I continue to oppose the war because of the almost certain geopolitical implications it will have, as well as for moral reasons. But I think that the folks on the ground there are doing remarkably well, considering the can of shit they were handed and asked to turn into a sundae. War is a brutal business, an unclean business no matter how it is sold, or how honorable the intentions. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and…well, everybody knows the well-worn cliche made popular by one of the great road-pavers of all time, William Tecumseh Sherman.
The civilian casualties are only going to get worse. The graphic pictures Al Jazeera has broadcast will only become more numerous and more graphic. And we will never have a real sense of the actual horror there (particularly with Salam Pax offline for the forseeable future).
I was never a ground-pounder, though I did some training for that unlikely eventuality once, and spent some time working as a REMF for a special ops unit. Most of my training was focused on a much more clean fighting environment–the ship-to-ship naval engagements of missile and submarine warfare, and supportive arms combat like shore bombardment and river patrol. Aside from my brief encounter with the PDF in Panama once, and the pursuit of an Omani smuggler's dhow that got too close to our resupply point in the Gulf of Oman, I never got close enough to anybody I might have to kill to see them that well, and never really had to think about it.
But after Panama, I certainly did think about it. And it wasn't anything pretty to think about. I had studied major modern land battles like Stalingrad, and knew that urban combat was a meat grinder; but having walked the streets of Panama City and knowing the people and terrain that were in harm's way, I understood why hundreds of civilians were killed in the raid on the PDF's commendancia. And that was in a relative footnote in the annals of urban combat.
I thought back to the brief ground combat training I had as a midshipman visiting Camp Pendleton, and the mock “raid” we staged on a built-up area called “Combat Town” there. I had five blanks in my magazine, and there were Marines scattered about the “village” playing the role of “militiamen”. I spent all of my ammo keeping one “militiaman's” head down on a roof while the rest of my squad advanced. I ended up having to yell “bang” as instructed by the referee. Climbing through windows with an M-16 and full gear was…educational.
The description I heard one Marine officer give his “embedded” journalist of urban warfare was accurate– “a knife fight in a phone booth.” Even in its most abstract form (on a practice battlefield with no civilians, no live bullets, no boobytraps), it was evident to me how totally screwed I would have been in a real combat setting.
Another thing I learned in my military schooling was, that when given the choice in a wargame, to choose to be the “bad guy.” Even in the relatively clean, pure world of naval combat, it was obvious to me that “asymmetrical” forces could extract an extremely high toll from the “good guys”, even if they were eventually destroyed. A pair of missile patrol boats, lying in ambush at a choke point, could knock out a frigate, or a destroyer, or a cruiser if they were lucky. Using coastline, cover of night, deception and tactics not in the “rules of engagement” playbook, you could always succeed in your mission; and a pair of patrol boats for a cruiser was always a trade worth making in defense of the motherland.
The Iraqis have read the same books I have. They know their history. The US expected a replay of the first Gulf War, but this time we're fighting a different war, and instead of playing by the rules of the last game, the Iraqis are taking pages out of the playbooks of both the Soviets at Stalingrad and Ho Chi Minh. “This isn't the enemy we wargamed against,” said one general.
Because Afghanistan welcomed the overthrow of the Taliban, somebody in Washington thought that Iraqis would toss Saddam just as quickly. But the administration forgets–despite his brutality, the Russians fought for Stalin; they didn't cave and surrender to the Germans, but died by the millions in defense of their homeland against foriegners until their blood and the Russian winter sapped the German's strength. Iraq isn't Russia, but Iraqis won't roll over–and if they can hold off American troops until the arrival of the hot Iraqi summer that we wanted to avoid (the whole reason for Bush blowing off the UN's will was because waiting would have meant fighting in the summer), then all of the strategic advantage the US and UK had going in might be lost. Hello, quagmire.
This is why I opposed the war: not because I thought Saddam should stay in power, or out of abstract pacifism (though I abhor war and consider myself a semi-pacifist, I would not hesitate to take up arms in self-defense).but because I felt that the Bush administration was lying about the stakes–either to us or to themselves–and that the war was only the opening round in what will no doubt be a long and bloody occupation. The US now has its own Gaza Strip, West Bank, and Golan Heights all wrapped into one California-sized package, and I have little doubt that the US will have to adopt Israeli tactics before too long just for “force protection” reasons. I am convinced that they knew it would be so, and that this is the first step in a greater war. We are being walked in increasingly larger steps toward force being the first resort of foreign policy rather than the last, and a remilitarized state that serves as the enforcer for global corporate capital.
The “weeks, not months” statement from Dick Cheney (when Tim Russert asked him about how long the war would last) was a pipe dream of epic proportions. Our troops will do their job, as they were trained to do it. Our leaders will keep sending them to do it until they are satisfied that the job is done, or they are deposed by election or impeachment. But Pandora's Box has been opened, the worms are out of the can, and there's no neat and clean way to put everything away.
There are only two ways to end this war now; a total victory over Iraq, or a change in the policy of the US and UK resulting in some brokered, compromised peace. I see neither on the horizon. Our troops will do their job, as they were trained to do. More will die, more will be sent, and more will be called to service. We must do our jobs as citizens as well–we must defend the Constitution, defend our nation, and find some way of changing the character of our misguided leadership. If not, our children will have to live with the consequences of the sins of our government, and their children after them; we will never really be a free people again as long as those above us rule others with impunity.