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If it Looks Like a Guerilla and Walks Like a Guerilla
July 12, 2003
By Mike Shannon

It was another bar-raising performance in the art of smug condescension, but it just didn't go over quite as well as it used to. As the news conference began, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld tried valiantly to dismiss any and all charges that the American occupation of Iraq has taken a turn for the worse. But even this master of obfuscation could see a change in the eyes, voices and questions of the once pliant and obedient news corps that hangs on his every word. Whereas, not so long ago, they would chuckle at his latest barbs and marvel at his ease and confidence in the face of such challenges and pressures, it had become more and more apparent that the honeymoon was finally coming to a close. Of course, this does not mean he will now come clean and tell the truth, it merely means he will have to work that much harder to conceal it.

The galling highlight of this particular session of thrust and parry was when the Secretary feigned mock horror at his failure to look up the word "guerilla" before taking the stage. With an ear to ear grin -- how this man can laugh while the men and women he is responsible for face hardship, deprivation and death on a daily basis is as inexplicable as it is disgraceful -- he admitted that he knew someone would bring up this word that the Bushies dare not speak.

With the outside chance that this piece might make it to the Secretary's desk, I hope he won't mind if I provide a little edification on the subject. The term guerilla is Spanish both etymologically and historically. Its literal translation is "little war". The term came into being in the early 1800's when Napoleon invaded the Spanish peninsula. By that time Spain's military power had long since seen better days, and they were no match against the modern, well equipped and well trained French. Not wishing to permit the takeover of their homeland without a fight, the patriots of Spain took to the hills and began a six year campaign of harassment and low level attrition just like every other out gunned nationalist movement has always done. And just like the Iraqis are doing to us.

In spite of reassurances from Rumsfeld and the rest of Team Bush that the US is not currently engaged in a guerilla war in Iraq (the best the President could do when pressed on the subject during a question and answer session in Africa was to admit that "we have got a security issue" in Iraq) the reality is that we are. Even more troubling is that there are two primary dynamics in play that support the contention that things will get far worse before they get any better: The temperament/morale of the American soldier and the temperament/morale of the Iraqi people.

First the American soldier; It is not their professionalism that is being challenged so much as it is their humanity. These guys are not machines. They have the same needs and desires as anyone else. Superb training, unwavering dedication to their duty and even extraordinary courage do not change that fact. Anybody that is forced to live in an environment of such oppressing heat, thousands of miles from home and surrounded by an enemy that strikes from nowhere and anywhere at a moment's notice would be hard pressed not to be more than a little apprehensive, a little on edge and little pissed off. The longer these factors are in play the more ingrained the fear and the need to protect themselves from it will come into play. Which means that the possibility that a soldier will fire first and ask questions becomes that much greater which each passing day.

Which leads to the second part the equation: how the Iraqi people perceive their American liberators/occupiers. The Bush administration has been adamant in portraying the Iraqi resistance as "common criminals", "dead-enders", "Baathist diehards", and of course "terrorists". Each of these definitions may in fact be partially correct. But what the administration fails to publicly acknowledge is that they may also just be people who hate the fact that a foreign power has taken control of their homeland.

While it appears as these insurgents are currently in the minority (And thank God for that. If they weren't the American casualty rates would be far higher than they currently are.) it is a question of paramount importance as to whether their numbers are increasing or decreasing. That will be determined by whom the average Iraqi will hold to account for the miserable conditions that their lives have been reduced to: the guerillas who blow up the electrical transformers every time they are repaired or the Americans who seem powerless to do anything about it.

Where this is leading is anybody's guess, but there is one thing for certain: the soldiers of the American army are not going anywhere soon. And neither are the querilla fighters of Iraq.

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