Wednesday, November 17, 2004


Abu Ghraib Redux

I think the decision of a US Marine to kill a wounded and unarmed man in a Fallujah mosque is going to be one of those events that, like Abu Ghraib, is going to define this war in the minds of much of the Middle East. I think in many ways, the entire situation was emblematic: US forces enter a house of worship (a place it is percieved that they do not belong and have no respect for, just like Iraq), find a man wounded and unarmed (like Iraq), and a US Marine chooses to kill him in cold blood. Even the background story (which the US press keeps bringing up), that the Marine was injured the day before, fits in (as the US was injured on 9/11 and then goes on to attack Iraq, not al-Qaeda, which was responsible for the attack). Now maybe I am stretching this analogy a bit too far, but it certainly plays into commonly held ideas in the Middle East of the United States as the violent superpower lashing out at the, comparatively, wounded and unarmed Middle East. And though we may not have the images here in the US, as we did with Abu Ghraib, I have little doubt that this will be an image that is associate with Fallujah in the Middle East. From the Washington Post:
While U.S. networks declined to air the actual shooting, Arab networks such as al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya broadcast the entire incident, with graphics and narration illustrating the sequence of events. At times, the images were frozen. The gunshot splashed blood against the wall behind the Iraqi's head, and the man's body went limp.
If you go to the al Jazeera site you will find the stills of the video up for stories here and here, and as the UN and US military investigate this matter, it isn't going to go away. Watching Ted Koppel on ABC last night, much of the show focused on reactions in Iraq. You can guess how people were reacting - they were not happy. Many expressed the sentiment that seeing this made them want to pick up a gun and head to Fallujah.

And this isn't just about winning the "hearts and minds" of the Arab or Muslim world. This is about American credibility everywhere. In Ha'aretz today, Ze'ev Schiff writes that Israel should not be bothered to pay attention to the US's annual report on the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territories. If the Americans are not going to hold themselves to any recognizable standard of human rights, civilian safety, international law, or rules of combay, Schiff argues, "it would be best to end the practice of preaching morality to the whole world..."
As the Americans were announcing that they had occupied approximately 80 percent of Falluja, representatives of the Red Crescent were reporting that a humanitarian catastrophe was unfolding among the city's civilians. Many of the wounded, including children, are bleeding to death because it is impossible to evacuate them to hospitals. No one is even talking about the destroyed homes and property damage.

The method employed by the Americans calls for using warplanes and artillery in urban areas. This did not start in Falluja. The American armored division that was deployed in Baghdad used the same method. The Americans found themselves in trouble after failing to quell the insurgents in several cities as the date of Iraqi elections drew nearer. Their answer: using an "iron fist" in populated areas. When the Russians did this in Chechnya, President Clinton sharply criticized them.
While I can hardly agree with Schiff's argument that "war on international terror means... engaging in hard-hitting combat" where human rights should not be a concern and that Israel, Russia, and others engaged in this "war on international terror" should not be criticized, the fact that he is able to make the argument at all is testament to the shaky footing that the US is on right now internationally. Because the US's credibility is not just important in checking it's enemies - to a certain degree the enormous military advantage that it holds is effective in that regard. But it is also important in influencing allies and neutral nations. It's called diplomacy. Indeed, right now the US is essentially undermining its allies, such as Great Britain, and making it politically and diplomatically difficult for them to remain close to the US. On the eve of a state visit to Great Britain, Jacques Chirac is being openly and harshly critical of the US-led war in Iraq.
"I'm not at all sure that one can say the world is safer," Chirac told the BBC on the eve of a state visit to Britian. "There is no doubt there has been an increase in terrorism."

He said: "To a certain extent Saddam Hussein's departure was a positive thing but it also provoked reaction such as the mobilisation in a number of countries of men and women of Islam which has made the world more dangerous."

The full interview with the BBC is to be aired on Wednesday evening as Chirac prepares to fly to Britain on Thursday to meet Blair, Queen Elizabeth and business leaders to celebrate 100 years of the Entente Cordiale - an agreement that brought about French-British cooperation after a long history of rivalry.
He has also questioned what it is that Britain has gained from its support of the US invasion of Iraq. How can this possibly be good for Tony Blair? The US is still the most powerful nation in the world at the moment, but nobody likes to be made a fool of.

The "hearts and minds" that are so often brought up in regards to the Iraq war are not just the "hearts and minds" of Iraqis. They are not just the "hearts and minds" of the Muslim and Arab world. The US needs to make an effort to satisfy the "hearts and minds" of the entire world. And this is not done with PR campaigns and rhetoric, but by the actions it takes. All in all, it seems that the US is losing credibility all over the world because of this misadventure in Iraq.

Interesting... I will probably link to this article...
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