Tuesday, April 22, 2003

What Else Was Destroyed

Baghdad has been looted, not by the foreign conquerors, but by its own people. Most of the attention has gone to the National Museums and Libraries. There are rumors and reports that the museums were systematically raided for valuable artifacts and that the Library was deliberately torched. (We're ready for Phase 3 of the Coulter Program .) It makes me sick. I can't really think about it rationally; it's one of the worst cultural crimes in centuries.

But other things were destroyed too.


I've heard yammerings to the effect of "a bunch of old trash isn't worth the life of a single Iraqi baby". OK, so why didn't we protect the hospitals? If we were serious about any "humanitarian" intentions, we should have made protecting the hospitals, and getting supplies to them, a major priority. Now, the hospitals stand empty. The doctors and nurses are afraid to leave their homes for fear of looting, and the hospitals have been stripped to the walls. What has happened to the sick and injured? I don't know, but it ain't gonna be pretty. Last I heard, humanitarian aid still wasn't getting through.


We've managed to protect the vault of one bank -- it holds a billion dollars worth of gold bullion. The cash is less important than the financial records -- all of Iraq is effectively bankrupt now. Remember this "world economy" thing that we've been talking about for twenty years? It's run through the banks. It's all going to have to be rebuilt from records of Iraq's trading partners.I predict a rash of international con men proffering phony invoices. Many will be from "respectable" outfits. (Why did Halliburton spring to mind?)


Who did what to who under Saddam? Well, we need to look at the records. You know, the ones that were in all those government buildings that burned? The "empty" buildings that we bombed at the start of the war? The Ba'ath Party headquarters that we bombed?

Assume, for the moment, that you're a Ba'ath Party official. The Americans have been saying all along that the Ba'ath Party will have no place in the Iraq of the future. In addition, you've done some things as part of the ruling party that you'd rather were forgotten. But nobody can do anything if they don't have the records. Therefore, it's very tempting to make sure that as much Government and Ba'ath Party paper as possible is destroyed. Easiest way to do this is to "loot" the buildings. The computers, of course, are the first to go. Then when the buildings have been stripped, all that incriminating paper makes a lovely fire. Get enough of it, and it will destroy things like computer backups. Actually, I suspect that Iraqis are no more clueful about backups than Americans.

With the Republican Guard, you have the same situation, with the twist that the Guard presumably kept their weapons. Gonna make things interesting for the new Government ....

So how are we going to tell who was naughty and who was nice? One bad sign so far is that we're trying to find as many former Baghdad cops as we can and put them back to work. The citizens of Baghdad are furious -- these were Saddam's enforcers, after all. And one of Saddam's main tricks for keeping power was to make sure that everybody, or as near as possible, was involved in his nastiness.

And the only records that we seem to be interested in are those in the hunt for <echo_chamber>Weapons of Mass Destruction</echo_chamber>. Actually, it makes sense -- they're the rationale for the invasion in the first place. And we know that Saddam had them, after all. We kept the receipts.

The Cardinal Sin

One of the cardinal sins in the current military is not being able to follow up on an unexpected advantage. Gen Franks and his staff obviously expected Baghdad to hold out for at least a couple of weeks. If the Republican Guard and Special Republican Guard had chosen to fight, we would have had a nasty time of it, but we could have used the extra time to bring up more troops. The collapse left Franks with nothing that could be moved into place for the next phase of the operation. I rather suspect that he didn't have a plan for the occupation -- that's Somebody Else's Problem. Politicians tend to forget that soldiers are not cops and cops are not soldiers

The point remains, however, that Franks did not move in to secure the cities in a timely manner, and let the situation get completely out of hand. From what I've heard, Mosul is even worse than Baghdad. (That's Nineveh, for you historical types.) And as a result, we will not be able to complete one of our major objectives for this war -- the "de Ba'athification" of Iraq. We've allowed the evidence to be destroyed. In addition, while Franks was very good at preventing the destruction of Iraq's physical infrastructure (dams, especially), he stood by and watched the destruction of Iraq's medical and financial infrastructure.

We're talking court-martial here, folks. I don't expect to see one, for a couple of reasons:

  1. The old military idea that a commander is responsible for what happens on his watch is going away. The bleat of "It's not my faaaault!!" that has infected the rest of our society is spreading to the military.
  2. One of the requirements for success in the current military is the ability to cover one's arse. Franks is undoubtedly very good at it. Any "investigation" will undoubtedly "prove" that it was the fault of some captain or suchlike. Certainly nobody above the rank of colonel, if that. Remember My Lai?
  3. I'm sure that any examination of Operation Iraqi Liberation Freedom would point lots of fingers at the civilian leaders in the Department of Defense. Given his reaction to the looting, I suspect that Rumsfeld himself is at least partially responsible for this mess.

In any case, everything will depend on the success of the occupation. If Iraq settles down fairly quickly, the Powers that Be will be inclined to overlook a lot of nastiness. However, if things go really wrong, they may be looking for scapegoats. Historically, though, when the Powers that Be need a scapegoat, they need him fast, and odd things tend to happen.

Too Much Information

I've been meaning ot write some stuff on The War, but there's just too much information. While combat was still going on, watching for dispatches was far more interesting than trying to figure out what is "really" going on. War is a horribly confused situation at the best of times; the current "fact" will be contradicted in ten minutes and forgotten in an hour. Things haven't come close to settling down, but they're moving a lot slower now. A few impressions:

The military side of things was carried out quite competently. The only problem was one of expectation; the DoD guys, led by Rumsfeld, predicted that the Iraqis would all run like rabbits. The resistance that they did put up was scattered and ineffective, but folks got discouraged when some of the Iraqi soldiers declined to line up and get slaughtered. Fortunately, the military had a Plan B ...

The hell-for-leather run from the Kuwati border to Baghdad would have been suicide if anybody halfway competent had been in charge of the defense, especially during "the mother of all sandstorms". However, the qualification is critical. With the possible exception of "Chemical Ali", anybody with the smallest military talent had been purged long since.

The amusing side of this was the Minister of Information Saeed al-Sahhaf's hallucinatory press briefings. Turned out that he was just telling the reporters the same information that Saddam Hussein (or his replacement) was getting. When you shoot generals for losing battles, people are really reluctant to give you the bad news ....

The Press did not cover themselves with glory. Aside from the odious Geraldo Rivera, the "embeds" did a pretty darn good job. But the guys back in the studio sometimes got as bad as "Comical Ali" (al-Sahhaf). Fox News was, as expected, the worst, but the others weren't much better. The worst one I saw on Fox was when we got the announcement of the discovery of a "chemical weapons factory". The talking heads at Fox discoursed at length as to the implications of finally finding "Saddam's Weapons of Mass Destruction". There never was a report of finding weapons; just a factory. Of course, the "chemical weapons factory" itself went away after a couple of days. Like I said, war is confusing. This kind of mistake has to be expected. But the talking heads should at least listen to the reports on their own newscasts.

It's the job of reporters to ask questions, especially the ones that the Powers that Be don't want to answer. This seems to have escaped the reporters covering the war, both at CENTCOM HQ in Qatar and in Washington. In particular, reporters seem to have forgotten the gentle art of the "followup question". Perhaps it's a result of limiting reporters to one question each. You have to have some limits, or a reporter will try to turn a press briefing into an interview, but you have to have some way of following up on unexpected answers.

The coverage of the destruction of the 507th Maintenance Company showed the press at its worst. Basically, the 507th got lost, wandered into downtown Nasiriyah, and got creamed. In particular:

  • "Got lost"? Excuse me? They're in a convoy, with combat escorts. Also, rental cars from Hertz have GPS units; I would expect that every US vehicle in Iraq would have a GPS. This is one that the reporters never picked up on.
  • The Iraqi TV "war crime". Iraqi TV showed the POWs. They looked scared shitless; to my mind, this is rational. They did not look like the'd been badly abused. The injuries that I saw were consistent with being too close to an RPG when it went off. Rumsfeld claimed that this was a "war crime"; looked to me like a good-faith effort by the Iraqis to let everybody know who the prisoners were and that they were (relatively) OK. Presumably Rumsfeld was honked off that Iraqi TV didn't clear their newsfeed with CENTCOM. And, of course, our media was showing zillions of pictures of Iraqi POWs.
  • The Al Jazeera "war crime". Can't show our dead guys. Might give people the wrong idea about what goes on in a war .... It's interesting to combine this attitude with the level of graphic violence in movies and TV.
  • "Saving Baby Private Jessica". In the future, textbooks will be written about this one. I rather suspect that the "facts" will never really be agreed on. In any case, it was an exciting rescue. Unfortunately, the way it was reported was disgusting. At first, it looked like the networks had turned the "society" reporters loose. PFC Lynch was "Jessica", and the pictures of her made her look about twelve years old. I don't know what triggered the change; perhaps Blogistan put enough moral pressure on the networks to get them to give her the respect due a soldier. Also, belatedly, we got some decent coverage of her tentmate, PFC Piestewa, first American servicewoman to be killed in action since WWII. And where did the Washington Post, of all people, come up with that story of her going down with guns blazing? Not with those injuries!

And that's just "the war". It's over now. Saddam Hussein is either dead or laying very, very low. And the media interest is fading fast.

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