Saturday, April 17, 2004

The Last Debate

Regnum Crucis has an exchange between Dan Darling and Abu Noor, who maintains that the West is historically guilty of oppressing the Muslim world and that any attacks we may be experiencing are consequently richly deserved. One of saddest truisms of political debate is that it is almost impossible for either side to convert the true believers of the other. Experienced polemicists advise us not to try; it is only the uncommitted middle that is worth talking to. This requires us to accept, as Mao Tse Tung never ceased to remind us, the existence of an enemy who can only be treated with destruction and subjugation. But it also reminds us that there is a vast public that is neither friend nor foe, which must be won over.

Holding this distinction clearly in mind is hardest for those who believe reason can settle any dispute. The words 'enemy', 'neutral' and 'friend', while unthinkable in the academe, are the three most important words in wartime, because they have defined policy from time immemorial: destruction to the enemy, respect and punctilio towards neutrals, succor to friends. The United States has been dragged unwillingly into war and mentally at least the process has not yet been completed, but it is proceeding apace.

It is gratifying to see public figures starting to speak of the enemy as foe. Defense Secretary called Al-Jazeera an outlet of lies. CENTCOM is now finally recounting instances, common for some time, of the Islamists using ambulances to transport weapons and using the guise of Red Crescent convoys to move war materials. Previously forbidden characterizations are beginning to see print: mosques as thinly disguised military bases, imams as gangsters in flowing robes, madrassas as factories of hate. If the image of a jackbooted Nazi was rooted partially in the imagination of Allied propagandists, the face of the current enemy has been painted largely by himself.  The videotaped execution of hostages, including the brave Italian Quattrocchi, the mutilation of the four Blackwater contractors, the ceaseless capering and firing in the air, the constant drumroll of terrorist attacks suggests a basic nature which cannot be ameliorated by any amount of television make-up.

The United States is finally beginning to think like a belligerent, despite it's best efforts not to. The United States Marines are seeking private donations -- not government money -- to set up a number of television stations in Iraq to broadcast our side of the story through a program called Spirit of America. No one should imagine that this effort, nor that of Chief Wiggles, nor the personal kindnesses shown by hundreds of thousands of American in the Middle East will have the slightest effect on the Jihadis. For them there is nothing but the rifle bullet. Our efforts at nation building and personal outreach will find fertile ground only in the hearts of the uncommitted and in confirming belief in those who are already our friends. But there are those who will never be won over and accepting the consequences of this fact defines the boundary between war and peace.

The enemy -- the true believers on the other side -- will never be softened by negotiation or mollified with obsequiousness. He is implacable and his will to resist is illustrated by the cache the Marines found in in Fallujah: a MANPAD, 40 RPGs, a 120 mm mortar, 9 82 mm mortars, a 50 mm mortar, 65 major caliber artillery rounds, probably for use as booby traps and the usual machineguns and rifles. It is a catalogue of death for us. For them there is this:

Lying on his stomach on a rooftop and wearing goggles and earplugs, a Marine sniper keeps an eye to his rifle sight. His main task in recent days has been trying to hit the black-garbed gunmen who occasionally dash across the long street in front of him. To dodge his shots, one of the gunmen recently launched into a rolling dive across the street, a move that had the sniper and his buddies laughing. "I think I got him later. The same guy came back and tried to do a low crawl," said Lance Cpl. Khristopher Williams, 20, from Fort Myers, Fla.

Others have run across the street, hiding behind children on bicycles, said the sniper. In his position — reachable only by scaling the outside ledge of a building — he sits for hours with his finger poised on the trigger of a rifle that fires 50-caliber armor-piercing bullets with such force that the muzzle flash and exiting gasses from the weapon have blackened the bricks around the gun. On the street in front of his position sits a car riddled with bullets, where the bloated, fly-infested bodies of three armed men have been left. The vehicle was shot up by Marine gunmen before the sniper set up his position.

Along the front line, Marines have been firing warning shots to scare away dogs chewing on corpses. In some cases, the troops have wrapped bodies in blankets and buried them in shallow graves.

At night, the psychological operations unit attached to the Marine battalion here sends out messages from a loudspeaker mounted on an armored Humvee. On Thursday night, the crew and its Arabic-language interpreter taunted fighters, saying, "May all the ambulances in Fallujah have enough fuel to pick up the bodies of the mujahadeen."