Over two years ago, the topic of U.S. soldiers’ immunity to prosecution in Iraq was hot. The May 2004 issue of the New Yorker had published Seymour Hersch’s story on Abu Graib, and people were outraged. Now the question of immunity comes up again, this time because of last March’s cold-blooded murder and brutal rape of a 14 year-old girl, just one of many atrocities being reported recently (not to mention the stories that apparently aren’t atrocious enough to count).
We are supposed to be at war in Iraq, but not against Iraq. And certainly not against the Iraqi civilians. But I wonder if part of the problem is that we don’t know who we’re fighting.
In World War II, when U.S. forces fought in France, it was clear that we were fighting against German Nazis. The French were happy to have us there. When U.S. troops entered Afghanistan, the war was (and is) against Afghanistan under the Taliban government, who provided refuge to Al Quaeda.
When soldiers entered Iraq, the war was with Iraq under the rule of Saddam Hussein. You may have noticed that Hussein is no longer in charge there. But we are still fighting. No one there has weapons of mass destruction. Who is the enemy? With no Hussein, can we still call this thing in Iraq a war?
By now, some foreign America-haters have taken the opportunity to join the fray. Mostly, though, we’re fighting Iraqis who don’t want us there. Maybe instead of calling it a war, we should call it “helping the Iraqi government restore and maintain peace.” But helping would imply that if the Iraqi government said “Thanks, we’ll be fine now. Bye-bye,” the U.S. troops would come home, that if the Iraqis elected not to host foreign bases, we’d quietly move on. And nobody believes that.
It’s been called a “war on terror.” That doesn’t actually name an enemy, but we’re not supposed to notice that. I do notice, though, and I also notice that terrorism seems to be what you call the acts of war committed by the weak side. When the strong side terrorizes civilians in order to gain compliance, we call that “winning the hearts and minds.”
What we’re fighting is rebellion. “If you’re not with us, you’re against us.” Terrorism is simply a method for rebellion. It’s what small forces use to fight large ones. It’s horrible, but no more horrible than war.
If you can’t really be at war against terrorism, an idea, maybe we’re at war against terrorists, the people. Let’s see. There’s Al Quaeda. That’s a given. Then there are the Sunnis and Shias that kill each other in Iraq. Then there’s the Iraqi military, and you never know who they’re going to kill. (Same for the U.S. Military, apparently.)
Here’s the point. If “the war” were against Al Quaeda, then when Al Quaeda’s leaders are brought down, it will be over. If “the war” were against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, it’d be over now. After all, Americans are not fighting the Republican Guard. That war is done.
But this war is not going to be over anytime soon. The reason we don’t have a named enemy is that the American government is fighting a war against rebellion, against anyone who doesn’t follow its plan.
It’s been called “the long war.” And it will be long. Rebellion isn’t going to be eradicated any time soon.
Meanwhile, Iraq is a prison, with our soldiers the guards, trapped right along with the rioting inmates. Rebellious or just potentially rebellious, all prisoners are suspect, and presumed guilty of something.