If America Were Iraq, What would it be Like?

News Abroad

Mr. Cole is Professor of Modern Middle Eastern and South Asian History at the University of Michigan. His website is http://www.juancole.com/.

President Bush said last week that the Iraqis are refuting the pessimists and implied that things are improving in that country.

What would America look like if it were in Iraq's current situation? The population of the US is over 11 times that of Iraq, so a lot of statistics would have to be multiplied by that number.

Thus, violence killed 300 Iraqis last week, the equivalent proportionately of 3,300 Americans. What if 3,300 Americans had died in car bombings, grenade and rocket attacks, machine gun spray, and aerial bombardment in the last week? That is a number greater than the deaths on September 11, and if America were Iraq, it would be an ongoing, weekly or monthly toll.

And what if those deaths occurred all over the country, including in the capital of Washington, DC, but mainly above the Mason Dixon line, in Boston, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, and San Francisco?

What if the grounds of the White House and the government buildings near the Mall were constantly taking mortar fire? What if almost nobody in the State Department at Foggy Bottom, the White House, or the Pentagon dared venture out of their buildings, and considered it dangerous to go over to Crystal City or Alexandria?

What if all the reporters for all the major television and print media were trapped in five-star hotels in Washington, DC and New York, unable to move more than a few blocks safely, and dependent on stringers to know what was happening in Oklahoma City and St. Louis? What if the only time they ventured into the Midwest was if they could be embedded in Army or National Guard units?

There are estimated to be some 25,000 guerrillas in Iraq engaged in concerted acts of violence. What if there were private armies totalling 275,000 men, armed with machine guns, assault rifles (legal again!), rocket-propelled grenades, and mortar launchers, hiding out in dangerous urban areas of cities all over the country? What if they completely controlled Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, Denver and Omaha, such that local police and Federal troops could not go into those cities?

What if, during the past year, the secretary of state (Aqilah Hashemi), the president (Izzedine Salim), and the attorney general (Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim) had all been assassinated?

What if all the cities in the U.S. were wracked by a crime wave, with thousands of murders, kidnappings, burglaries, and carjackings in every major city every year?

What if the Air Force routinely (I mean daily or weekly) bombed Billings, Montana, Flint, Michigan, Watts in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Anacostia in Washington, DC, and other urban areas, attempting to target"safe houses" of" criminal gangs," but inevitably killing a lot of children and little old ladies?

What if, from time to time, the U.S. Army besieged Virginia Beach, killing hundreds of armed members of the Christian Soldiers? What if entire platoons of the Christian Soldiers militia holed up in Arlington National Cemetery, and were bombarded by U.S. Air Force warplanes daily, destroying thousands of graves and even pulverizing the Vietnam Memorial over on the Mall? What if the National Council of Churches had to call for a popular march of thousands of believers to converge on the National Cathedral to stop the U.S. Army from demolishing it to get at a rogue band of the Timothy McVeigh Memorial Brigades?

What if there were virtually no commercial air traffic in the country? What if many roads were highly dangerous, especially Interstate 95 from Richmond to Washington, DC, and I-95 and I-91 up to Boston? If you got on I-95 anywhere along that over 500-mile stretch, you would risk being carjacked, kidnapped, or having your car sprayed with machine gun fire.

What if no one had electricity for much more than ten hours a day, and often less? What if it went off at unpredictable times, causing factories to grind to a halt and air conditioning to fail in the middle of the summer in Houston and Miami? What if the Alaska pipeline were bombed and disabled at least monthly? What if unemployment hovered around 40 percent?

What if veterans of militia actions at Ruby Ridge and the Oklahoma City bombing were brought in to run the government on the theory that you need a tough guy in these times of crisis?

What if municipal elections were cancelled and cliques close to the new"president" quietly installed in the statehouses as"governors?" What if several of these governors (especially of Montana and Wyoming) were assassinated soon after taking office or resigned when their children were taken hostage by guerrillas?

What if the leader of the European Union maintained that the citizens of the United States are, under these conditions, refuting pessimism and that freedom and democracy are just around the corner?

What if?

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tom plotts - 10/2/2004

Ha! Really, Maarja, it was a compliment..:)

Maarja Krusten - 9/30/2004

Your point is well take, Mr. Thornton. I think it is the timing of going to war and the manner, as well as the lack of postwar planning, that bothers many people. I personally believe we should have put more troops on the ground from the get-go. We also should have handled issues relating to security and infrastructure differently.

These and other issues bother many old school Republicans. (I used to vote Republican quite comfortably during the Cold War, have described myself as an Independent for the last ten years or so. I could not tell you today whom I will vote for, I have problems supporting either candidate.) John Eisenhower, son of the former President, is breaking a 50-year record of voting Republican and endorsing Kerry.
See http://www.washtimes.com/upi-breaking/20040930-103802-8001r.htm

"In a guest column for the Manchester (N.H.) Union-Leader, . . . John Eisenhower said he was 'totally unfamiliar" with today's Republican Party.

'America, though recognized as the leader of the community of nations, has always acted as a part of it, not as a maverick separate from that community and at times insulting towards it,' he said. 'Recent developments indicate that the current Republican Party leadership has confused confident leadership with hubris and arrogance.'"


"'There are times when we must break with the past, and I believe this is one of them,' Eisenhower wrote in the opinion column published Tuesday in The Union Leader of Manchester, New Hampshire. The column assails President Bush and the GOP for federal budget deficits, for 'unilaterally' invading Iraq and for infringing on personal liberties."

Maarja Krusten - 9/30/2004

Thanks, Tom, I think (LOL). If my postings draw polemic thoughts, it probably is because I am trying to remind readers that not everyone in Washington sees things as academics do. Needless to say, I agree with some of the approaches to management that I quote in my postings but not with others. But, agree or disagree, I believe it is useful to know how others think and how they justify their actions. Someone in government once told me, "Maarja, you operate from a different mental model." He was a "go along to get along" kind of guy who wasn't particularly introspective. In fact, he seemed to played zero sum games sometimes (you know, to succeed, "I have to be one-up, everyone else one-down," etc.) For many reasons, including survival, I've found it useful to figure out what makes the people here in DC tick!

tom plotts - 9/30/2004

I get nervous with comparisons between CEO-ship and the presidency. I'm with you on the anti-totalitarian vibe, though. I'd love to see all the worlds tyrants go down in flames, but that's a long list, and it includes a whole slew of them here at home.
Ultimately, CBA lingo aside, our biggest problem is being so obviously selective in applying otherwise decent principles across the globe. We want democracy here, but not there (see Venezuela). We want freedom here, but not there (see China and their labor policies). We want free enterprise here, but not there (see anything preceeded by the phrases "no-bid contract" or "pork barrel").
One thing about risk management that's always bugged me, Maarja. How do you weigh the demolition of a value against a large price tag? Companies fare poorly in those calculi. I think it's reasonable to assume a government that operates along the same modus will fare equally poorly. I don't have the answers, of course, that's well over my head.
There is yet a science of ethical decision-making to be devised. It's one of the attractions, I think, of the econometric model that has taken over the globe since the end of WWII; the certainty that comes with being able to assign a number to everything. Our record since then, though, seems a bit spotty, don't you think?

Sorry if I derailed a bit, it's just that your posts have a tendency to trigger these odd, polemical thoughts...:) And once more I leave a footprint for another employer to read!

Maarja Krusten - 9/30/2004

President Bush is our first MBA president. A CEO's decision making often involves risk assessment and risk management. S/he balances the risk of future action against possible outcomes. I cheered as loudly as anyone when Hussein's statue was toppled. I have family members who suffered under a totalitarin regime of another kind (Soviet occupation). But, if the initial risk assessment in going in to Iraq AT THIS TIME was based on flawed premises(no WMD, albeit a desire to acquire them; no direct link to 9/11), one now has to to balance the outcome--removal of Hussein--against the rise in anti-Americanism, increased turmoil in the muslim world, etc.

Please see some of my postings in reaction to http://hnn.us/articles/7583.html for more on concerns expressed by analysts, plus Presidential leadership, management, and decision making.

James E. Thornton - 9/29/2004

Remember that before the conditions described above that a ruthless dictator ruled, forcing a trade of freedom for security. Yet that security meant members of your family who were suspected of opposing the regime were imprisoned, raped, tortured, and killed. People througout the country except maybe the southwest where the regime lost sovreignty are starving because of international sanctions. Meanwhile, regime cronies are enriching themselves. All the while the regime maintains a foreign policy in defiance of the international community so there is no end in sight to the suffering. After the Chinese invade and the regime overthrown my perception of them as liberators or occupiers would probably depend on how much I had to lose or gain.

Maarja Krusten - 9/29/2004

Sorry, I really have to watch what I'm doing when I have the wrong screen up, duh. Link above should be http://hnn.us/readcomment.php?id=43086#43086

Maarja Krusten - 9/29/2004

I see what you mean about people going through military service and combat and drawing different conclusions from their experiences. Good point, and you're right, you see the different reactions by vets as they post to HNN. I could have worded my message better. I mostly meant that when we see members of the general public saying they approve of going to war (whether it is the first Gulf War, Iraq, whatever), what do they know, through direct experience, about war? Not having experienced something doesn't mean you can't have a valid opinion on it, of course. And the support for our troops--as opposed to the policies which put them in harm's way--is commendable.

I think people need more exposure to articles such as this one by Professor Cole. In general, I don't think people always think through cause and effect. See also postings on the debate questions thread at http://hnn.us/readcomment.php?id=43104#43104. In exchanges with Andrew Todd, I mention how neither the public nor politicians seem to want to confront many difficult issues. I guess there are many ways to look at what constitutes courage.

tom plotts - 9/29/2004

I really like this piece by Cole. I think the issue is less an understanding of war and more an enduring unwillingness or inability to reflect with empathy on the conditions the US subjects others to. In a time where machoism is rearing its ugly head as a political value in the US, empathy is seen as too feminine to be of real value in American politics. Just examine the rhetoric of the two establishment candidates for President. What Cole does is remind people that the conditions we attempt to rationalize for others would probably not be tolerable here.

I don't think much of this argument that one has to have experienced war to have some special insight into using state violence to achieve policy objectives. Many of the reactionaries on this board do have military experience, are read in military history, and a few have even seen combat. So have I (to all three). Yet we emerge from this set of conditions with totally opposite lessons from that same experience, which suggests that there is no universal quality of wisdom that one obtains from doing these three things. Something else entirely is at play, and it's probably not the Hollywoodization of violence (at least entirely).

As to having a national debate on much of anything of substance, that's a whole new historical enchilada. One way to kick start something more useful is to take the approach that Cole does--that is, to template global experiences over American life in ways that jolt Americans into appreciating the damage many of our policies can do to ordinary people just trying to get by in this world. Understand, of course, that such an exercise will be (and is) strongly resisted by those who beleive such scrutiny is somehow unmanly, and therefore unvirtuous.

Maarja Krusten - 9/27/2004

In another forum last week, this article by Juan Cole drew a question from a man who asked, why do you want to the U.S. to lose in Iraq. I responded by countering, why dismiss questions about Iraq as "hoping the U.S. fails?"' Many people have serious concerns about the timing of the Iraq war, the diversion of resources to Iraq from Afghanistan and the war on terror, to say nothing of the rising deficit. I assume we all agree that we want to win the war on terror, not to lose ground or to encourage more recruits to join the terrorists. I am one of those people who is conflicted on how best to achieve that.

We haven't really had a national debate about many criticial issues -- Iraq, spending, revenue shortfalls, the deficit, long term implications of our military actions, etc. Professor Cole's article is useful for its vivid protrayal of how our lives would be affected by conditions that exist now in Iraq. No offense intended to voters as a whole, but, except for those who have served in the Armed Forces and have seen combant, and those older civilians who lived through World War II in Europe and Asia, and later immigrated to the U.S., our people do not have a good picture of what war means. Many have hazy views of war which have been shaped by what--Hollywood movies or television? Our self selecting group of posters on HNN are more likely to have at least studied some military history. In that we are way ahead of the average voter.