Al-Ahram Weekly Online   27 March - 2 April 2003
Issue No. 631
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Hi-tech quagmire

The war against Iraq was no picnic, and the bombs were not as smart as they were billed to be. Azmi Bishara* says the solidarity with Iraq has paid off

The Pentagon is still in full control of the media, having attached to its units journalists who are totally dependent on briefings before and after the battle. The embedded journalists, kept safely out of the line of fire, have not outsmarted the officers who manipulate their reporting. Often, they have failed to maintain their independent frame of thought and moral judgement. Yet, the facts have occasionally slipped past the grip of propaganda. Reality can break loose from the cocoon of orchestrated buffoonery.

A Patriot missile brought down a UK plane. Impressive, particularly since these same Patriots failed in the 1991 Gulf War to bring down any of the Scuds fired against Israel. One not-so-smart missile crashed in Iran. Helicopters collided in flight or crashed during take-off. And a US soldier turned his grenade against his own unit. We are clueless still as to how smart this soldier or his unit are, but we are getting a pretty good notion about the smartness of those who think that highly complicated military operations, involving heavy hardware and intricate logistics, are little more than a Rambo film, where the protagonist is often capable of downing enemy helicopters with the gun he has just snatched from one of the 50 troops he earlier stabbed with a knife, after having stormed their camp alone.

Things in real life differ from the way they seem on the drawing board or the computer screen. Basra in reality is not the same Basra you see on maps or you discuss in brainstorming sessions with Arab and non-Arab intellectuals, academic consultants or Pentagon experts. The real Basra did not surrender. It refused to fall at the first sound of the bugle of advancing troops. The experts miscalculated. They must have been thinking of the insurrection that took place in southern Iraq after the withdrawal from Kuwait. They did not take into account the past 13 years of sanctions, the suffering from which Basra did nothing to deserve. They overlooked the fact that the current campaign is an aggression against the sovereignty of Iraq. They forgot that Basra is an Arab and Iraqi town, and that Iraq is a sovereign Arab state.

The Americans did not come to Iraq to remove weapons of mass destruction, simply because no such weapons exist, and no proof of their existence was ever provided. No one ever asked the Americans to bring democracy to Iraq, or believed that this was truly their goal. So why are they invading Iraq?

Irrespective of what the Americans may do after the end of this war, whoever cooperates with them will not be cooperating with benign victors but with wily invaders. This simple fact is sufficient to sully the structure, moral fabric and legitimacy of any new regime. If anything, the current approach is an exercise in creating a deformed democracy. Any analogy with the rebirth of democracy in Germany, after its liberation from the Nazis in World War II, is unwarranted.

Iraq is under aggression, and it is resisting. Something is seriously wrong with those who want the Patriots and other so-called smart munitions to think for them. Something is seriously wrong with the Israeli commentators who saw the war as a picnic, expected it to be brief and enthused over the types of US weapons shown on their screens, just as children enthuse over computer video games. Now, the smiles are dissipating.

The experts -- as well as ordinary Arabs -- now know what it means to make war against a cohesive Arab country, not Grenada or Panama, not Afghanistan or the Taliban. Iraq is a civil and orderly Arab country, with a secular regime. Such a country, even after 13 years of sanctions and destruction, is still difficult for a regular army to overrun because it has maintained the minimum infrastructure of effective institutions and remained functional even under duress. Even in its war-torn and reduced state, Iraq was able to give the Americans, the British and Israel a jolt. Imagine, then, how things would have been had this country been a unified modern state, with a democratic regime that rallies the masses behind it.

Some may wonder what is the use of Iraqi resistance to foreign invaders in this most desperate of situations and with victory assured for superior technology and the more powerful and wealthy attackers? Even if their weapons were not as smart as previously thought, even if the attackers are not superhuman, is not the outcome of this war already known?

Resistance is of great historic importance. This importance exceeds any losses the current regime and its supporters may endure. It transcends the illusions of victory that the regime wants to instill in the nation. It is hard to know whether the Iraqi soldiers grasp the magnitude of the historic tasks they are now accomplishing. What is certain, however, is that the Iraqi resistance would force the Americans to rethink their plans for Iraq and for the entire region. The Iraqi resistance would also force the Israelis to rethink their regional schemes. Some Israelis have forgotten the Lebanon lesson. Now they may have to think again about Palestine.

The solidarity with Iraq did not succeed in preventing the war, but it has given a boost to Iraqi resistance. It has turned the spotlight on Iraqi cities and US policies. Solidarity has forced the Americans to be more selective with their combat tactics. The Americans know that they are now allowed to advance at any price. Eventually, the Americans may resort to tactics resulting in more civilian casualties. Eventually, the Americans may lose their nerve, and the outcome will be terrible scenes. Terrible because, for the rest of us, they remain just this: scenes.

Resistance accomplishes two tasks. One, it raises the price that America will have to pay for the invasion. Two, it would force America to revise its calculations concerning the future of Iraq and the region. Solidarity does not just curb the power of aggression. It sends a clear message to the United States: This region is not America's backyard, or Israel's for that matter.

The rising tide of solidarity with the Iraqis once again proves this most vital fact: Pan-Arabism is alive. Arab masses in Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Lebanon, and Syria did not take to the streets to support the Taliban. But they did to support Palestine and Iraq. What matters is not the slogans they chanted but the evidence of vitality they provided. The momentum of Pan-Arabism may -- if tapped -- provide the alternative political vision, the legitimate and democratic programme, for which we have been waiting.

* The writer is a leading Palestinian political activist and member of the Knesset.

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