The Difference Between Winning and Losing

Yesterday morning, Coalition forces liberated Baghdad, and we finally got to see some of that rejoicing in the streets (and also, a goodly helping of “beat the collaborator”) we’ve been missing so far in the execution of the war. People looked elated, attacking that statue of Hussein with glee and toppling it, elderly women beating Saddam’s image with their shoes (apparently a very strong insult in Arabic cultures; thanks to Electrolite for pointing out the pictures), and welcoming the Coalition troops with the openness our administration has always said they deserved. It was a good moment, when the people of Iraq seemed to finally accept that they were no longer under Hussein’s lash.

By yesterday evening, of course, right-wingers were accusing liberals of not being happy enough, of sulking because we wanted the war to fail, or at least get stuck in a “quagmire”, and so on and so on. Of course, we knew it was coming, no matter what objective was met. When Coalition troops found what they thought was chemical weapons earlier this week, a hearty round of “told you so’s” was raised, and we could hardly expect the capture of Baghdad not to fuel another. For the record, I’m happy for those people of Iraq still living (and civilian casualties seem to have been pretty low, but unfortunately not non-existent; military casualties, on the other hand, don’t seem to play into anyone’s concept of victory, but it’s thousands of young Iraqi men who will never get to take advantage of the liberty America is supposedly going to provide their people, who will never return to their families and loved ones) and I’m especially glad that the Battle of Baghdad didn’t get embroiled in the kind of army-crushing, civilian-slaughtering, urban guerilla warfare that many predicted. But let’s not be too proud of ourselves just yet. The real work in Iraq only starts with the occupation of the country–and it will be a long time before the ramifications of our actions there start to make themselves felt.

Also, all this news of the Iraqi people welcoming their “liberators” makes me wonder. The Iraqis aren’t idiots; they know who butters their bread at the moment. I’m reminded of an excerpt from Joseph Heller’s “Catch 22”, posted a couple weeks ago at Busy, Busy, Busy:

“I don’t believe anything you tell me,” Nately replied with a bashful, mitigating smile. “The only thing I do believe is that America is going to win this war.””You put so much stock in winning wars,” the grubby iniquitous old man scoffed. “The real trick lies in losing wars, in knowing which wars can be lost. Italy has been losing wars for centuries, and just see how splendidly we’ve done nonetheless. France wins wars and is in a continual state of crises. Germany loses and prospers. Look at our own recent history. Italy won a war in Ethiopia and promptly stumbled into serious trouble. Victory gave us such insane delusions of grandeur that we helped start a world war we hadn’t a chance of wining. But now that we are losing again, everything has taken a turn for the better, and we certainly will come up on top again if we succeed in being defeated.”

Nately gaped at him in undisguised befuddlement. “Now I really don’t understand what you’re saying. You talk like a madman.”

“But I live like a sane one. I was a fascist when Mussolini was on top, and I an an anti-fascist now that he has been deposed. I was fanatically pro-German when the Germans were here to protect us against the Americans, and now that the Americans are here to protect us against the Germans I am fanatically pro-American. I can assure you, my outraged young friend” – the old man’s knowing, disdainful eyes shown even more effervescently as Nately’s stuttering dismay increased – “that you and your country will have no more loyal partisan in Italy than me – but only as long as you remain in Italy.”

“But,” Nately cried out in disbelief, “you’re a turncoat! A time-server! A shameful, unscrupulous opportunist!”

“I am a hundred and seven years old,” the old man reminded him suavely.


“I can’t believe it,” Nately remarked grudgingly, trying stubbornly not to watch him in relation to the girls. “I simply can’t believe it.

“But it’s all perfectly true. When the Germans marched into the city, I danced in the streets like a youthful ballerina and shouted ‘Heil Hitler’ until my lungs were hoarse. I even waved a small Nazi flag that I had snatched away from a beautiful little girl while her mother was looking the other way. When the Germans left the city, I rushed out to welcome the Americans with a bottle of excellent brandy and a basket of flowers. The brandy was for myself, of course, and the flowers were to sprinkle upon our liberators. There was a very stiff and stuffy old major riding in the first car, and I hit him squarely in the eye with a red rose. A marvelous shot! You should have seen him wince.”

Now, this administration seems to be doing everything possible to make sure that the Iraqi people do not win this war (or the peace), but let’s face it, where brute force won’t get the job done, we’re just not very effective forces. You need a leader assassinated, a democratically-elected government overthrown or undermined, call America; but if you need a democratic system–a People’s government, if you will, but don’t tell anyone I said “People’s”–built up that recognizes basic human rights and works to establish equality for everyone, if you need a reconciliation process to clear away 25 years of bad, bad memories, if you need a nation free from the tyranny of terrorism and warlordism, an ethnically and religiously pluralistic society in which men, women, and children of all sorts can live and prosper… well, American is not the team to call in.

So, three cheers for the Iraqi people. They’ve defeated Saddam, now they have to fight a war for the hearts and minds… of America.

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