective but restrained -- something the american occupation has shown no aptitude for so far in dropping 500-pound bombs in urban areas, thanks to our casualty phobia.

this unwillingness to die has plagued american military operations for decades now. we too often drop bombs and fire missiles instead of go room to room with men. we are unwilling to risk great american casualties; so we instead inflict the great civilian casualties and indescribable destruction that often dooms the mission to be indistinguishable from the kind of barbaric rampaging that no native population can long endure quietly.

i have little doubt that many iraqis value the fact that saddam is gone, and may even be grateful for that on some level. but our methods there all but force some level of sympathy for the insurgency, which is exactly what any insurgency must have to be successful.

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