Where Did They Go Wrong?
Uri Avnery, Israel
March 25, 2003
Some more thoughts about the war:
Plan and Reality
An old truism says: "No war-plan does survive the first clash with the enemy." That is always true. But something even worse has happened to the Americans now.
In order to sell the war to their own public and to the world, Bush & Co. have painted the picture of a "surgical operation".
Quite simple: the Americans march on Baghdad in strength. The Iraqi population wants to get rid of their cruel dictator and greet the liberators with joy. The Shiites in the south shower them with rice. Sadam gets killed. The regime collapses like a house of cards. The Americans enter Baghdad in triumph. THE END. The whole business will take a week, at most. No dead, no prisoners.
Bush and his people did not lie. They really believed that this was going to happen. As always, the spin-doctors succeeded in convincing themselves.
After drawing an imaginary map, they based their plans on it. Now they meet the reality. For example, because of their contempt for the enemy, the lines of communication were not properly secured, there were no adequate preparations for the battles in the rear. After a rapid advance through the desert that was mainly a logistic operation, they reached the vicinity of Baghdad and thought that everything else wiould more or less fall into place by itself.
The "Israeli Syndrome"
One may call this the "Israeli Syndrome": the abysmal contempt for the Arabs, the belief that they cannot fight. This has caused the failures of the Israeli army in the Yom Kippur and Lebanon wars and in the two intifadas. Every time the Arabs fight valiantly and sacrifice their lives, it causes painful surprise. (An Israeli joke: "You really can’t rely on the Arabs. They are not surrendering.")
They Are Afraid
The Iraqi people react as any normal people would. In the face of a foreign invasion, they unite. Even the opponents of the regime support the leader in battle. When the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union, even the prisoners in the Gulag camps cheered Stalin.
Many Iraqis want, quite likely, to get rid of Saddam. But they do not want this to be done by foreign invaders. Especially not by the Americans, whom they suspect of intending to rob them of their oil. (The participation of the British, their hated former colonial masters, makes things even worse.)
And when the population does not come out to welcome the liberators and the brigades of the regular army do not capitulate en masse, what is the explanation? The politicians and generals find solace in a blatantly ridiculous construction: the millions of inhabitants of Basra and the south are afraid of Saddam’s agents who are still in the area. They long to greet the Americans, but do not dare, poor people.
Even the Israeli Army Spokesman could not have invented a more pitiful explanation.
The Palestinian Example
No Arab—be he Sunni or Shiite—can look upon the Americans as liberators, because, for two years now, they have seen every day on their TV screens what the Israeli army, with Bush’s wholehearted support, is doing to the Arab Palestinian people.
The righteous Americans, who tend to be insensitive to the feelings of other peoples, cannot even imagine the intensity of the fury and hatred of the Arab masses. Therefore, they could not draw the lessons from the September 11 atrocities—one of them being that they must change their policy in our country.
Even now, while the war is going on, Saddam’s television broadcasts images of Israeli outrages in the Palestinian territories, in order to show to the Iraqi people how the heroic Palestinians, including the children, pit their lives against the huge might of the Israeli army.
The Moment of Shock
In the history of Israel there were several moment of national shock.
One of them happened during the Yom Kippur war. The moment is printed in my memory. We were sitting in front of the TV set in a friend’s apartment, when there appeared on the screen a group of Israeli soldiers who had been taken prisoners.
They were sitting on the ground, their heads bent down, their hands tied behind their backs, trembling and frightened, surrounded by jubilant Syrians.
Up to that moment, the absolute belief in the superiority of the Israeli fighter was a cornerstone of Israeli consciousness, nourished by innumerable true stories and myths. At that moment it came crushing down. Suddenly we saw our soldiers as normal human beings, frightened in a frightening situation.
Now it happens to the Americans. They see their sons in a similar situation. No wonder the White House tries to hide the pictures, citing the Geneva convention. Where was that convention when thousands of PoWs from Afghanistan, soldiers of the Taliban army, where shown like animals in Guatanamo?
Our own army, of course, has always put prisoners-of-war on display for propaganda purposes.
I particularly remember a star of Israeli television, the "Arabist" Ehud Ya’ari, an ex-officer of army intelligence, interrogating captive Syrian and Egyptian officers on television, as an army intelligence officer would. No Geneva convention was mentioned.
One thing is certain even now: Saddam Hussein has already achieved what he wanted.
Whatever happens during the next days and weeks, he will enter Arab history as one of the great heroes, who did not flinch or run away in face of the superior enemy. Generations of children in all Arab countries will learn in school that he was the heir of the great Salah al-Din (Saladin).
The greatest military machine in history—as its commanders call it—has attacked a small country, most of whose arms were destroyed beforehand, and the people resisted valiantly under a shower of bombs and missiles, even without any air defense.
This is how it looks even now to all the Arabs in the world. They compare Saddam to their own rulers, Mubarak, Fahed, Abdallah and Assad.
From now on, the legend will only expand, growing into a national myth.
Uri Avnery is an Israeli journalist and peace activist.
From Media Monitors Network, March 25, 2003. By courtesy & © 2003 Uri Avnery.