Last Chance to Get it Right?
By W.V. Micko
G-U-E-R-R-I-L-L-A. The word comes from the Spanish word guerre,
followed by the suffix -illa, meaning "little warriors."
Its origin is from the hit-and-run tactics of the Peninsular
Campaign in Spain, although the concept itself predates the
Napoleonic wars by many centuries.
We ourselves won our independence through the use of guerrilla
tactics, though the idea was already quite old when undisciplined,
poorly-equipped Yankees used it to force Burgoyne's surrender
at Saratoga. It is the standard tactic used when a weak force
faces a strong one.
The greatest strength of guerrilla warfare is that it simply
does not take a great many violent die-hards to create an
unstable, unwinnable chaos. In November, General Abizaid estimated Iraqi guerrilla strength at a mere 5000 men - yet
those 5000 were enough to cause what was until last month
the bloodiest month in the history of the Iraq war, a violence
dangerous enough to induce the Administration to change their
plans for Iraqification. The logic behind it is simple: while
winning battles in the field is difficult, creating unpredictable,
destabilizing violence is relatively easy.
As Mao Tse-Tung noted, "a guerrilla is a fish swimming in
a sea of peasants." While a few thousands or even a few tens
of thousands of guerrillas aren't many in comparison to a
civil population of some 20 million, they need assistance.
It's the general population who feeds them, hides them and
gives them the information they need to operate. This is why
the "hearts and minds" battle is so important. Reduce the
incidence of non-fighting but violence-supporting radicals
in the general population enough, the actual fighters remain
a threat to individuals, but not the functioning of government
as a whole.
Here again, it doesn't take many supporters to enable
more dangerous, chaos-creating operations by guerrillas. For
us to win over a mere majority who oppose the guerrillas is
far from enough. We need to win over perhaps as much as ninety
percent of the Iraqi civil population, at least to the point
where they despise violent anarchy and terroristic guerrilla
attacks more than they despise U.S. troops.
The number who "choose" us over the insurgents, as the lesser
of two evils, at least, must go far beyond a majority or even
a mandate. It has to be such an overwhelming majority that
for the minority, the supporting of guerrillas is dangerous,
that the chance of being turned in for supporting guerillas
is far too great for most to risk, no matter where their sympathies
We've all heard about how hard the Coalition is working
to improve conditions for Iraqis, and how they are indeed
worrying about the "hearts and minds" battle. Unfortunately,
a new school in every village or neighborhood will not have
the impact on "hearts and minds" as that of a single picture
of a naked, hooded captive being forced to masturbate as a
female soldier points grinning at his genitals with a cheery
Hours and hours of American-financed happy-talk on the "official"
CPA channels cannot undo the effects of a single interview
on Al Jazeera with a victim of American torture. Nor will
the beginnings of a spiffy new Iraqi police force offset the
shock and horror Shiites must feel at the news that one of
Saddam's Revolutionary Guard generals has been given command
of the Iraqi operation at Fallujah (since rescinded, thankfully),
or the news that we're recruiting from the very Sunni fighters we're supposed to be
suppressing. Justifiably or not, Shiites will naturally wonder
where the resulting sectarian-tribal force will operate after
It's always easier to get people to hate than to love, and
easier still to make them hate us if they also have reason
to fear those they would hate. It's quite possible that there
is now no possible way to undercut the public support that
insugency and terror requires destroy stability.
We may well have lost the war last week.
Unless, that is, we can prove to the Iraqi people that the
United States is even more horrified by our own abuses than
they are. We should be. I'm disgusted that men and
women behaved this way while wearing the same uniform I once
wore. They are not my comrades in arms. They're criminals,
pure and simple, a stain on the honor of all military men
and women, past and present. As are the officers who allowed
and encouraged the tortures of Abu Ghraib Prison to happen.
Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, commanding general of
the 800th Military Police Brigade should not be allowed to
quietly mourn the death of her career. If, as the investigation of Major General Antonio Taguba suggests, she
was negligent in her command responsibility to properly supervise
her troops, she should be court-martialed and not quietly
admonished and passed over for commands and promotions.
If, as General Karpinski claims, and Sergeant Javal Davis, Staff Sergeant Chip Frederick and other portions of the Taguba report corroborate, she was deliberately
cut out of the loop by Intelligence in order to enable the
gathering of intelligence through torture and abuse, then
she should be a star witness in the investigation and trial
of those higher commanders and officials who are responsible.
And in no case should the investigation stop with Abu Ghraib
Prison or the 800th Military Police Brigade. Rooting out the
source of this evil and knowing that we've rooted it
out is both a moral and and a military imperative.
Finally, this argues more strongly than ever for a greater
role for the U.N. and other international organizations. If
the Red Cross or Red Cresent been allowed access, these abuses
would never have happened. Nor would they have happened if
the U.N.'s blue helmets been in Iraq, we'd have made sure
that we had our flies zipped.
Make no mistake: we have lost whatever moral authority we
once had in Iraq. The only way to recover a semblance
of it is to demonstrate that since we cannot trust even ourselves,
we'll open ourselves to international observation as a way
to keep ourselves honest. They'll help us keep our attention
on the two additional investigations going on in this matter.
After all, as Seymour Hersh said in an
interview yesterday of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs
of Staff, or the Secretary of Defense, all of whom claimed
a lack of knowledge of this issue until CBS broke the story
to the general public and we all became aware of it,
"you could almost say the fact that they hadn't read it indicates
how low down the totem pole these issues were for them until,
of course, it hit the press."
This is what, the fourth or fifth major, mission-threatening
screwup that occurred simply because our top people are disinterested
in unpleasant, unglorious details?
Dehumanization, torture and terror in Saddam's favorite
prison and a return of the Baathist thugs to their customary
postitions behind a gun will almost certainly ensure that
a significant portion of the Iraqi public will fear and despise
us and our helpers far more than terroristic guerrillas no
matter how well or how skillfully we perform our mission of
democratization in the future. These people will support the
guerrillas. Some will become guerrillas themselves. The only
chance we have to prevent this - and with it the utter failure
of our mission in Iraq - is to move agressively now...
and this time, we need to move against the terrorists in our
"We have met the enemy, and he is us."
W.V. Micko is a political writer and Democratic activist
in Sacramento, California.