Monday, March 31, 2003

as usual, essential guardian commentary.

peter preston: how many bodybags can we take?
"i've no idea what the figure in the pre-planning stage was. if it chimed with the breezy confidence of other plans, then it might have been much less than 5,000. but that was then - and this is now. no cheering iraqi crowds, no mass defection yet. expectations unfulfilled. so the death toll - however tiny on any historical comparison - may seem worse than expected. worse, too, the cameras and reporters gathered to chronicle easy victory, inevitably give added weight to the toll of uneasy struggle. (...)
unacceptability 2003, prospectively, is yet another and another cargo of coffins heading into brize norton. more pomp, more grief, more footage. there's no need to wonder why the politicians are worried. they set their acceptability thresholds too low and now, in a macabre way, we have to live with them - and hope for a best case outcome.
but there is a more durable lesson here for a pentagon pondering future conflicts. what the heart sees, the heart grieves."

madeleine bunting: bombs and biscuits
"so america is well on the way to losing the peace as the inherent contradictions of this war of liberation become apparent: you can't instill fear and respect at the same time, you can't bomb and hand out biscuits. and this is where the future becomes truly frightful because there's no way back, and if america and britain are not going to be welcomed and loved on the streets of basra and baghdad, they will make themselves feared instead. here, the logic of war takes grip and choices narrow. this war has to be won, and in the end the us will use any means necessary to do so - dragging its british ally with it into a bloody mess. in 1939, did the british ever imagine they could commit the dresden atrocity? war corrupts all of its participants.

already, the pressure is evident on britain's army in the plaintive comment of major charlie lambert of the royal scots dragoon guards: "when people don't play by the rule book, it is easy to make things very difficult for a much larger force which does play by the rules." at one point will american and british niceties about avoiding civilian casualties be relaxed as an unaffordable luxury? at what point will the nerves of frightened soldiers tautened by ambushes and suicide attacks - smiling peasant one moment, terrorist fedayeen the next? - turn ordinary decent men into monsters?

the coalition forces will give up on the rules while saddam hussein has never abided by them anyway. like anyone who has been cornered, he will in his desperation resort to anything - and all he has now are the lives of his people. he's used them cheaply many times before and now with 24/7 global media coverage, their blood is his most potent pawn, and he won't hesitate to spend it freely in urban warfare as shields, bombers, even targets. it will be grotesque, and it doesn't require a complicated understanding of moral reasoning to grasp that we will bear some responsibility for the atrocities he may commit in defending his country and regime. it is we who have invaded a sovereign nation, and there has always been a legitimate principle of self-defence.(..)