Like I mentioned in a previous post
, I was always wary of the idea of “bringing democracy” somewhere. You can’t just import democracy along with cell phones, lap tops and Nike shoes. Democracy is something that takes root and grows, and under the most favorable conditions it can flourish, but under poor conditions it can shrivel up and die. And the only thing that America, as occupiers in Iraq, can do, is make the conditions as favorable as possible.
However, what are favorable conditions to democracy? Surely being afraid for one’s life isn’t favorable to making plans for a new government. I think that there are more pressing issues on people’s minds now than who will occupy which ministry.
There is a war going on. I think definitely one of the biggest mistakes Bush made was his “Mission Accomplished” moment. Everyone was lulled into a false sense of security, and then things starting get bad. Apparently no one ever told certain factions that the war was over. And until they stop fighting, it isn’t. Plain and simple. However, I believe that an essential part of starting a democratic movement, is that everyone has to fight this war. Not just the Americans versus the terrorists.
From the beginning there was anti-American sentiment. Quite understandably so, too.
During the invasion of Normandy in the summer of 1944 over 12,000 French civilians died in the 3 months after the invasion, mostly through aerial bombing. And those who survived were living in the total devastation left by the invasion: complete herds of cattle were also wiped out by Allied bombing campaigns. The Americans weren’t exactly immediately popular in the French countryside. It was a bitter “liberation” for Normandy’s civilian population. They had learned to live with their German occupiers, and now their lives were being completely destroyed.
Similarly the chaos that filled the vaccum of power in Iraq was even worse that living under the predictable oppression and violence of Saddam. Riverbend wrote
:The ride that took 20 minutes pre-war Iraq, took 45 minutes today. There were major roads completely cut off by tanks. Angry troops stood cutting off access to the roads around the palaces (which were once Saddam’s but are now America’s palaces). The cousin and E. debated alternative routes at every checkpoint or roadblock. I stayed silent because I don’t even know the city anymore. Now, areas are identified as “the one with the crater where the missile exploded”, or “the street with the ravaged houses”, or “the little house next to that one where that family was killed”. […]
Most of the gangs, at least the ones in Baghdad, originate from slums on the outskirts of the city. ‘Al-Sadir City’ is a huge, notorious slum with a population of around 1.5 million. The whole place is terrifying. If you lose a car or a person, you will most likely find them there. Every alley is controlled by a different gang and weapons are sold in the streets… they’ll even try out that machinegun you have your eye on, if you pay enough. Americans don’t bother raiding the houses in areas like that… raids are exclusively for decent people who can’t shoot back or attack. Raids are for the poor people in Ramadi, Ba’aquba and Mosul.
This was the sentiment of many in Iraq. No matter how bad the terrorists were, the root of the problem was seen as the American invasion. America was responsible for the chaos. And that is true. However, how do you create a democracy with that atmosphere “Iraqis problems were America’s fault?” Instead of focusing their dissent on the actual perpetrators, Iraqis were focusing on those who shook the hornets’ nest. And instead of doing something about it, they were waiting for America to do something about it.
Just like any other army, the insurgents understand the power of propaganda. Support is very important for militaries. For every soldier on the front lines, there are 7-9 soldiers supporting him with logistics, maitenance, food etc. And this is no different with the insurgents in Iraq. Funding comes through many channels, donations from other countries, kidappings, and sometimes just in kind, like when insurgents are given free lodging and food somewhere, or when a doctor comes to their aid.
The insurgents also have to recruit for their armies, just like every other army does. How do they do this? Well, there are two different kinds of recruits: the first are just paid mercenaries, that perform tasks in exchange for money, and the second kind are “true believers,” who believe they are fighting a jihad. They join the terrorists with a desire to either kill Americans and their collaborators and/or to become martyrs for their cause. The latter type of recruits currently among the ranks of the terrorists come from all over the Middle East, not to mention Chechnya and a few other hot-beds for Islamic terrorist groups. These fighters view the insurgency as a glorious thing, as protecting Muslims and fighting for an Iraq without infidel influences.
The whole structure of the insurgency depends on a certain amount of popular support. They need areas where they can safely build car bombs. They need recruits who will gladly give their lives detonating such bombs.
Morale is very important in all militaries, but moreso in insurgencies. And if morale is down, there will be a domino effect running through the whole structure of the terrorist organisations.
And there are two big factors affecting morale: one is military victories or losses, and second is public support.
Mercenaries fight for money. Soldiers are fighting for someone or something, and if they see that their services aren’t appreciated, they lose momentum.
So right now, the insurgency is having a lot of “victories.” There are daily reports out of Iraq of car bombs killing 20+ people. However, with each other these attacks they lose more and more public support.
A friend of mine who served in Iraq said to me “I want you to know what is mean to bring peace to a country, armed with a machine gun.” Soldiers are warriors. I am amazed by what they can do as they take over civil affairs roles in Iraq, but they are still first and foremost warriors. Their job is to keep themselves and their fellow soldiers alive, and to continue the mission of apprehending suspects. The US occupation of Iraq is not a nice and gentle thing.
Many military vehicles today are built with two things in mind: first and foremost: safetly of the passengers, and secondly, destruction of enemy elements. Strykers, tanks, and Bradleys are big vehicles. Vehicles that weren’t necessarily supposed to be going down urban Iraqi roads. And every day there are incidences of a military vehicle clipping another car, either just scratching it, or sometimes completely destroying it. Sometimes there are passengers in that car, sometimes not. This results in a lot of damaged property and sometimes death.
Because of raids, soldiers sometimes need to close off certain areas, rolling concertina wire across the street blocking traffic in those streets for hours at end. Check points are also an annoyance that can also quickly turn deadly if the driver doesn’t abide by the check-point rules for whatever reasons.
Sending more troops would make the occupation more oppressive and more deadly. And although it would reduce the terrorist victories, it would increase passive public support for those fighting the occupational forces in Iraq. It is something that would work well in the short term, but not in the long term.
Am I heartless for saying that things will get worse before they get better? Perhaps. Perhaps it is a lot easier for me to say this, sitting comfortably in Germany, secure with the knowledge that no one is going to blow up me or anyone I know tomorrow. Perhaps this emotional distance allows me such an opinion. Perhaps, were I an Iraqi, living in Iraq, I would have much more real problems on my hands, like survival, and wouldn’t be so willing to martyr myself for an American ideal of democracy. Like Salem Pax wrote in his blog
in May of 2003:Let me tell you one thing first. War sucks big time. Don’t let yourself ever be talked into having one waged in the name of your freedom. Somehow when the bombs start dropping or you hear the sound of machine guns at the end of your street you don’t think about your “imminent liberation” anymore.
But I am sure that those who died in Normandy, military and civilians, weren’t too excited about their prospects either. But we owe them all a lot today. And perhaps in the future, Iraqis will look back at their Greatest Generation with respect and pride, too.