It's going to be a long, long hot summer.
Yesterday I attended a little talk/discussion about theater and war, hosted by my old teacher and friend Steve Wangh, luminary director Andre Gregory and the youthful and energetic Josh Fox of THAW (THeaters Against War). Energizing discussion, and it got me thinking about the long haul and the idea that events currently in motion could spark a movement that might even outlive this war. It also got me thinking about the importance of specifics.
If we're to have a successful peace movement -- which is a lot more than an anti-war movement -- we're going to have to start getting specific, articulating a persuasive and alternative vision for the future of the world. Shining in all this darkness are many gems of opportunity, seemingly still a real chance to spark some meaningful global community, developments for the better management of Spaceship Earth.
With the thinking of specifics comes some downer thoughts. War specifics. Depressing war specifics. If you're interested, here's the situation as I see it:
War is hell. The worst case scenarios are looking more and more like reality. We're fighting against a guerilla enemy in the territory we've "taken" and facing a real ugly seige situation in Baghdad. "Smash mouth football," as one Marine officer put it. Syria and Iran (and maybe even Russia) seem to be supporting and supplying the Iraqis. Ex-patriots, mujahadeen, terrorists and other irregulars are filtering back into the country to fight against us, and most of the "Arab street" is inflamed with both anti-US sentiment and pride that we're being so vociferously resisted.
Here's an unsettling thought: wars against enemies using guerilla tactics are un-winnable in any strategic sense. The only way to achieve a military victory is to have total annihilation of the non-combatant population, which is a huge looser in the bigger picture. The PNAC "we'll be welcomed as liberators" crew seem to be holding out hope that one Saddam is dead or otherwise neutralized (if we can find him and prove it), the resistance will collapse. For everyone's sake I hope it is true, but it doesn't seem to be very realistic strategic thinking. This conflict is quickly becoming about more than Saddam, whether we like it or not. I'd say "I told you so" if it wasn't such a complete tragedy.
There's a large battle shaping up South of Baghdad which could prove decisive. If our forces smash the Republican Guard and sweep through the city, there's a chance the momentum might just carry over and the war itself come to a blessedly quick conclusion. If we're repulsed, it's going to set the stage for a lengthy seige. In either case, at the end of formal hostilities there looms only the prospect of an increasingly ugly-looking period of occupation.
Let's face it: this war was a mistake. This became apparent in the first week of combat. It's obvious that the plan we are executing -- the strategic decision to invade/liberate/occupy/disarm Iraq -- was devised on faulty assumptions and put forth with dubious rationales. We are now stuck between the mother of all rocks and a very hard place. If we go forward and crush any resistance militarily we will decimate the Iraqi population, embitter world opinion against us, be forced into a lengthy and hostile occupation period (think the West Bank, but the size of California), sowing the seeds for a more robust wave of terrorists to attack America in future generations. If we withdraw, we will embolden future military resistance to our interests and may expose ourselves to more danger because enemies of America perceive us to be "on the run." We have no exit strategy, no endgame to angle for. We are on the loosing end of this deal.
It's about to get very hot in Iraq. Not just in terms of the fighting for Baghdad, but in terms of temperature as well. Militarily, it looks more and more like things are going to start bogging down. It took 10 days to take Umm Qasr, a port city of 45,000 far from the heart of Iraq and defended mostly by regular army and militia. How long will it take to seize Basra, a metropolis of more than 1,000,000, or Baghdad, with its sprawling suburbs and well-equipped Republican Guard defenders? Even if we gain control of the cities, what kind of resistance are we looking at having to suppress?
In all my thoughts of specifics, I can't even come up with one way we can get out of this without a lot of unpleasentless. Pandora's box is open, and it's going to take a lot of hard, thankless, sweaty, beastial work to close it again.
That work begins with more people trying to imagine how to bring the current conflict to a close. Do we try and make some more gains the better to parlay for a cease-fire? Do we back off and occupy just a portion of Iraq, proving out the model of a benevolent and temporary American dictatorship and then letting the rest of the country join of its own will? Do we walk away and go back to containment? Try and implement a "hug of death"? The situation is awful, but not impossible. 30 years later, Vietnam is a friendly place for Americans, so there's no need to be apolplectic, but these ideas need to be thought through. If we don't change the direction we're headed, we're liable to end up where we are going.