Sunday, June 04, 2006


The first I heard about the Ishaqi incident was the media informing us the soldiers involved had been cleared of any wrongdoing, therefore it's completely unlike what went on in Haditha. The spin we're getting is basically: Sure, a bunch of civilians died, but the soldiers were playing by the rules of engagement, so everything's totally ok. Apparently it's fine to kill all the civilians you like, so long as you do it strictly by the book.

Funny how the Iraqis, including the new government, don't see things quite the same way. This seems to perplex a lot of people here in the States. Suppose you asked them how they would feel if a powerful foreign army occupied this country. Suppose none of that army's soldiers even spoke our language, much less knew anything about our culture, they had zero respect for us, thought we all looked alike, treated us like cattle, and they were given absolute free rein to kill US citizens according to whatever rulebook they felt like obeying that day. Anyone, any time, anywhere. Chances are that people wouldn't be exactly thrilled about the whole situation. And yet people can't seem to form any kind of clear idea about how the Iraqis might see us when we behave -- or even just appear to behave -- that way.

We will, no doubt, hear the standard "war is hell" argument about this incident. They'll tell us that it was unavoidable, and any further efforts to avoid harming civilians would amount to tying the troops' hands behind their backs, like "the politicians" supposedly did in Vietnam. In a way, there's a point here: You can't sanitize war. Attempting to do so may even be counterproductive. If the public thinks modern warfare is just a big videogame, like after the original Gulf War and Kosovo, and they're fed antiseptic phrases like "collateral damage", and never shown photos of what that actually means in real life, they're not going to have the same mental barrier to rushing into war as a nation that expects an inconclusive bloodbath. They won't, for instance, demand really conclusive proof about WMDs before diving into a war, and won't ask tough questions about postwar plans or exit strategies.

Another bit of spin we'll hear a lot in the near future is conservatives insisting (as they always do) that liberals are happy every time bad Iraq news comes out. Which is a vile accusation, and really bizarre if you think about it. I'm a card-carrying liberal, so I think I can speak with some authority here: I'm alarmed and disgusted, and not at all happy. That should just be common sense. Why is that so hard to understand? The wingnuts don't, because they don't want to understand. They've built up an elaborate fantasyland of stereotypes and crazy notions over the years, and that's all they want to hear about. When a story like Ishaqi pops up, I always hope it turns out not to be true. But over the last few years, somehow things always keep turning out to be true, things I never would have imagined this country would sink to. And I have a feeling we haven't hit bottom just yet, either.


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