Underestimating the Enemy
     by Gene Lyons

"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we
 are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and
 servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public."
             --Theodore Roosevelt, 1918

      Tooling along I-430 for an early morning assignation with a horse,
I noticed a woman in the inside lane with a patriotic message in her rear
window. In big, carefully-scripted white letters, it read: SUPPORT OUR
TROOPS IN IRAQ. Then beneath: REMEMBER 9/11.

      Having hoped to avoid this accursed war for a couple of hours, I found
myself marveling at the thought processes--if those are the right words--that
created this manifestation of patriotic zeal. Support our troops? Absolutely.
Now that the fighting has begun and it's clear that the bewildered little man
with the cocky swagger and the fear in his eyes has staked his political future
upon overthrowing Saddam Hussein--as odious a tyrant as the U.S. has ever
armed and supported--one can only pray that American and British soldiers
get the job done quickly, with maximum effective force and minimum loss of life.

      Alas, it's already beginning to look as if Bush's advisors, serene in
their certitude, have badly underestimated the Iraqis' willingness to defend
their homeland against foreign invaders. But hold that thought.

      What a people we Americans are becoming. War as a "real time" 24 hour
cable TV event. "Mediathons," Frank Rich calls them; war as the logical
successor to the O.J. Simpson trial, the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, and the
quest to find Chandra Levy. All war, all the time. "Embedded" correspondents
in flak jackets live from the front. The ultimate reality TV. And now, a few
words from our sponsor.

      But "REMEMBER 9/11?" Madam, that was a different Arab, called Osama
bin Laden. Not an Iraqi, but an exiled Saudi. Osama denounces Saddam as
an "infidel," and would enjoy seeing him dead quite as much as you would.
Not one Iraqi among the 9/11 hijackers. Attacking Baghdad in response to
9/11 is the equivalent of attacking China to avenge Pearl Harbor.

      Unfortunately, many who support President Junior either don't know or
don't care. "Whatever anyone may say about weapons of mass destruction,
or about Saddam's savage brutality to his own people," writes the eminent
biologist Richard Dawkins in The Guardian  "the reason Bush can now get
away with his war is that a sufficient number of Americans, including,
apparently, Bush himself, see it as revenge for 9/11. This is worse than
bizarre. It is pure racism and/or religious prejudice. Nobody has made
even a faintly plausible case that Iraq had anything to do with the atrocity.
It was Arabs that hit the World Trade Center, right? So let's go and kick
Arab ass. Those 9/11 terrorists were Muslims, right? And Eye-raqis are
Muslims, right? That does it. We're gonna go in there and show them some
hardware. Shock and awe? You bet."

      Dawkins points out that al Qaeda can only feel "gleeful." Provoking a
worldwide conflict with the Great Satan is precisely what the 9/11 attacks
were intended to do.

      Junior unashamedly used fear to sell this war. In his ultimatum to
Saddam, he claimed that responding to "enemies only after they have
struck first is not self-defense, it is suicide." Suicide, the man said.

      Yet Bush promises to bring democracy to the Middle East. So here's
my problem: if millions of Americans, like the lady with the slogan in her
rear window, seek vengeance against an enemy they can't identify, what
would Arabs vote for if they could?

      Writing in the Washington Post, veteran Middle Eastern correspondent
Youssef M. Ibrahim summarized a poll taken by Zogby International in six
Arab countries from Morocco to Saudi Arabia. And guess what? Huge
majorities favor greater political involvement by Islamic clergy than their
governments allow. Fewer than 6 percent think the U.S. is attacking Iraq to
bring democracy. Instead, "close to 95 percent were convinced that the
United States was after control of Arab oil and the subjugation of the
Palestinians to Israel's will."

      Look at a world map. The U.S. can't fight everybody from Morocco
to Pakistan. Shock and awe notwithstanding, there are too many of them,
too few of us, and too much territory. There are already signs that ideologues
who talked an ignorant, easily manipulated Bush into this global game of
"Risk" had no idea of Iraq's determination to fight. The joyous mobs they
foresaw greeting U.S. troops haven't materialized.  Retired U.S. generals are
telling reporters that precisely as they'd warned, American and British forces
are in danger of becoming overextended and having their supply lines
interrupted. For patently political reasons, the war began before sufficient
force was assembled. The outcome's not in doubt, but it's looking like a far
longer, bloodier struggle than anybody wanted.

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