News & Features Feedback
New This WeekAround TownMusicFilmArtTheaterNews & FeaturesFood & DrinkAstrology

  E-Mail This Article to a Friend
Not so fast
Pre-war optimism missed an essential reality: War is hell

There was a passion for the enterprise which affected everyone alike. The older men thought that they would either conquer the places against which they were sailing, or, in any case, with such a large force, could come to no harm; the young had a longing for the sights and experiences of distant places, and were confident that they would return safely.... The result of this excessive enthusiasm of the majority was that the few who actually were opposed to the expedition were afraid of being thought unpatriotic if they voted against it, and therefore kept quiet.

— Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, on Athenians’ decision to invade distant Sicily (fifth century BC)

PRO-WAR SENTIMENT prior to the start of the war with Iraq probably wasn’t as strong as the zeal that prompted Athenians in the fifth century BC to launch a hundred ships and thousands of men on an expedition half the known world away. But many observers — particularly among some but not all pro-war hawks — believed that the war would be easy. So easy, in fact, that Iraqis would welcome the US-led forces as liberators as soon as they crossed into Iraq. Vice-President Dick Cheney certainly stoked this viewpoint when he told Tim Russert, during a March 16 appearance on Meet the Press: " From the standpoint of the Iraqi people, my belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators. " In an op-ed for the Washington Post last month, Ken Adelman, a former assistant to Donald Rumsfeld when he served as President Gerald Ford’s secretary of defense back in the 1970s, actually suggested it would be a " cakewalk. " With reports of negotiations between high-level Iraqi leaders and US forces just days after the invasion was launched, it certainly seemed like it was going to be easy. Last Friday, William Saletan of Slate even lauded " the wonderful transformation of warfare. "

But Iraqi forces have put up much more resistance than most observers anticipated. Few commentators, for instance, thought the forces of Saddam Hussein would offer much of a fight in the southern region of the country, which is heavily populated by members of the Shiah (or Shiite) Muslim sect. Yet they’ve done just that in the cities of Nasariyah, Umm Qasr, and Basra. Pre-war analysis held that the Shiah, who loathe Hussein, would welcome US-led forces and prevent forces loyal to Hussein from operating in the south. Just the opposite has occurred, however. (Although as the Phoenix goes to press, there’s news that at least some Shiah in Basra are rising up against Hussein.) In the meantime, just 3500 Iraqi troops have surrendered; 80,000 put down their guns and surrendered to coalition forces during 1991’s Persian Gulf War. And consider these horrors: a small maintenance force attached to the Third Infantry, which included a 30-year-old Army cook and single mother — in other words, not the sort of personnel who’ve been trained for combat, much less in how to withstand the horrors of capture by the enemy — were ambushed in territory that had already been proclaimed " liberated. "

There have been other reports of Iraqi soldiers waving the white flag of surrender, only to turn their weapons on US-led forces when they approached. Other Iraqi soldiers have reportedly camouflaged themselves by donning civilian clothing and intermingling with crowds of Iraqi civilians. Thus disguised, they have been able to ambush supply lines for US-led forces. Indeed, the highway from Nasariyah to Baghdad has been nicknamed " ambush alley. "

page 1  page 2 

Click here for the Talking Politics archives
Issue Date: March 27 - April 3, 2003
Back to the News & Features table of contents.
  E-Mail This Article to a Friend

home | feedback | about the phoenix | find the phoenix | advertising info | privacy policy | the masthead | work for us

 © 2003 Phoenix Media Communications Group