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The Fall of Saddam: What We Learned About Ourselves and Our Enemy By: Jamie Glazov
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, April 14, 2003


As we see the toppling of the Iraqi regime and the celebrations of Iraqis in the streets, a significant question must be asked: do these developments completely discredit the anti-war movement? The Left, after all, had revelled in its dark and gloomy predictions about the U.S. getting stuck in a quagmire and confronting mass resistance. But the quick disintegration of Saddam's dictatorship and the warm welcoming of American troops by the Iraqis tells a completely different story. So, has it now been proven beyond any doubt that this truly was a war of liberation, and that the anti-war protesters were completely off-base?

To discuss these and other issues connected to the present momentous events in Iraq, Frontpage Symposium is joined today by As`ad AbuKhalil, a professor of political science at California State University at Stanislaus, an adjunct professor at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of California at Berkeley, and the author of Bin Laden, Islam, and America's New War on Terrorism.; Daniel Brumberg, an Associate Professor of Government at Georgetown University, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and author of Reinventing Khomeini: The Struggle for Reform in Iran; Stanley Kurtz, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and a contributing editor at National Review; and Jonathan V. Last, the online editor of The Weekly Standard.

Question #1: Gentlemen, thank you for joining us today. Let's begin with what is happening right before our eyes at this present moment. What, in your view, is the significance of the current sudden toppling of the Iraqi regime and the celebrations of Iraqis and their warm welcoming of American troops? Aside from the other important aspects connected to this development, doesn't this significantly discredit the anti-war movement and the Left in general? 

Kurtz: First, a note of caution.  The Iraqis, of course, are happy to be free of Saddam's tyranny, and many are deeply grateful to the United States for liberating them.  Yet we still face daunting challenges if we are truly to win the hearts and minds of the people during what may be an extended period of American involvement in Iraq.  I do think, however, that the scenes of rejoicing at Saddam's fall go a long way toward discrediting the anti-war Left.  The Left did its best to ignore the reality of Saddam's regime.  Even when they grudgingly and fleetingly acknowledged Saddam's tyranny, the Left continued to see this war as an American imposition, rather than as liberation.  Now the blindness and anti-Americanism of the Left has been exposed.  The most important effect of this will be on the young people recruited by their radical teachers to oppose this war.  The hope was to repeat in the current generation the thrilling, life-changing experience of the sixties protests.  That plan has flopped.  The young protesters are now as likely to look back on their brief anti-war fling with embarrassment, and suspicion of their radical mentors, as with nostalgia.  The sixties anti-war ethos isn't dead, but it has been badly wounded.

Brumberg: I would be very careful about assuming that the demonstrations of joy that have erupted in Baghdad over the past two days completely refutes many of the concerns raised about the administration's military campaign. Since we are in the process of toppling a totalitarian regime, we are now implicated in its rebuilding. Absent international/UN cooperation, a real partnership, there is every chance that the US will be seen as a foreign occupier, even by man of the young people who were kissing our soldiers yesterday.

If a guerrilla war is initiated against American soldiers, tough measures will have to be used to put an end to such attacks. It is easy to fall into syndrome of attacks and clampdowns, arrests etc, even with the best of intentions. The fact that the US has imposed a night-time curfew on Baghdad is indicative of the challenges that face us. Moreover, we will find ourselves inevitably pulled by different contending forces, Shi'ia, Kurd, Sunni, to take this side or that side. How are we going to deal with the emerging civil conflict (war?) WITHIN the Shi'ite community that has begun with Khoi's killing? We have opened up 50 cans of worms here...perhaps more.

Finally, I wish to point out that ultimately, how the Arab world judges our actions in Iraq will depend in no small measure on how we tackle (or don't) the Palestine Israeli conflict. The administration has promised to take a vigorous approach on this issue, but I have my doubts. In the final analysis, this is THE issue for the Arab world. Unless the US demonstrates in word and deeds that it is as serious about democracy and freedom for Palestinians as it says it is for Iraqis, now "liberation" of Iraq will have the demonstration effect on the Arab world that the administration has envisioned.

Last: Way back on April 2, the Egyptian professor Mohamed Kamel told Tom Friedman that "Maybe the Iraqis will eventually stop resisting you. But that will not make this war legitimate. What the U.S. needs to do is make the Iraqis smile. If you do that, people will consider this a success."

Yesterday we saw Iraqis smiling. And shouting. And laughing. And hugging U.S. soldiers. And carrying signs thanking George W. Bush. And, well, you get the point. So, will those on the left finally consider the Iraq campaign a success? (Special note: Judging the campaign a success does not imply that there isn't still more to be done, both in the war and in the rebuilding of Iraq. Far from it. The road ahead is long and filled with peril.)

This is important because the credibility of the antiwar left isn't necessarily shattered by the events in Firdos Square. Was most of the left spectacularly wrong on the major question of the day? Yes.

(A long aside here: Just so that Stanley, Daniel, and the good Professor AbuKhalil don't have to take my word on it, here are some examples of the left being wrong, courtesy of Andrew Sullivan, Brian Sayre, and others:

"Is Wolfowitz really so ignorant of history as to believe the Iraqis would welcome us as 'their hoped-for liberators'?" -Eric Alterman, The Nation.

"As the war drags on, any stifled sympathy for the American invasion will tend to evaporate. As more civilians die and more Iraqis see their "resistance" hailed across the Arab world as a watershed in the struggle against Western imperialism, the traditionally despised Saddam could gain appreciable support among his people. So, the Pentagon's failure to send enough troops to take Baghdad fairly quickly could complicate the postwar occupation, to say nothing of the war itself." -Robert Wright, Slate

"[Al-Jazeera has shown] the resistance and anger of the Iraqi population, dismissed by Western propaganda as a sullen bunch waiting to throw flowers at Clint Eastwood lookalikes . . . The idea that Iraq's population would have welcomed American forces entering the country after a terrifying aerial bombardment was always utterly implausible . . . One can only wince at the way weak-minded policy hacks in the Pentagon and White House have spun out the 'ideas' of Lewis and Ajami into the scenario for a quick romp in a friendly Iraq ... pity the Iraqi civilians who must still suffer a great deal more before they are finally 'liberated'." -Edward Said, London Review of Books,

"Of course, this is not a war of liberation, and the only ones who see it as such are the war enthusiasts in the great Iraqi city of Washington, DC, and their allies, the brave fighters for Iraq (the leaders of the Iraqi National Congress) who have been fighting Saddam's tyranny in the nightclubs, brothels, and casinos of Europe for years, and at US taxpayers expense." -As`ad AbuKhalil, Frontpagemag.com)

Now, about that issue of credibility: Just because Wright, Said, AbuKhalil, et al have been proven wrong, doesn't necessarily destroy their credibility. People get caught on the wrong side of events all the time. (Heck, in April 2000 I wrote that American politics might be entering a period of Democratic dominance!)

The important thing to watch is how these antiwar liberals react now. If they admit they were wrong and re-examine their worldview in light of recent events, well, who could fault them? That's the height of intellectual honesty and anyone with the courage to do so deserves a continued voice in the public square.

However, if they don't recant and re-examine the flaws in their position--if they try to deny or ignore the importance of Firdos Square, if they try to shift the goal posts--then they will be thoroughly discredited. Or worse.

To be discredited implies that one was a credible source of opinion in the first place. To try and avoid the consequences of having opposed the liberation of Iraq now that we know the reality of Saddam's regime--torture complexes, children's jails, deliriously happy free Iraqis--would suggest that someone was never operating in good faith in the first place.

AbuKhalil: Sorry Jamie, your question is flawed. What sudden change of regime? Iraqis have been suffering since 1968 from Saddam's vicious rule, and have tried to overthrow him.  And there is nothing sudden about Iraqis appearing in some cases welcoming of US troops after 21 days of massive bombings, and the killing of hundreds of innocent Iraqis.  I lived in 1982 under Israeli occupation of South Lebanon: and initially people were welcoming of the troops, and within one year, a guerrilla movement against Israeli occupation was mounted.  And if you read the European press, Arabic press, and the US press you can read clearly that people are celebrating the end of Saddam's era and NOT the US occupation of their lands. Even the Washington Post and other newspapers that support the war are reporting the nuances of Iraqi public opinion.  Now, of course, for propaganda reasons, you may go on to believe that Iraqis do indeed enjoy foreign occupation of their lands, and would love to share their oil wealth with US companies, and they find bombing of their cities quite pleasurable. I do not understand how what we saw can be used to discredit the anti-war movement, as we have argued that Iraqis love Saddam.

Kurtz:  Mr. AbuKhalil, if Iraqis have been trying and failing to overthrow Saddam for thirty five years, then we have clearly done them a great service.  Their response to this liberating war confirms that.

Question #2: Is this a true war of liberation?

Brumberg: Well, that depends on several factors: who you talk to in Iraq, how long the war goes on, and finally, the nature of the America/British presence (occupation, liberation) in Iraq. My sense is that from the perspective of the Shi'ite and Kurdish populations, once the regime has been destroyed, this will be viewed as a liberation.

From the vantage point of many Sunnis, however, this may look more like an occupation for two reasons. First, Sunnis may feel that we are supporting Shi'ites and Kurds against them; in the context of Iraq's bitterly divided society, it will be hard to get around this, especially at first, when revenge attacks etc..occur. Second, let us assume that we kill some 50,000 or so Sunni soldiers, and in addition, maybe 5,000 Shi'ites.

Each of those men will come from an extended family of say 100 people. So do the math. We will have a lot of people wanting revenge, and taking revenge. This brings up a final point. It is not easy to police a country, as will have to do for months if not longer, and make nice. You have to enter people's homes, search them, arrest people. With the prospects of a guerrilla war looming, the US may find itself having to undertake the actions of an occupier despite its best intentions. The context does not favor us. As a result, an internationalization of the "stabilization force" (as it will probably be called) will be necessary, and as soon as feasible.

AbuKhalil: Of course, this is not a war of liberation, and the only ones who see it as such are the war enthusiasts in the great Iraqi city of Washington, DC, and their allies, the brave fighters for Iraq (the leaders of the Iraqi National Congress) who have been fighting Saddam's tyranny in the nightclubs, brothels, and casinos of Europe for years, and at US taxpayers expense. 

How could this be a war of liberation when the war itself is consolidating pro-US governments in the Middle East, regardless of their human rights record (abysmal in all cases)?  And if this is really a war of liberation, and if everybody agrees it is, how come the Iraqis themselves do not see it as such? 

No matter how the US government tries, the Iraqis are meeting the invading US/British troops (I apologize to Micronesia and Albania for not using the term coalition when I refer to troops, although I take cognizance of the presence of 70 brave Albanian soldiers in the ranks of the "coalition") not with flowers and rice, but with force. 

Last August, Richard Cheney, citing the authority of Fouad Ajami, the hawks' favorite Middle East expert, promised that no less than the legendary "Arab street" is "sure to erupt in joy in the same way the throngs in Kabul greeted the Americans."  How accurate have these predictions been? Instead, Arab crowds have been trying for weeks to storm US embassies, and US actions have miraculously turned this pathetic and ruthless tyrant (Saddam Hussien) into a popular figure inside and outside Iraq. 

Wars of liberation are fought by people, and supported by powers trusted by the people engaged in liberation. The US, due to its long legacy of support for dictatorships in the Middle East and for embracing Israeli oppression and persecution of Palestinians, has not sweet appeal, and is resented and distrusted.  Finally, it is hard to convince people being bombed by you, that the US while bombing you intends your liberation. The thousands of bombs and missiles that have been dropped on Iraq have not all hit Saddam, and his two thuggish sons.

Last but not least, click on this link. I hardly would call those pictures the footage of "liberation." http://www.aljazeera.net/news/arabic/2003/3/3-22-26.htm

Kurtz: This is indeed a war of liberation.  That is because the Iraqi regime is one of the most vicious dictatorships that the world has ever seen.  Saddam Hussein has studied the police state tactics of Hitler and Stalin in detail--and improved upon them.  His regime is made up of a series of overlapping security services.  Everyone keeps an eye on everyone else, and anyone who dares rebel knows that he will be killed by his minders.  We have seen these tactics put to use by Saddam's loyalists as they resist the American forces.  Minders are present among the fighters, to make sure no one surrenders. 

And Saddam's loyalists also know that, if they do not resist and defeat the Americans, after the war they will be the targets of revenge killings from the many Iraqi people whom they have so egregiously oppressed.  We have also seen Saddam's loyalists making use of terror state tactics in their fighting.  We know that they have held families hostage in order to force husbands and brothers to fight; that they have intentionally disguised cars filled with innocent women and children as suicide bombers, in hopes that the Americans would kill them; that they have used women and children as human shields; that they have attacked American soldiers from the inside of holy and historic mosques, that they have executed and humiliated coalition prisoners of war, and that they have maintained torture chambers in installations we have since raided. 

This is the regime from which America is delivering the Iraqi people, the great majority of whom fear and despise Saddam.  True, after the war, if we do not handle the occupation and transfer of power wisely, we risk the displeasure of the Iraqi people.  And no doubt, loyalists of the old regime, along with terrorists imported from Syria and elsewhere, will continue to oppose and harass Americans after the war.  But what most Arab governments really fear is quite different.  What really strikes terror into the hearts of governments throughout the Middle East, however, is the idea that the government that may soon be established in Iraq could prove more attractive to the peoples of the Middle East than the regimes that rule them now.

Last: Whether or not this is a war of liberation remains to be seen, because we won't know for certain until after the war is won and the peace is being waged. For the time being, all we have to go on is the word of the two camps: The allies maintain that their aim is to liberate Iraq. Saddam Hussein, As`ad AbuKhalil, and other antiwar types maintain that the war's goals lie elsewhere (Zionism, corporate interests, American empire, oil--take your pick).

On matters of truth in advertising the American and British governments are, historically speaking, pretty reliable. They say that they want to give Iraq back to the Iraqis, help them establish self-governance, and use their oil revenues to rebuild the country. If they are being disingenuous, then they should be confronted--Iraq deserves freedom, not colonialization. But right now there is little evidence to suggest that they not be taken at their word.

Sadly, the same can't be said of the other side in this dispute. Iraqi administration officials were telling us that American forces weren't in Baghdad, didn't control Saddam International Airport, and were being defeated by the valiant Republican Guard even as we speak. All of which were, of course, fabrications.

Likewise, Professor AbuKhalil writes that "Last August, Richard Cheney, citing the authority of Fouad Ajami, the hawks' favorite Middle East expert, promised that no less than the legendary 'Arab street' is 'sure to erupt in joy in the same way the throngs in Kabul greeted the Americans.'"

Which is, of course, untrue. Cheney said, "Professor Fouad Ajami, predicts that after liberation the streets in Basra and Baghdad are sure to erupt in joy in the same way throngs in Kabul greeted the Americans." Baghdad has yet to be "liberated," but Cheney and Ajami have been proved correct in the case of Basra.

Whether or not Professor AbuKhalil's error is the result of carelessness or intellectual dishonesty hardly matters--after all, he could still be proven correct in the macro. But it does suggest that, at least until the dust clears, the coalition governments have earned the benefit of the doubt.

Brumberg: Seems to me that we are in something of a pickle in terms of how we handle our military presence in Iraq. We must do the policing now, and that itself will increase the perception that the US presence is more about occupation than liberation. I also agree that we should take American officials at their word. I think Wolfowitz is serious about democratizing Iraq. If any thing, he minimizes the problems that this will entail, especially in the context of what has been a unilateral war, the diplomacy for which was very badly handled.

AbuKhalil: First of all, if Mr. Last will engage in any silly tactics (like linking my name to that of Saddam Husayn), I will simply not continue.  To engage in the vulgar Fox News' style of linking any voice of opposition to war to Saddam's regime should be discarded in this debate, and in any debate.  I can easily say to him that I have been an opponent of Saddam's government since my teens, at a time when officials of the US government were busy constructing a "working relationship" (became a honeymoon in the '80s) with Saddam's govt. I was lobbying as a graduate student in the US against Saddam Husayn when none other than Donald Rumsfeld met with Saddam in '83, and assured the press that Saddam is sincere in not causing mischief in the Middle East. 

The pro-war camp in the US has many more people with pro-Saddam's background than the anti-war camp.  As for the promises of giving back Iraq to the Iraqis (after a transitional period), and awarding "freedom" to the Iraqis, all this discourse is not new: this talk is not new, it was voiced by past colonial armies that came to the Middle East.  They all promised good things; and they all invoked the lofty ideals of freedom and liberty.  The results were much sinister, of course.  For that reason, there is very little expectations of virtues coming out of this war, and the consequent occupation of the country.  I am surprised that Last decided to quibble with my quotation from Cheney's speech of last August: it will prove embarrassing for years to come.  And remember that they were predicting rejoicing and cheers not only in Iraq, but in fact all over the Arab world.  Instead, people in Arab capitals are demonstrating daily (you will not see that on CNN, of course; it is too bothersome to viewers), and fanatical groups in the Middle East will have easier times recruiting. 

As the pro-US Egyptian leader warned, instead of one Bin Laden, we may have 100 on our hand.  That worries me, and this war and its long terms consequences make me more worried about our safety.  Also, let us not use the term "the coalition".  It is a British-US military affair, and everybody knows that. Let us have some respect for the intelligence of our readers.  After all, I did not hear about troops from Micronesia fighting in Basra, although Albania did manage to send some whopping 70 soldiers to the battle. 

Kurtz:  I am delighted to learn that AbuKhalil is a long time opponent of Saddam Hussein.  I am also sorry to note that AbuKhalil is apparently unwilling to support the only action that can reasonably be expected to remove this oppressive dictator from power.

Last: Professor AbuKhalil opposes the war in Iraq. Saddam Hussein opposes the war in Iraq. The good professor may find these two facts inconvenient, but that's hardly surprising. If he finds it so inconvenient that he feels the need to withdraw from this symposium, I hardly think readers will be the worse for it.

Professor AbuKhalil says that he's "surprised" that I "decided to quibble" with his misquotation of Dick Cheney. I suspect he means that he's embarrassed I pointed out his mistake. I was originally unsure whether his misquotation was the result of sloppiness or intellectual dishonesty. Well. Asked and answered.

But let's get to the important stuff: Professor AbuKhalil says that Vice President Cheney's predictions about cheering in Baghdad and Basra "will prove embarrassing for years to come." Perhaps. But Professor AbuKhalil's doubts have proved quite embarrassing today.

Turn on the television, professor. It's the fall of the Berlin Wall all over again.

AbuKhalil: Mr. Last needs a course in elementary logic, but judging from his magazine, it looks like logical analysis is not a requirement for writers in the Weekly Standard.  He thinks that he can link me with Saddam because Saddam is opposed to the war, as I am.  So if Saddam thinks that the sky is blue, Mr. Last should believe that the sky is purple, if I follow your beautiful logic to its conclusions. I have opposed Saddam's wars, which he was enamored with.  But I really hope that you can resort to better argument than to try to discredit the anti-war argument, by suggesting that Saddam opposes the war too.  Saddam urges people (in some of his rambling speeches) to brush their teeth regularly, which means that Mr. Last (who wants to strictly distinguish himself from Saddam) never brushes his teeth.  That is bad. There is no mistake in my reference to Cheney's speech: people can read it themselves: http://www.newamericancentury.org/iraq-082602.htm

Yes, his predictions will prove embarrassing for years to come: there was not a single person cheering in an Arab capital or town or village: unless angry demonstrations against the US are now referred to as "cheering."  And not even in Basra: and if you watch Arabic TV stations where interviews are conducted by journalists who are not surrounded by tanks and weapons, many people are expressing outrage and opposition to US occupation. 

The highest Shi`ite religious authority in the Arab world, Ayatollah Sistani in Najaf, has hitherto refused to shake hands or meet with any US or British military or political representative.  Mr. Last asks me to turn on the TV: at least, now I know where Mr. Last gets his inspiration and information.  I prefer to follow US, and European and Arab media, and also like to read to make my judgments.  Mr. Last, relies on Geraldo to learn about other people.

Question #3: Who are Saddam's allies? Would it be fair to say that France and Russia are in the same camp as Iran, al Qaeda and Syria?

Brumberg: France and Russia are Saddam's allies? This is a polemical statement. I certainly can't imagine either country doing anything to facilitate his efforts to prevent his own destruction. If France and Russia opposed a unilateral war, this was not because they wanted to prevent the disarmament of Iraq. As for Syria and Al Qaeda, is it not inconceivable that elements within the Syrian intelligence community might offer Saddam's troops some kind of support, especially if the war drags on. As for Al Qaeda, as bin Ladin's most recent statement illustrates, the leaders of the organization despise him and regime. But certainly, in the context of a prolonged war, this organization will see itself as ally of the "Iraqi Muslim" people and will support the emergence of a Sunni resistance movement.

And Iran an ally of Iraq? Absolutely not. Iran would like to have real influence in a new government, via the Shi'ites, and many hardliners have made that much clear. But if the Shia community is underrepresented in a new government, or if Iran backed Iraqi Shi'ite organizations such as the Shi'ite The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) are underrepresented, I can imagine that Iran's security services might make life difficult for the US, especially if troubles break out between say, the Shi'ite community in Baghdad, which is at least 1.5 million strong, and US troops. Again, Iran will want to portray itself as a supporter for the Muslim Iraqi people, not Saddam's regime. If anything, we are doing Iran a favor by getting rid of this regime (even though Tehran has real problems with an American occupation force just tens of thousands, just south of its border with Iraq).

AbuKhalil: First, the question is sneakily implying that opposition to war is tantamount to support for Saddam and Al-Qaeda.  Let us try to avoid the magical links and insinuation that characterized the pre-war debate (or lack thereof) in the Washington, DC.  Saddam should have no allies whatever, and yet the unpopularity of US actions, and its international arrogance and unilateralism, have provided him with sudden allies. 

Of course, let us remember that US used to be an ally of Saddam in the 1980s, and a US envoy brokered an alliance with Saddam in 1983 (some readers may recognize his name: Donald Rumsfeld, who is too modest to tell the American people about the past friendship and the nature of the alliance at the time).  As I graduate student at Georgetown in that time, I personally lobbied the US State Department to go against Saddam, especially when he used chemical weapons.  The US Department of State Iraq desk officer would only tell me that the US government does not have evidence that Saddam used chemical weapons.  France and Russia are responding to their public opinion (even in Japan, some 90 percent of the people are opposed to war), and they also resent US disregard for international legality. 

Syria, it should be remembered, had the longest feud with Saddam, and yet they now express solidarity with his regime and people.  These are the early dangerous results of US actions and war.  The threat that we faced after Sep. 11, has now been augmented due to US actions.  Arab volunteers are now rushing to Iraq to joining the fight.  Is this the new Middle East that we have been promised? Are they turning Iraq into a new Afghanistan where all the fundamentalist fanatics will find a location for their struggle against the US?

Kurtz: The Syrians are playing a double game, trying to stay on our good side, while also allowing terrorists to flow into Iraq.  There are reports that Al Qaeda has already sent its own terrorists to attack us.  The French, Germans, and Russians are a more complicated matter.  We know that one third of the French people wish us to lose this war.  The French foreign minister was reluctant to say who he wanted to win the war.  Even as the war was beginning, Russians sold advanced military technology to the Iraqis, and it is very unlikely that this could have happened without the knowledge of the Russian government.  France and Germany have armed Iraq for years.  Chirac himself built Saddam's first nuclear reactor--the one the Isrealis destroyed.  And "objectively," as they say, the diplomacy of France, Germany, and Russia has helped to keep Saddam in power. 

Having said all that, it may be wise to see this glass half empty, instead of half full.  Already there are voices in France arguing that Chirac may have gone too far in isolating himself and France from the U.S. and Britain.  So we should try to repair relations with France, Germany, and Russia (while also keeping a wary eye on them).  But there are deeper problem.  For example, large numbers of unassimilated Muslim immigrants now live in France and Germany, and this is pulling the foreign policy of these countries away from ours.  Unfortunately, instead of trying to assimilate Muslim immigrants, many of the elites in Europe (as in America) have embraced so called mulitculturalism.  As a result of this and other important factors, American foreign policy may continue diverge from that of Europe for some time to come.

Last: It would be unfair to characterize France and Russia as allies of Saddam Hussein. Jacques Chirac appears to have taken up a position of de facto support for Saddam's regime not out of any great affection for the dictator, but rather because he wishes France to become the head of an E.U. counterweight to American hegemony. When considering the weight of alliances, think of China and ask yourself, "Are we closer, diplomatically, to country X than to the Chinese?" If the answer is yes, then they're still our ally. As for Russia, again, the future is uncertain, but taking the issue of Iraq aside, they have been consistently edging closer to the West over the last decade and it's difficult to imagine that trend ceasing.

So who are Saddam Hussein's allies? As it turns out, Islamist terrorists. You'll recall that it wasn't supposed to be this way. One of the principal arguments against the war was that Saddam was a secular tyrant and that al Qaeda and other religiously motivated terrorists would never cooperate with him. This argument has proved incorrect as Islamist fighters have joined up with the Baath resistance and terrorist cells have been discovered in Iraq. Some in the antiwar crowd now want to pivot on their initial assertion and claim that the war is "creating" these terrorists. These clever folks have answers for everything.

Question #4: In this war, what have Americans shown themselves to be (through the way they fight the war)? What did Iraqi regime show itself to be?

Brumberg: I think the US has demonstrated that it has a moral and strategic interest in avoiding civilian casualties, and to the extent possible, befriending Iraqis, assisting them in humanitarian aid etc...But then again, things happen. The Washington Post interviewed an American soldier the other day who explained why he deliberately shot and killed a woman civilian ("the chick got in the way," as he put it). In battle situations, a policy of good will is not always realized on the ground. As for the Iraqi regime, it has shown itself to be what we always knew it was: a brutal, fascist regime that is willing to kills its own civilians to save its own hide.

AbuKhalil: Let us remember that there are no clean or surgical wars, and even if they exist, the US does not fight them.  In the 1991 war, US dropped some 88000 tons of bombs and missiles on Iraq, and more than 70 percent of them missed the target.  Smart bombs were less than 10 percent, and of those 10 percent missed their target) (see Rick Atkinson, Crusade).  And even in the most technologically advanced war in Afghanistan, 25 percent of the 22400 bombs and missiles missed their targets, according to a Central Command estimate from March of last year.  Estimates of civilian casualties in Afghanistan range from 900 (New York Times) to 3400 (Professor Mark Herold of University of New Hampshire).  British newspapers have been reporting that British troops are rather shocked with the merciless and cowboys' ways of US troops.

The war has shown that wars always hit the innocent, and punish those who are promised liberation.  This war (in actions and discourse) promises a revival not of liberation war, but of colonial war.  The "mission civilizatrice" discourse is back in full swing.  One never expected anything good of the Iraqi government, and it is a shame that the US made many Iraqi rally around the ruthless leadership.

Last: America has shown itself to be, well, America. Professor AbuKhalil says that there are no "clean or surgical wars." But that depends on your definition of "clean" and "surgical." Just 60 years ago the Japanese massacred 250,000 Chinese civilians--not in pursuit of any military objective, but as a reprisal for the United States' Doolittle raid.

Fast forward to the last three major actions fought by the United States: 3,500 Iraqi civilians killed in the first Gulf War; 500 in Kosovo; 1,000 in Afghanistan--each and every one of these deaths an accident. So far in this war even the most pessimistic estimates put the Iraqi death toll at about 500.

Viewed in historical terms, the current war isn't just clean and surgical, it's a civilizational advance on the order of magnitude of Hammurabi's codification of laws. If, from this point forward, the rest of the world wages war the American way, we will have reached a high point in human civilization.

As for the Iraqi conduct, Saddam's forces have fought the way we expected them to. If they were the type of men who fought with honor and concern for their fellow citizens, I suspect we would not be at war with them in the first place. But we should not overlook the valor of many common Iraqis: Men who have been forced at gunpoint to make suicide runs, who have then turned themselves in to allied forces; the Iraqi lawyer who risked both his and his family's lives to save Pfc. Jessica Lynch.

If this is the character of the rest of Iraq--the character of the people Saddam has been brutalizing for 30 years--then I think they're going to do quite well for themselves once the tyrant's yolk has been removed. 

Kurtz: As I said earlier, Iraqi behavior during this war has been that of a vicious terror state.  American behavior, on the other hand, has been humane.  Our attempts to preserve civilian life, historic buildings, and the country's infrastructure, as well as our humane treatment of prisoners of war, stands in pointed contrast to the murderous actions of the Iraqis.  The opponents of the war would like to deny, ignore, or minimize thess critical differences between the combatants.  But those differences are obvious to the world.  True, our humane behavior is in our own national interest.  Yet there is more to it than that.  The American people would not tolerate viciousness, cruelty, or cowardly abuse of civilians by our soldiers.  More important, our magnificent soldiers would not tolerate such behavior in themselves.  Our soldiers are good, because we are good.  And that, as I said above, is what the rulers of the Middle East truly fear.  They know that their people, if given a choice, may prefer a government inspired by the humanity we live by, to dictatorships founded on fear.

Brumberg: Yes, by in large, the behavior of American soldiers has been excellent. There have been some abuses. The infamous Washington Post interview with an American solider who killed a "chick" because "she was in the way" reminds us that even with the best of intentions soldiers will violate the most elementary rules of battle.

AbuKhalil: I would like to get back to Mr. Last’s comments. Sorry, Mr. Last, I stand by my point: there is no clean war, and yes Japan violated those rules (and engaged in horrific enslavement of innocent women) as did the evil Nazi regime. But the US also violated the rules of war in WWII (read the book War Without Mercy), and civilians in Japan and Germany were bombed by US planes, with the full knowledge that they were civilian targets. 

As for the number of civilians killed in recent US wars: unlike Mr. Last, I do not brag that "only" 3500 Iraqi civilians died in 1991: in fact, the number is much higher and you have to add to the figure the thousands who were butchered by Saddam's regime under the watch of US military, which allowed him to use his helicopter gunship to massacre the anti-regime rebels. 

In Afghanistan, the civilian toll is much higher than 1000 (Mr. Last gives the most conservative estimate), but those 1000 (it is more like 4000 now) were as innocent as the innocent people who were killed on Sep. 11.  Unlike Mr. Last, I believe that innocent lives are equal, regardless of the identity, race, and religion of victims or the of the killers.  Yes, I do agree on one thing: we should not confuse the brutality of Saddam's regime, with the Iraqi people and their national character.  They are innocent of Saddam's crimes, and their lives should be spared: every one of their lives.

More than anything else, I would like to emphasize that nobody expects anything good or humane from Saddam Husayn.  This pathetic self-worshipping dictator never cared about human rights or legality, and I do not expect him to ever adhere to standards of humanity.  But I do not believe that we can say that the US war machine has adhered to standards or the rules of war; all sides should abide by the rules and treaties that govern the rules of war.  Military commanders, for example, were opposed to the invention of the category of "enemy combatants" after the war in Afghanistan, and they urged the political leadership to observe strictly the rules of war and the Geneva convention in the course of the war in Afghanistan. 

The civilian leadership decided otherwise.  Saddam's troops have certainly engaged in combat in civilian clothes, which is against the rules that govern war.  But unfortunately, Special Forces also fought in civilian clothes in the war in Afghanistan, and presumably in this war, and it is called (to use the military lingo) "relaxed grooming standards," but it is also against the rules of war.  We should not measure the conduct of US troops (or any troops) with the standards (or lack thereof) of Saddam's regime, but we should measure that with international norms and treaties.  The Arab world is appalled at the extent of civilian causalities, and human rights and relief organizations are quite unhappy with the mounting civilian toll in Baghdad.  In fact, the British press carries articles in which British troops in Iraq offer strong criticisms of US troops for their conduct in this war in Iraq, and for the perceived insensitivity to the people of Iraq.  We should remember that the people of Iraq are twice victims: they have been victims of Saddam's brutal rule, and now they are unfairly suffering from this war, all in the name of their liberation.

Kurtz: I haven't read any stories about American troops using women and children as human shields.  I can understand a pacifist arguing that all war should be prohibited on account of civilian casualties.  I would disagree, because failure to fight a dangerous dictator results in the death of more innocent civilians in the end.  But unless he is a pacifist, it seems to me that AbuKhalil has placed an unreasonable standard on war.  This war is being fought with more precision weaponry, and more care to diminish civilian casualties, than any war in modern history.  The United States understands very well that its interests will be served if civilian casualties are minimized.  If the civilian casualties caused by this war are unacceptable to AbuKhalil, then he must either be a pacifist, or someone who is using the issue of civilian casualties to object to a war that he opposes for other reasons.

AbuKhalil: Mr. Kurtz, I am not pacifist, although the more I see of the horrors of war, I am leaning increasingly in that direction, perhaps because I grew up in war-torn Lebanon.  Warriors now either target civilians or recklessly engage in massive bombing with little regard to civilians, especially if they are of another race or religion.  Enough of "precision weaponry" talk. Less than 10 percent of weapons used in 1991 war were precision weaponry, and 10 percent of smart bombs are dumb bombs, which miss their targets.  In Yugoslavia, 98 percent of bombs dropped were smart bombs (notice that in wars against white, non-Muslim people, more precision weapons are used) and yet some 500 civilians were killed.

Kurtz:  Well, yes.  You are indeed embracing pacifism, and also denying the reality that technological change and the cautious policy of our government have made this war perhaps the least damaging to civilians in history.

Interlocutor: As'ad, Stanley, Jonathan and Daniel, it was a pleasure. I am sorry, we are out of time. It was a privilege to have you with us. We'll see you again soon. Cheers, Jamie.

PREVIOUS SYMPOSIUMS:

Stalin and Saddam. Guests: Vladimir Bukovsky, Yuri Yarim-Agaev, Mary Habeck, Louis Menashe and Jonathan Brent.

The Iraq War and the Lessons of Vietnam. Guests: Stephen J. Morris, Stanley Aronowitz, David Kaiser and David Horowitz.

The University Is Not a Political Party, Or Is It? Guests: Stanley Fish, Stanley Aronowitz, Stephen H. Balch and David Horowitz. 

Ashcroft Justice. Guests: Michael Ratner, Susan Estrich, Cliff May, Hank Holzer. 


Jamie Glazov is Frontpage Magazine's editor. He holds a Ph.D. in History with a specialty in Russian, U.S. and Canadian foreign policy. He is the author of Canadian Policy Toward Khrushchev’s Soviet Union and is the co-editor (with David Horowitz) of The Hate America Left. He edited and wrote the introduction to David Horowitz’s Left Illusions. His new book is United in Hate: The Left's Romance with Tyranny and Terror. To see his previous symposiums, interviews and articles Click Here. Email him at jglazov@rogers.com.


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