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Not Swift and Sudden Enough?
In Dissent, Number Ninety-Eight
by Brian S. Wise
1 April 2003

Peter Arnett, formerly of NBC and CNN, explains why the war isn't going well.


Allied forces – all right, American and British forces – have surrounded Baghdad, have refueled and restocked their weaponry, and are ready for what the networks are calling the Battle of Baghdad.  Military analysts might have called it the Next Logical Step, but military analysts don’t have to worry about how best to market and broadcast a war with limited commercial interruption.
       
At two weeks in length, some rumblings have begun (most flamboyantly within the foreign press, but within the media overall), wondering if the war is progressing as swiftly or efficiently as America had hoped, and – Can you please tell us, General Franks – if the military is worried about the lack of progress so far?  Um, well, we would be worried about the lack of progress made so far is not for the incredible amount of progress made so far.  It would be fantastic if General Franks would take to the podium one morning and, upon being asked for the two thousandth time about the worrisome length of the war, say: “What did you guys do, take the under?”  What have we come to when the sole standards of modern warfare have seemingly been set upon length, and the length of the Falkland Islands War at that?
           
War – and it is amazing something like this even needs to be said – doesn’t run on a specific timetable.  It would be nice to say, “We will overtake Baghdad by mid-April,” but that sort of thing is dependent upon the ability of the military to soften up the enemy from the air, for one thing, but the enemy’s general willingness to fight for another.  You can only reasonably account for so much of either before the actual fighting begins, and anything after that becomes a matter of retaliation and a certain improvisation.
           
That improvisation, according to (now former) NBC journalist Peter Arnett, shows the exact length and depth of the current American difficulty.  Perhaps because NBC had not offered Arnett enough of an opportunity to take to the American air and make more widely known his military genius, the former correspondent (he was sacked for the following nonsense) was compelled to go on Iraqi television (!) to explain why the United States just isn’t getting the job done.  “[It] is clear that within the United States there is a growing challenge to President Bush about the conduct of the war and also opposition to the war.”  Is the opposition any more or worse now than in the months before the war began?  No guidance.  “So our reports about civilian casualties here, about the resistance of the Iraqi forces, are going back to the United States.  It helps those who oppose the war when you challenge the policy to develop their arguments.”
           
More, “[Baghdad] is a city that is disciplined, the population is responsive to the government’s requirements of discipline and my Iraqi friends tell me there is a growing sense of nationalism and resistance to what the United States and Britain are doing.”  Arnett does not stop to note that Baghdad must be a disciplined city (or else), that an anti-Hussein protest wouldn’t fly as well in Baghdad as an anti-Bush protest would in San Francisco.  Nor does he mention that Baghdad’s citizens have continued taking to the streets and open-air markets in droves, the understanding being that the battle isn’t against the citizenry, but its leaders.  Baghdad citizens are safer despite this war than any other innocents in any war in history, including even the Persian Gulf War; there have been civilian casualties (obviously not as many as Iraqi television would have you believe), but they are the exception, not the rule.
 
Furthermore, “Clearly, the American war planners misjudged the determination of the Iraqi forces.”  In what ways?  Again, no guidance.  “And I personally do not understand how that happened, because I’ve been here many times and in my commentaries on television I would tell the Americans about the determination of the Iraqi forces, the determination of the government, and the willingness to fight for their country.  But me, and others who felt the same way were not listened to by the Bush administration.  That is why now America is re-appraising the battlefield, delaying the war, maybe a week, and re-writing the war plan.  The first war plan has failed because of Iraqi resistance[,] now they are trying to write another plan.”  The Iraqi host ends the interview, “Mr. Arnett, thank you very much.”  No kidding.
 
The world’s safest bet is that, when Baghdad is claimed, the reaction among the people will be not unlike the reactions seen in other liberated cities: There will be some immediate and open praising of American and British forces, followed by mad dashes for relief supplies.  There will be others who are slow to trust the allied forces, but will come around eventually, followed by mad dashes for relief supplies.  There will be others who will fight against Hussein’s removal, and they will either die, be taken as a prisoners of war or retreat.
 
But to the greater points, does Peter Arnett know that, in short order, there will be no such thing as Iraqi munitions, as the stocks are being extinguished (when not discovered in run down old buildings)?  Does he understand that determination of the Iraqi government is not consistent with bravery or a just cause, but with dedication to various levels of insanity within that same government?  Does he understand that even the greatest military force in the history of the world can be slowed by inclement weather when it exists, that it must stop here and there to fight battles, refuel, replenish its own weapons, take stock of more food and water?  Does he know that sometimes it is for the best to remain still and wait for circumstance to dictate the time you move forward?
 
Not likely.  The man who once falsely reported that American forces dropped sarin gas on American defectors (in a Laotian village, circa. 1970) cannot, and should not, be trusted to offer astute military analysis, most especially if he cannot openly admit that part of the reason we are in Iraq today is because of sarin attacks we can prove happened, and the potential of others to follow.


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