Tuesday, April 8, 2003

U.S. and Saddam Fighting Two Different War

My article titled "U.S. and Saddam Fighting Two Different Wars" was published in the "Asian Wall Street Journal" on 8th April 2003.

The U.S.-led coalition is now at war with Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq. Already, it is becoming clear that the two sides are fighting two very different wars. One side, the coalition, wants to reduce the death toll; the other hopes to thrive on death. Never before in history has any nation sought to win a war by trying to keep its own and as well as its enemy's casualties to the minimum. And perhaps never in history has the other side sought to win the same war by feeding on its own casualties.

The U.S. and U.K. are relying on high-tech firepower. The aim of their surgical strikes is to target specific military, command and communication facilities. It is hoped that this will not only reduce civilian casualties, but also avoid as much as possible disruption to basic services like electricity, telephone, radio and TV, even if some of these are also being used by the Iraqi military and regime. The other aspect of the use of high-tech firepower is to reduce risk to allied military personnel.

For Saddam, the purpose of the military is to protect him. His strategy toward this end is to increase civilian casualties. This is best seen from the failure of his regime to take basic precautions against air raids, such as imposing blackouts, shading windows, etc. Civilians in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq are paying the price. Furthermore, the prospect of a guerrilla war -- and the apparent glee with which the Iraqi leadership is awaiting such urban warfare -- indicates the utter disregard Saddam holds for his people. He wants blood, the blood of his own people and that of the U.S.-led forces.

In any war there will be casualties. But Saddam's hope is that civilian casualties from this war will make memories of his own atrocities more remote, and ultimately undermine U.S. resolve and spur international opinion to force American and allied forces to halt their campaign to oust him from power.

Saddam is also buttressing this image of civilian casualty by raising the specter of a long-drawn conflict involving urban warfare using guerrilla tactics and a pan-Arab or even a pan-Islamic uprising. He is wrong.

First, oppression by Islamic leaders against their fellow Muslims has been little mitigated by their shared religion. This explodes the myth of pan-Islamic unity. Second, even pan-Arab unity is a myth. It doesn't exist among the leadership; it doesn't exist among the people. While the leadership in many Arab capitals has abetted and benefited from the anti-Western, anti-U.S. sentiments, such expressions of frustration are themselves reminders of the nature of many Arab regimes which tolerate no dissent and no opposition to themselves.

The expectations that Saddam can wage a long guerrilla war and that Islamic terrorism may find new expressions are unfounded. Terrorism and militancy need more than mere zealotry: they need financing and equipment; in the post-Sept. 11 world, finding enough of both to sustain a long terror campaign in Iraq is impossible. Moreover, a taste of freedom in Iraq could easily take the wind out of militants in the Arab world.

War will always be a bloody business. While technological advances make war more precise, technology has also increased the firepower available. Therefore the potential for destruction has increased. And there will be the inevitable errors, mechanical and human, that lead to unintended civilian deaths and friendly fire incidents. Yet with greater respect for human life, the willingness to destroy life diminishes. This respect for life is best manifested in the ability of free and democratic countries to absorb a wide divergence of opinion without threatening the existence of that society.

There is hardly an Arab country that would have allowed the broadcast of public dissent such as filmmaker Michel Moore's recent outburst against the war at the Oscar ceremony. Indeed, this is not just an indication of divided opinion, but more importantly of the enormous strength of free societies. This is the reason why in free countries volunteer soldiers are willing to defend that freedom. This is also the reason why liberal democracies have the resiliency to bear the cost of war and to survive even a defeat. Dictatorships rarely survive military defeats.

Naturally, democracies strive to reduce casualties, military and civilian, because their power comes from the legitimacy conferred by the people. Dictatorships, however, have no scruples about sacrificing their people for the sake of power. This is why today, just as in the first Gulf War, Saddam is seeking to protect his elite troops from certain destruction by keeping them away from engaging coalition forces on the battlefield. Saddam doesn't need a Rommel or a Patton to lead his military to victory against an external enemy. Saddam needs the military to keep him in power and control his own people.

If the U.S.-led coalition looks on this war not just as an opportunity to dismantle Saddam's weapons of mass destruction or an opportunity to replace one tyrant with a friendlier one, but as a war on tyranny, and stays the course to free the people of Iraq, ordinary people in other parts of the Arab and Muslim world are likely to rejoice.

We just have to look back on how the people of Germany and Japan reconstructed their freedom from the ruins of World War II. This is the freedom that people from Indochina sought when they took to boats to escape to freedom in the West. The desire for freedom is universal. It would be well not to let television's real-time coverage of the war change that view.