- The Washington Times - Monday, May 3, 2004

Forget about the “fog of war” for a while — that is, the inability to know what’s going on in the heat of battle. Let us turn our attention instead to the “fog of occupation.”

What, really, is going on in Iraq? Well, if you read newspaper reports or catch the news, what you get these days is mainly a catalogue of the U.S. casualties of the previous 24 hours, which havebeen alarmingly high (though lower overall than military planners expectedto incur just in thecourse of toppling Saddam).

The casualty reports seem to exhaust the reportorial and editorial imagination. The cumulative impression is of a U.S. occupation that is simply hunkered down, waiting for the next bomb to go off or mortar round to land, occasionally lashing back to lethal but uncertain effect. One must add the appalling abuse of Iraqi prisoners captured in photographs that have provoked outrage around the world. (World outrage is something the United States has to put up with all the time; it is only painful when it’s plainly justified, as in this case.) But is that all that’s going on in Iraq? I doubt it.

The reasons I don’t think the casualty reports fully encompass the reality are two. First, while the security situation is clearly bad, if it were really quite as bad as the cumulative impression the reportage creates, there likely would be a lot of additional bad news on which to report. There are a couple of dogs that aren’t barking here: For one, there are no reports of Iraqis fleeing from here to there. If people were desperately afraid for their personal security, there would be exactly such movements. For another, if the vast bulk of the reconstruction effort had crawled to a standstill over a lack of security, we would be hearing about that, too, which suggests that a lot of work is proceeding (not, to be sure, as fast as one would like, but proceeding). For a third, for all the bad-news reporting, we haven’t been hearing about deterioration in Iraqi quality of life. I don’t mean complaints about being occupied, but rather want and deprivation. If those were the order of the day, we’d know about it.

Which takes me to the second reason I think the picture is incomplete: the rising number of people who have by this point vested themselves in the failure of the reconstruction of Iraq.

It includes, first of all, the “war is not the answer” crowd. It includes the bulk of those now covering the war and the editors and media personages who oversee them. It has come to include a number of people who were opposed to the war but were prepared to concede that the removal of Saddam Hussein was a good thing, especially if it led to a more decent Iraqi society. As well, include a number of people who did not like the idea of going to war but believed that once you go, you must win.

And it now includes numbers of those who supported the war from the start but who think that the Bush administration has made such a mess of the occupation that failure is inevitable. The latter break down into two categories: those who, in retrospect, continue to think the war was justified; and those who think the whole thing was a mistake, based on what we now know about Saddam’s weapons programs.

Just for the record, I’m still committed to the administration’s efforts to make a success of reconstruction. I guess I’ll go down with the ship, or at least be one of the last rats to jump off. But not until the ship is going down, which it is not. The lack of easy success or even of success as such is not proof of failure, not until frustration gives rise to an unwillingness to persevere.

There is a rhetorical game going on among those vested in failure in Iraq. It is the effort to assign failure to “you” and not “we.” “You failed,” as in the Bush administration, or the neoconservatives, or the Pentagon planners (from the State Department’s point of view), or those afflicted with the State Department’s point of view (in the view of the Pentagon planners). “You” is in this case some subset of “the United States of America” that doesn’t include “me,” having known better. The war and aftermath are therefore not a “we” problem.

Oh, yes, they are. History will not be kind to us if we fail. Nor will history discriminate in favor of the superior but ignored wisdom of the finer sensibilities now on parade. We’ll all be going down together. And this includes also those who opposed the war, who will share equally in whatever strategic consequences failure brings.

But that’s only if we fail. Reports of our failure have been comprehensive — and drastically incomplete. I don’t think the reason we aren’t hearing anything these days about Iraqis who’d like to live in a free, decent, democratic society is that there aren’t any.

Oh, and by the way, in the event of success, there will also be recriminations.

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