Thursday, January 30, 2003

"Shock and Awe" and death and revenge. Today's Phoenix includes a column I wrote on the media's one-dimensional reaction to Monday's reports by UN weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei. There's one point I want to expand on -- a report, which I found on Dan "Tom Tomorrow" Perkins's weblog, that the Pentagon has already decided to open the war against Iraq by bombing Baghdad into a pile of rubble, occupied by no one except the dead.

According to the CBS News report that Perkins cites (via a story in Australia's Sydney Morning Herald), the strategy has been labeled "Shock and Awe." I found this description on a Department of Defense website, ascribing it to Clausewitz and Sun Tzu. But what the Pentagon has in mind goes way, way beyond what those military thinkers ever could have imagined. The Herald piece continues:

... between 300 and 400 cruise missiles would fall on Iraq each day for two consecutive days. It would be more than twice the number of missiles launched during the entire 40 days of the 1991 Gulf War.

"There will not be a safe place in Baghdad," a Pentagon official told America's CBS News after a briefing on the plan. "The sheer size of this has never been seen before, never been contemplated before."

The idea, according to the Herald, is to break the Iraqi people "physically, emotionally and psychologically." (The paper uses quotation marks around this phrase, but the attribution is unclear.) This is sick, outrageous, and -- more to the point -- completely counter to US interests.

The original CBS News report contains still more horrifying details:

The battle plan is based on a concept developed at the National Defense University. It's called "Shock and Awe" and it focuses on the psychological destruction of the enemy's will to fight rather than the physical destruction of his military forces.

"We want them to quit. We want them not to fight," says Harlan Ullman, one of the authors of the Shock and Awe concept which relies on large numbers of precision guided weapons.

"So that you have this simultaneous effect, rather like the nuclear weapons at Hiroshima, not taking days or weeks but in minutes," says Ullman.

Think about this: Ullman is explicitly saying that the US is willing to kill vast numbers of Iraqi civilians in order to terrify the Iraqi military into surrendering. Am I twisting this? Is the real intent to destroy buildings while sparing lives? Well, look again. It's Ullman who makes the Hiroshima analogy. I assume he was choosing his words carefully.

It is difficult for someone with no background in military matters to speak out about such things, but each of us has an obligation to think hard and not remain silent. Remember, they're doing this in our name. I oppose George W. Bush's obsession with invading Iraq. But let's face it, it's going to happen. There are ways to do it that would enhance our international reputation, bringing down Saddam -- one of the worst people on the face of the earth -- and doing it with a minimal loss of civilian lives. The Iraqi people would be liberated, sanctions would be lifted, and rebuilding would commence. (And Saddam might blow up his oil fields, launch missiles at Israel, and dispatch terror teams to the US.)

Trouble is, the right way to do it might involve the deaths of more American troops than would "Shock and Awe." Thus it's a terrible argument that I am trying to make: that it is worth the lives of some unknown number of US soldiers in order to avoid a holocaust in Baghdad. What an offensive, arrogant thing to say! To which I respond, if this war can't be prevented, then we should at least do it in such a way that will result in the fewest American casualties -- not four weeks from now, but over the next 20 years.

The reaction of the Iraqi people, and of the Arab world in general, will depend a lot on whether the US behaves as a liberator, or as an imperialist power bent on wreaking "Shock and Awe."

In his State of the Union message this week, Bush spoke of the hypothetical threat of an Iraqi terrorist team entering the US with a small quantity of weapons of mass destruction, the sort of weapons that could take many more lives than the attacks of 9/11.

"Shock and Awe" would surely make such an attack more likely.

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