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Balanced Fare: We Report, You Deride

Sunday, September 29, 2002

Too Ridiculous to be Serious; Too Serious to Ridicule

Which way to go on Nicholas Kristof's "Fighting Street to Street": "Is America really prepared for hundreds of casualties, even thousands, in an invasion and subsequent occupation that could last many years? " The Bothers Judd take a serious look at this, and I admire their intellect and restraint. For myself, this column is war, this column is death and destruction, but most especially, this column is silly.

Nicholas, Our Man in Baghdad, is going to scout Saddam's war preparations. Very sensitive info. We can see him, trench coat, fedora, the letters of transit... - does he smoke? NY Times writer, probably not. Press on.

"BASRA, Iraq — To understand why an invasion of Iraq may not be the cakewalk that the White House expects, pay $20 (round trip) and board an Iraqi Airways flight that soars from Baghdad straight through the American-enforced "no-flight zone" to Basra on the southern tip of Iraq."

The fog rolls across the airstrip. The engines of the airplane rev up. "If that plane leaves the ground and you're not on it, you'll regret it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but someday, and soon - MoDo is going to write on Saddam's war plans any day now."

"... American restraint is Iraq's ace going into war. Iraq knows that the United States cannot bomb schools, mosques and residential neighborhoods, and so it has plenty of places to hide its army. In the last gulf war, we were able to destroy an enemy that was out in the open desert, but this time Iraq seems intent on a different approach.

From Basra I drove to the Kuwait border on the "highway of death," to see how Iraq will guard what may be a principal invasion route for American troops. The only military presence was a few guards on the edge of Basra, amounting to what you'd expect at the entrance to an urban U.S. high school."

Huh? U.S. High School? Are we discussing vouchers and school choice and education reform? Get me back to Iraq, please.

"...Instead of protecting its borders, Iraq will hide its army within its cities, where air strikes are effective only at an unacceptable (for America) cost in civilian deaths. Saddam has a hiding place for himself that is better than Osama bin Laden's caves at Tora Bora: the teeming city of Baghdad, with five million inhabitants, where he already never spends two consecutive nights in the same place."

We'll always have Baghdad. If we didn't, we lost it along the way. We got it back last night, or at least, last week when George Bush spoke at the UN. Here's looking at you, Saddam.

"...The Americans are good at bombing," one Iraqi official mused. "But some day, they will have to come to the ground. And then we'll be waiting. Every Iraqi has a gun in his house, often a Kalashnikov. And every Iraqi has experience in fighting. So let's see how the Americans do when they're fighting in our streets."

"Fighting in the streets"; George Bush "won't be fooled again". Man, is everyone channeling the Who?

"...This time we're taking on an army with possible bio- and chemical weapons, 400,000 regular army troops and supposedly seven million more in Al Quds militia.

Karar Hassan, a 22-year-old member of the militia in the city of Najaf, said he had just completed a training session in street fighting, including fighting house to house and even from trees. "I'll fight them till my last drop of blood," he added, in the kind of boast that is heard everywhere in Iraq."

Well, there are reports that young Karar's idea got a bit muddled in the translation. "I'll fight until the first drop of blood", or perhaps, "I'll fight until the risk of bloodshed", would be more accurate.

If someone tries to threaten us, we know how to respond," said a farmer named Hakim al-Khal in the bazaar of Karbala, and then he reached under his shirt and brandished a handgun."

Courage, Nicholas! A handgun! I know how sensitive you Times chaps can be about uncontrolled handguns, but we can get past this.

No, we can't! A farmer has a handgun? Geez, does Don Rumsfeld know? My God, Hakim has a gun and he knows how to use it! Did Blair put this in his dossier? OK, we can get comfortable with nukes, bio-terror, chemical weapons, and general undirected nastiness, but now put Hakim in the mix, and where are we? Get me Kofi Anon - twelve years of sanctions, and now this? A handgun? Did anyone check for bullets?

OK, that's fine, I've made my point. But I can't stop laughing! Oh, man, Nicholas, did you check out Hakim's brother, I heard he has a chainsaw. And Ma might have a pitchfork. This is great intel, guy, be sure to expense the fedora.

Enough. Oh, I may never blog again - I have seen the mountaintop. But here we go:

"Most Iraqis seem to have no love for Saddam, and the great majority will probably spend the war hiding under their beds. But if even a tiny proportion of the braggarts are serious, then look out. Moreover, some tribes are armed with mortars and large-caliber machine guns, so that even if they could not stop tanks rolling through to Baghdad, they could seriously hurt an American army of occupation.

Perhaps the American invasion will be a breeze after all. The Iraqi army is less than half the strength it was when it crumpled in a 100-hour ground war a decade ago, and U.S. forces are much stronger now."

Also, in 1991 we only had CNN. Due to the proliferation of cable news services, there will be many, many more news crews available to accept the surrender of Iraqi forces.

"...But if we're going to invade, we need to prepare for a worst-case scenario involving street-to-street fighting, with farmers like Mr. Khal taking potshots at our troops.

Is America really prepared for hundreds of casualties, even thousands, in an invasion and subsequent occupation that could last many years?"

Alright, this is serious. I am not interested in a bidding war, especially with someones else's sons and daughters - one casualty is too many. And Kristof mentioned Iraqi casualties earlier, but let's note them again now - a war will involve thousands of casualties, most of them Iraqi, and that is bad. The current sanctions regime results in the death of thousands of malnoruished, under-treated Iraqi children, we are told, and that is also bad. If Kristof has a pain-free solution, this would be a great time to present it.

I also excerpt this from the Brothers Judd very thoughtful post:

"do we still have the national will, demonstrated on battlefields from Massachusetts to Virginia to France to the Pacific Isles, to stand and fight for freedom, even if we may have to pay a horrible price or, almost as bad, make others pay a horrible price for opposing us?"

They think, I link.

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