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Win the War, Lose the Peace

The Bible tells us that pride goeth before the fall. In Iraq, it cameth right after it.

From the moment that statue of Saddam hit the ground, the mood around the Rumsfeld campfire has been all high-fives, I-told-you-sos, and endless smug prattling about how the speedy fall of Baghdad is proof positive that those who opposed the invasion of Iraq were dead wrong.

What utter nonsense. In fact, the speedy fall of Baghdad proves the antiwar movement was dead right.

The whole pretext for our unilateral charge into Iraq was that the American people were in imminent danger from Saddam and his mighty war machine. The threat was so clear and present that we couldn’t even give inspectors searching for weapons of mass destruction—Hey, remember those?—another 30 days, as France wanted.

Well, it turns out that, far from being on the verge of destroying Western civilization, Saddam and his 21st-century Gestapo couldn’t even muster a half-hearted defense of their own capital. The hawks’ cakewalk disproves their own dire warnings; they can’t have it both ways.

The invasion has proved wildly successful in one other regard: It has unified most of the world—especially the Arab world—against us. Back in 1991, more than a half-dozen Arab nations were part of our Desert Storm coalition. Operation Iraqi Freedom’s “coalition of the willing” had zero. Not even the polygamous potentates of Kuwait—whose butts we saved last time out and who were most threatened by whatever threat Iraq still presented—would join us. And, I’m sorry, but substituting Bulgaria and the island of Tonga for Egypt and Oman is just not going to cut it when it comes to winning hearts and minds on the Arab street.

In fact, almost everything about the invasion—from the go-it-alone build-up to the mayhem the fall of Saddam has unleashed—has played right into the hands of those intent on demonizing our country. Islamic extremists must be having a field day signing up recruits for the holy war they’re preparing to wage against us. Instead of “Uncle Sam wants you,” their recruiting posters feature a different kind of patriotic image: an American soldier ill-advisedly draping the American flag over Saddam’s face.

The antiwar movement did not oppose the war out of fear that America was going to lose. It was the Bush administration’s pathological and frantic obsession with an immediate, damn-the- consequences invasion that fueled the protests. And please don’t point to jubilant Iraqis dancing in the streets to validate the case for “preemptive liberation.” You’d be doing the Baghdad Bugaloo too if the murderous tyrant who’d been eating off golden plates while your family starved finally got what was coming to him. It in no way proves that running roughshod over international law and pouring Iraqi oil—now brought to you by the good folks at Halliburton—onto the flames of anti-American hatred was a good idea. It wasn’t before the war, and it still isn’t now. The unintended consequences have barely begun to unfold.

And the idea that our slamdunk of Saddam actually proves the White House was right is particularly dangerous because it encourages the Wolfowitzes and the Perles and the Cheneys to argue that we should be invading Syria or Iran or North Korea or Cuba as soon as we catch our breath. They’ve tasted blood.

It’s important to remember that the Arab world has seen a very different war than we have. They are seeing babies with limbs blown off, children wailing beside their dead mothers, Arab journalists killed by American tanks and bombers, holy men hacked to death and dragged through the streets. They are seeing American forces leaving behind a wake of destruction, looting, hunger, humiliation and chaos.

Who’s been handling our war PR, Osama bin Laden? The language and imagery are all wrong. Having Tom DeLay gush about our “army of virtue” at the same time we’re blowing up mosques is definitely not sending the right message to a Muslim world already suspicious that we’re waging a war on Islam.

Neither is Ari Fleischer’s claim that the administration can’t do anything to keep Christian missionaries—including those who have described the Islamic prophet Muhammad as a “demon- possessed pedophile” and a “terrorist”—from going on a holy crusade to Baghdad. You think the Arab world might take that the wrong way? If there is one thing that could bring Sunnis and Shiites together, it’s the common hatred of evangelical zealots who denigrate their prophet.

And it doesn’t help to have the American media referring to Jay Garner, the retired general Don Rumsfeld picked to oversee the rebuilding of Iraq, as “viceroy.” It reeks of colonial imperialism. Why not just call him “Head Bwana?” Or “Garner of Arabia?” I didn’t realize the Supreme Court had handed Bush a scepter to go along with the Florida recount.

The powerful role that shame and humiliation have played in shaping world history is considerable, but something the Bush team seems utterly clueless about. Which is why the antiwar movement must be stalwart in its refusal to be silenced or browbeaten by the gloating “I told you so” chorus on the right. On the contrary, it needs to make sure that the doctrine of preemptive invasion is forever buried in the sands of Iraq.

Especially as the administration, high on the heady fumes of Saddam’s ouster, turns its covetous eyes on Syria. I give it less than a week before someone starts making the case that President Assad is the next, next Hitler.

—Arianna Huffington


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