1. America's only great-power ally is Britain. Britain is the former colonial ruler in Iraq. America succeeds Britain much like it succeeded France in Vietnam. The New Yorker quotes the March 6 Iraq Daily: "The U.S. Army Generals Dream of the British Vanished Empire." The language is clumsy, but the sentiment is revealing. In World War I, a war at least as vividly remembered in Iraq as the Civil War is remembered in the American south, Britain's siege of Baghdad cost uncounted thousands of Iraqi lives (as well as an astounding 33,000 British lives).
How many lives will America's siege of Baghdad cost? According to coalition sources, the first incursion may have cost 3,000 Iraqi lives. (About the same number that died in the World Trade Towers on 9/11; the tanks that led the incursion bore the flight numbers of the planes hijacked on that day.) Do the math: 3,000 deaths in a nation of 20 million is the equivalent of 42,000 deaths in a nation the size of the United States. How many more such "messages" will need to be sent before the war is won? Is the United States the British Empire redux, fighting its way to ascendancy with pure firepower? If so, then how should we expect the Iraqis to react?
2. America's base of operations and closest Arab military ally is Kuwait. President Bush, evoking post-World War II Germany and Japan, has boasted that American occupiers leave behind "constitutions and parliaments." But in the first Gulf War, our announced purpose was the restoration of the Kuwaiti monarch. After ten years of intense American influence in Kuwait, what result do Iraqis see? Kuwait's ruling al-Sabah clan confers and revokes the powers of the country's paper parliament at its royal pleasure and without American objection.
American fondness for Arab monarchy makes President George W. Bush seem only too plausibly the political heir of Britain's King George V, whose government created a map of Arab monarchies after World War I. If you were an Iraqi, would monarchy in the Kuwaiti or Saudi manner not strike you as a likelier outcome than democracy after an Anglo-American victory? And would that prospect bring you cheering into the streets?
4. Humanitarian aid may not be available for Iraq as it was for Afghanistan. After its victory in Afghanistan, the United States, then still enjoying international support for its war on terrorism, off-loaded much of the burden of civilian recovery onto allies like Germany. In post-war Iraq, however, Germany and the other candidates for a humanitarian relief coalition may not be welcome even if they are available, given their early opposition to the war. Yet the United States, which ranks last in foreign aid among the developed countries, may not be willing to shoulder alone the burden of putting the prostrate nation back on its feet and cleaning up the mountains of rubble left by all those spectacular American explosions. If you were an Iraqi, even one who despised Saddam Hussein, how optimistic would you be about your economic future?
5. America's commander-in-chief is a Bush. The father-son relationship counts for a great deal in Arab culture. Think of all the Arab names beginning abu (father of) or ibn (son of). But when Iraqis rose up in rebellion against Saddam Hussein after what looked at first like his crushing defeat in the first Gulf War, Abu Bush stood by and watched while the dictator recovered, rallied his forces, and drowned his opponents in their own blood. How certain can prospective Iraqi allies be today that Ibn Bush will not do the same if they revolt against a Saddam Hussein who then turns out not to be defeated after all?
6. Saddam Hussein's henchmen are fighting for their lives. The dictator has not, this time, made the mistake of putting all his forces in uniform and massing them at the border where the Americans can mow them down. Instead, he has dispersed his fedayeen among the population, a population that rightly fears offending them. The United States, by making its lethal intentions toward such collaborators crystal clear from the start, has turned them into guerrillas and given them the courage of desperation.
If you were an Iraqi compromised by any measure of cooperation with the totalitarian regime--a conscript who had been unlucky enough to receive a promotion, for example, what would you do at this point? Trust to the mercies of the invaders or go underground, fight back as you could, and hope for the best? Even if you were an outright victim of the regime, with every reason to hope for its overthrow, would you not proceed with the most extreme caution, as afraid of the losers as of the winners?
7. The Anglo-American coalition never speaks of Islam. In Arab forums, mostly recently at the prestigious Al-Azhar University in Cairo, the charge has repeatedly been made that the invasion of Iraq is a Christian or Judaeo-Christian crusade against Islam. To this charge, the Bush Administration and the Blair Government have chosen to make no reply whatsoever: On Downing St. and Pennsylvania Ave. alike, religion is an optional, not a necessary, topic. But if you were an Iraqi, would you not wonder why these Christian leaders continue to pass over so serious an accusation in virtual silence?
Considerations like these can neither retard nor advance the anticipated military victory. But they matter greatly if what is sought is a victory that will liberate Iraq politically and transform it culturally. With victory imminent, the victors need to ask why so few Iraqis are cheering. They need to ask that question, in particular, if, as seems imaginable, defeated Iraq never signs a formal surrender. If this Second Gulf War devolves by degrees into a guerrilla war and then into a heavily armed occupation, the silence of the ashen streets may speak loudly of a future far beyond the borders of Iraq.