One would have thought Washington had learned from the 1961 Bay of Pigs fiasco that you can’t really trust exiles who assure you that their people will greet you enthusiastically as liberators and rise up against the regime. Despite optimistic predictions, there have thus far been no mass defections of Iraqi soldiers, there have been no spontaneous uprisings against Saddam Hussein, and U.S. and British soldiers attempting to enter Iraqi cities have been met not by cheers and flowers but by bullets and grenades. And this has all taken place in predominantly Shi’ite-populated sections of southern Iraq long considered a center of opposition to Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship.
The reality is that no matter how brutal a dictator may be, people tend to defend their homeland against foreign invaders. Russians defended their country through staggering losses against an invading German army despite their suffering under Stalin. The Iraqis fought off the Iranian counter-attack during the 1980s even though Saddam’s regime was as repressive then as it is now.
Arabs have been resisting invaders from the West for many centuries, going back as far as the Crusades. They have long shown a preference for local tyrants against conquests from abroad.
Indeed, there are disturbing reports of large numbers of Arab men from throughout the Middle East and North Africa crossing the Syrian border for the purpose of fighting invading U.S. forces. As with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the U.S. invasion of Iraq may become a cause célèbre in the Islamic world. Volunteers interviewed by the BBC all expressed disdain for Saddam Hussein’s regime but still saw the war as an act of Western imperialism that had to be resisted.
Given that a U.S. military victory will be much more difficult than anticipated, so will the post-war U.S. occupation. It appears that instead of presiding over a grateful Iraqi people, U.S. occupation forces will more likely have to contend with a resentful and possibly vengeful population. Any puppet government U.S. military authorities might try to establish will not last long on its own, thereby requiring a long and difficult occupation.
The level of opposition to a U.S. invasion–both during and after the war and both within and outside of Iraq–will depend in part on the number of civilian casualties from the U.S. assault. Already, civilian deaths are mounting and will likely increase dramatically as U.S. forces attempt to seize larger urban areas. Lured into ambushes in crowded residential neighborhoods, trapped American soldiers will likely be forced to call in close air support, resulting in a tremendous toll in civilian lives.
In anticipation of such a scenario, the Bush administration is already attempting to inoculate itself from criticism by claiming that Saddam Hussein is using “human shields,” though virtually all the Iraqi civilians killed so far have been ordinary people in or near their homes. Similarly, claims that the Iraqis are fighting unfairly by placing most of their fighting units in the cities raises the question as to how the Iraqi army would survive if they did otherwise: Operation Desert Storm showed what would happen if they simply left their troops vulnerable out in flat, open desert. There are no forests or mountains in most of Iraq in which to hide. As a result, as has been done throughout thousands of years of warfare in the Middle East, the cities are defended from within.
The Pentagon claims that such civilian casualties are “unavoidable.” This, however, is patently false. Civilian casualties are unavoidable only if the war is unavoidable. This war was not unavoidable. As a result, such efforts to relieve the United States from moral responsibility will likely fall on deaf ears.
Unlike twelve years ago, the Islamic world now has access to satellite television, which will be broadcasting scenes of American forces killing large numbers of Muslim civilians and laying waste to their cities. This can only result in the growth of anti-American extremism throughout the Middle East and beyond.
And this war was supposed to make us safer from terrorism?