This was written in April, 2003, when the war had supposedly ended.
No substantive change since then.
The current war has apparently caused many people to believe that the
opponents of the war have been proved wrong. One letter to the
San Francisco Chronicle suggested that the opponents should eat
crow, and cited some facts: 1. The US (etc.) forces scored a swift and
complete military victory. 2. Many people in Iraq have been glad to be
quit of Saddam Hussein.
In her next letter no doubt she'll tell us something that we didn't all
know on March 19, and then we'll know why we should eat crow;
meanwhile, the issue seems unresolved. To ease the job of finding
something new that was unknown before the war and would tend to make
its opponents wrong, I offer a couple of lists.
Here are things that I don't find surprising, and I really don't see
how anyone possibly could be more than microscopically surprised at
That's kind of a long list. It illustrates that most of what happens
in the world is not surprising to those who pay attention and don't
think they can predict the future with certainty; the surprises just
catch our attention better.
- The invasion was not a cakewalk. The troops were not greeted by
massive surrenders of armed forces, nor by spontaneous civilian
uprisings even in the Shiite south.
- The military victory was quick and efficient by any reasonable standard
for the invasion and subjection of a large country well armed and well
prepared for war.
- Some people were jubilant at the fall of Hussein and welcoming to
Coalition troops, once it was known to be safe. And some people were
jubilant at the fall of Hussein and welcoming to Coalition troops, once
it appeared to be profitable. Together these groups, which surely
overlap, certainly constitute a large number of Iraqis.
- Some people remain loyal to Hussein. In some places resistance was
fierce and even desperate; there were hopeless and even suicidal attacks
of ill-armed men against tanks.
- There was a tiny number of suicide attacks. (This is entirely
distinct from desperate and suicidal resistance.)
- Many Iraqis resent the people who invaded the country and caused
destruction, no matter how good the cause was supposed to be.
- Massive popular support for people installed by British and American
forces has so far not been evident. Shiite groups are jockeying for power,
not falling in line behind the Americans. Turks and Kurds are
intensely suspicious of each other, even hostile. (In all fairness,
maybe it's surprising that both have stayed pretty well under control.)
- When civil authority disappeared, there was massive looting and worse,
with hospitals and government offices badly damaged and some number of
- Irreplaceable treasures of human history were lost. The loss was
extraordinarily bad in one or two places but may not have been widespread.
- There were two incidents in which, flush with victory and filled with
patriotic fervor, American troops acted very unwisely with the American
flag. Millions of people from whom we need support or at least
acquiescence were humiliated and outraged at seeing these on
television. The American commanders on the spot rightly and promptly
reversed each of these actions, but by then major damage had been done.
The American command, having seen the first incident in Umm Qasr,
failed to prevent a repeat in Baghdad.
- U.S. and other coalition forces have assisted wounded Iraqis, both
civilian and military. Small military units, armed and prepared for
trouble, have gone after strategic sites, like water pumping stations,
and sewage plants, to get them back into operation as soon as possible.
- So far, evidence of Al Qaeda connections -- collaboration,
collusion, or aid and comfort -- has been extremely small.
Some Surprise Value
Here are a couple of things at which it seems reasonable to be at least
mildly surprised, though certainly not amazed, confounded, or
This just in, 2003-04-17: They have reportedly found a training camp
for terrorists, apparently linked to Palestinian groups. Where this
might fit in the surprise listings is impossible to say yet.
- The firing of oil wells was minor in scope, and apparently easily
- Nearly four weeks after the invasion started, the evidence for
illegal Weapons of Mass Destruction -- operational capability,
production capacity, or research facilities -- is not merely small (no
surprise) but dead flat zero.
Afterword: Qualifications, Reservations, and an Inference
Contrary to my dogmatic statement about what it's impossible to be
surprised at, people's assessments will differ. Some, for instance, may
claim that I am a victim of pro-war propaganda in being even slightly
surprised that nothing whatever has been found in the WMD department.
They may well be right.
All these items describe the state of things right now. Some may
change seriously at any moment; among these might be the total
lack of WMDs and the isolated nature of damage to historical sites. But
owing to a strange oversight in the creation of the world, the data we
have are all that we have to make decisions on.
The two mild-surprise items, and some others, are signs of a country
that was not at all prepared to fight a war, even in defense against an
invasion. Did such a nation present a clear and present danger that
it was going to attack its neighbors viciously? You decide.
You read it here first: The day after I posted that mini-analysis of
Iraq's state of readiness for aggressive war, the same was in
Arianna Huffington's syndicated column. Sometimes the lady almost makes one
regret our requirement that the President must be a natural-born
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