Wednesday, March 31, 2004

the arena
I’ve been reading Nicholas Rankin's biography of war correspondent George Steer. Steer is best known for bringing news of the bombing of Guernica to the world in 1937, and insisting that Guernica was indeed bombed despite propaganda from the Spanish fascists and their allies to the effect that it had been destroyed by the Basques themselves.

Rankin maintains that Guernica represented a turning point in modern warfare. In every decade since then, most of those who have died in war have been civilians. In the 90’s, he reports, civilians made up 90% of war casualties. I wonder if Iraq is the next stage in the process.

The US army is no so technologically advanced it’s practically impossible for any other force to take the field openly against it. To fight it you have to let it occupy territory and attack it everywhere at once, concentrating on the less hardened units in its supply and logistics cone. And by the same logic, you extend the conflict to the new regime’s security proxies and civilian allies. Following it still further, you raise a general insurrection and make the whole country ungovernable, concentrating especially on wiping out the kind of skilled, civically active people who bind society together, on either the pretext that they are "collaborators" or "baathists". Here's Riverbend on the subject :

Scientists, professors and doctors who aren't detained or assassinated all seem to be looking for a way out. It seems like everyone you talk to is keeping their eyes open for a job opportunity outside of the country. It depresses me. When I hear someone talking about how they intend to leave to Dubai or Lebanon or London, I want to beg them to stay… a part of me wants to scream, "But we need you here! You belong here!" Another more rational part of me knows that some of them have no options. Many have lost their jobs and don't know how to feed their families. Others just can't stand the constant worrying about their children or spouse. Many of the female doctors and scientists want to leave because it's no longer safe for women to work like before. For some, the option is becoming a housewife or leaving abroad to look for the security to work.

Her account adds confirmation to this Robert Fisk report from December.

In the Shia city of Najaf, 42 ex-members of the Baath have been murdered and not a single arrest has followed. In Basra, controlled by British troops, almost 50 Baathists have been found with their hands bound behind their backs and a single bullet hole in the neck. Again, there have been no arrests. Hussam Thafer, a doctor at the Baghdad city mortuary, says that every day he receives "five or six" bodies of people who worked for the old regime.

Post June 30, we can expect the US army to retire for the most part to its bases. With the new Iraqi army in no real shape to take up the slack yet this sets the stage for the world’s first all-civilian war, conducted by part time militiamen, terrorist cells, vigilantes, mercenaries and civilian police and security forces. The professional armies will revert to a limit setting role, a kind of hobbesian version of a nightwatchman state. It’s as though we’re back in the Roman arena, except this time the gladiators are the audience.