Occupation Is a Lose-Lose Proposition

Mosul, recently held up as an example of our successful occupation of Iraq, was where two American soldiers were shot, dragged out of their car and had their bodies pummeled with concrete blocks by a mob that had quickly gathered. All of this happened recently in broad daylight in the heart of the city.

Would you not concede that such behavior indicates at least a mild distaste on the part of Iraqis for the American occupation? The fact is, the Bush administration lied about the reasons for going to war, and now it is lying about the occupation. It is trying what we tried to do in Vietnam – fight a guerrilla war and win the “hearts and minds” of the people at the same time. Well, the policy failed in Vietnam, and it will fail in Iraq.

The reasons are simple. A guerrilla war brutalizes the army that is fighting it. How do you think the GIs in Mosul feel about Iraqis after what happened to their comrades? They hate them. And that hatred will manifest itself, and this will in turn generate more resistance.

No country in the world likes the idea of foreign occupation. The Arabs like it least of all. Every time an American soldier throws an Iraqi man to the ground and puts his boot on his neck or back, he creates an implacable, unforgiving enemy. Every time we kill some innocent Iraqis, we create enemies. Every time an American soldier body-searches a schoolgirl, we create enemies.

Of course, some Iraqis will smile to our faces. Of course, some Iraqis want us to stay to avoid a civil war until they can worm their way into power. Of course, there are always traitors for sale in any country. But the simple fact that an Iraqi hates Saddam Hussein does not mean that he or she likes us. Some Americans seem to have trouble grasping that people can hate both Saddam Hussein and the Americans.

You should also note that we have been trying to catch Saddam for eight months now. If he were as hated as American propaganda makes him out to be, surely one Iraqi would have dropped a dime on him by now and collected that $25 million. Yet this 66-year-old geezer continues to elude his 140,000 pursuers.

More recently, an American military officer said something really stupid and callous. He said that the attacks were insignificant. I don’t think that the people who are killed and maimed and their loved ones consider them to be insignificant. That was the calloused part. The stupid part was when he said the guerrillas could not defeat the American military. Of course they can’t, and they aren’t even trying.

The purpose of the guerrilla attacks is not to defeat us, but merely to demonstrate that we cannot control the country. As long as the guerrillas can kill one or two Americans and Iraqi collaborators now and then, they will be “winning.” The Viet Cong could not defeat the American military either, but you see who left and who stayed.

It doesn’t cost the Iraqi guerrilla anything to stay in Iraq. It’s his home. He has nowhere else to go. On the other hand, it’s costing us $2 billion a week to stay in Iraq, not counting the cost in lives and the spent political capital. Sooner or later, we will leave, and the Iraqi guerrillas know that.

The president can prattle all he wants about “staying the course,” but the only question is, can we establish a halfway decent government before we are forced to bail out? Some people in the Pentagon are saying we will be in Iraq for five or six years. I don’t think we will last that long. Just in dollars and cents, six years would cost us a third of a trillion dollars.

The sooner we leave, the better, because the longer we stay, the more resistance we will generate. We have dropped young American men and women, well-trained to fight a conventional war, into an alien culture, and they simply don’t know how to deal with it. They will grow to resent and to hate Iraqis, and this resentment and hatred will be returned with interest. Occupation is a lose-lose proposition.

© 2003 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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Courtesy Raja Mattar