Thursday, September 23, 2004

Putting Iraq in perspective

Juan Cole has a scary post which puts the carnage in Iraq into perspective by asking the simple question of "if America were Iraq, what would it be like?". The answer isn't very pleasant:

Thus, violence killed 300 Iraqis last week, the equivalent proportionately of 3,300 Americans. What if 3,300 Americans had died in car bombings, grenade and rocket attacks, machine gun spray, and aerial bombardment in the last week? That is a number greater than the deaths on September 11, and if America were Iraq, it would be an ongoing, weekly or monthly toll.

That's just the beginning, and it's bad enough. But there's a lot more there, and putting it all in one place and putting it in a US context makes it possible to truly grasp the scale of what is going on in Iraq. The situation is simply terrible, it is not improving, and the US seems powerless to do anything about it. They can kill more people, of course, raze neighbourhoods or even whole cities, but that doesn't actualy resolve the problem - it simply results in more recruits for the resistance.

Clausewitz said that "war is merely the continuation of policy by other means", by which he meant that military force is used to achieve political objectives. But it's hard to see what objectives are now being pursued in Iraq. The US cannot create the necessary stability for democratic government to emerge, it cannot protect the current unelected regime or its staff, and it cannot even keep the electricity and water (let alone the oil) flowing. All of the US's stated objectives are now unachievable, and have been for quite some time; all they seem to be fighting for now is to avoid "appearing weak" by admitting defeat. But is that really worth 1200 dead Iraqis and around 60 dead US soldiers every month?