- The Washington Times - Friday, March 28, 2003

What we got wrong
I'm chagrined but by no means ashamed to say that a couple of things have surprised me in the last week and a half. I'm not the only one, of course. And wars are, by their very nature, unpredictable and surprising, especially when you're entering a secluded totalitarian country for the first time. But, in retrospect, many conservatives or pro-war liberals should perhaps have anticipated the skittishness of many Shi'a in the southern part of Iraq with respect to American and British forces. We underestimated how profound the betrayal of these people was in 1991 when then-President Bush urged the Shi'a to rise up and then failed to come to their aid. For those of us in Washington, it was a matter of shame and argument and debate.
For those in Basra and elsewhere, it was about summary executions, terror, torture and mass repression. They haven't forgotten and they should not forget. Of course, they're going to be leery of rising up a second time until they're absolutely convinced the Saddamite forces are in disarray or defeated. And that day, alas, is not yet here. But it's coming.

And the second thing many conservatives, including myself, failed to remember is how powerful totalitarianism is. For my generation, who came of age after the fall of the Berlin Wall, it's easy to forget how effective totalitaian states can be, how strong they can grip the minds especially of those who benefit from them. Saddam's equivalent of the SS have no reason to give up yet; they have been so indoctrinated by the regime that they are probably fighting to the death. Orwell's insight into totalitarianism was not so much that it was evil, but that it could be successful. He saw how propaganda can seep into the consciousness of otherwise sane people.
When we see the desperate and despicable tactics of the Fedayeen or the Republican Guards, we have to remember that these people have been exposed to nothing but Saddamism for three decades. We shouldn't project into their minds the knowledge and freedom of thought that we in the West enjoy. What this means, of course, is not that we should relent in the fighting. What it means is that our surprises in Iraq are more evidence of the urgency and importance of the liberation. But to see that, we also have to concede that we were, in some respects, surprised.

I know. I know. I've been bashing the BBC for weeks. But, hey, they deserve it. Last week, one of their own defense corespondents in the Gulf fired off an internal e-mail that turned up in Britain's Sun newspaper. It's devastating about the BBC's astonishing bias against the United States and their own government. The correspondent's name is Paul Adams. His memo to his bosses goes: "I was gobsmacked to hear, in a set of headlines today, that the coalition was suffering significant casualties. This is simply not true. Nor is it true to say, as the same intro stated, that coalition forces are fighting guerrillas. It may be guerrilla warfare, but they are not guerrillas." He went on: "Who dreamed up the line that the coalition are achieving small victories at a very high price? The truth is exactly the opposite. The gains are huge and the costs still relatively low. This is real warfare, however one-sided, and losses are to be expected." Among recent BBC outrages, a morning news show began with the words that "the worst possible news" for the armed forces had just arrived. Two soldiers had been killed.

The moral gap
Columnist Robert Samuelson points out a fascinating polling discrepancy. The Pew Global Attitudes Project polled people in various countries earlier this month on the war against Saddam. Huge majorities opposed it: 87 percent in France, 85 percent in Germany, 83 percent in Russia, 79 percent in Spain and 76 percent in Italy. But at the same time, Pew asked if "the people of Iraq will be better or worse off in the long run" if Saddam is deposed. Again huge margins: 73 percent said yes in France, 71 percent in Germany and 61 percent in Italy. In other words, Europeans are perfectly happy to consign an entire people to misery and oppression rather than support a war to liberate them. And they claim to be supporting the people of Iraq. The awful historical record will be that most Europeans knowingly put their fear of American power before their hatred of Saddam. Damning.

NPR quote of the day
"The fedayeen are using civilian clothes and vehicles to mount attacks on U.S. positions; possibly intentionally." from yesterday's "Morning Edition." You mean they might have put on those clothes by accident?

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