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Gwynne Dyer: Game is up for Americans in Iraq / Sports Illustrated pans war PDF Print E-mail
Justice News
Thursday, 13 May 2004 02:30

LONDON - The situation in Iraq is "disintegration verging o­n collapse," said Richard Holbrooke, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, o­n the last day of April. It was a month that saw more American troops killed than during last year's invasion, a decisive U.S. defeat in the siege of Fallujah, and horrific revelations about the torture and sexual abuse of Iraqi prisoners by both American and British soldiers.

Thanks to Janet Eaton:


Published o­n Tuesday, May 4, 2004 by the Minneapolis Star Tribune

by Gwynne Dyer

It may be years yet before the helicopters pluck the last Americans
off the roof of the Baghdad embassy (or a post-Bush administration
might still manage a more graceful exit), but basically the game is

One hundred thirty-eight American soldiers were killed in Iraq in
April, and over 1,000 wounded. The ABC network's decision to devote
its "Nightline" program o­n Friday to showing pictures and reading out
the names of the 721 American soldiers who have died in Iraq was not
driven by hostility to the Bush administration. The producers were
just responding to what their audience was feeling - but it spoke
volumes about the state of American public opinion.

Meanwhile, any hope of getting the consent of Iraqis to a permanent
U.S. military and political presence in the country has gone gurgling
down the drain. It is still not clear who ordered the siege of
Fallujah in response to the killing and mutilation of four American
"security contractors" (mercenaries) at the end of March, but it was
a blunder that will be studied in military staff colleges for decades
to come, the lesson being: When there is no way that you can succeed,
it is wiser not to reveal your weakness by trying and failing.

There was no way that U.S. Marines could occupy Fallujah and destroy
the local resistance forces without killing thousands of Iraqis, most
of them civilians. There was no way that they could ever identify and
capture the men who killed and mutilated the "contractors." Besieging
the city was an emotional response that made no military or political
sense, as they realized about three weeks too late.

"They" may be Paul Bremer's occupation regime in Baghdad, or it may
be the micromanagers back in the Pentagon who persistently usurp
command functions in Iraq; the inquest that will finally lay the
blame for this fatal move will o­nly happen after U.S. troops retreat
from Iraq months or years from now.

But in o­nly o­ne month they have inadvertently succeeded in reviving
Iraqi pride and national identity o­n the basis of a shared anti-
Americanism, and given the whole Arab and Muslim world nightly
television lessons in how popular resistance can defeat U.S. power.

After the first week's fighting killed the better part of a thousand
people in Fallujah (with Arab TV crews in the city making it clear
that a high proportion of the victims were civilians killed by
American snipers), somebody in the U.S. occupation forces realized
the extent of the disaster and insisted o­n the talks that eventually
let the U.S. forces walk away without launching their final assault.

But the price, by then, was handing the city over to a locally born
general, Jassim Mohammed Saleh, who was commanding o­ne of Saddam
Hussein's Republican Guards divisions o­nly 13 months ago, and to a
force consisting entirely of former Iraqi soldiers living in the city.

Gen. Saleh drove into Fallujah o­n Friday wearing his old Iraqi army
uniform and waving the old Iraqi flag that the puppet "Iraqi
Governing Council" has just abolished. The people of Fallujah had
"rejected" the U.S. Marines, he said, and both he and local U.S.
Marine commanders made it clear that the new emergency military force
would include some of the resistance fighters in the city. o­n Sunday
the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard Myers,
insisted that Gen. Saleh had not yet been given the job, but that
just put the extent of the disarray in the U.S. military o­n public

Fallujah has become a no-go zone for American troops, and that is
also the likely outcome of the parallel showdown in the holy city of
Najaf between American troops and the militia of radical Shia cleric
Muqtada al-Sadr. Making these deals does less damage to the U.S.
position than plowing o­n with unwinnable confrontations, but the
damage has already been very great. The whole Arab world is absorbing
the lesson that U.S. military power has its limits - at the same time
as it seethes in fury and humiliation at the brutal abuse of Iraqi
prisoners by U.S. and British forces.

One picture says it all: A 21-year-old female American soldier
grinning cockily at the camera, a cigarette dangling from her mouth,
as she points in mockery at a naked male Iraqi prisoner who is being
forced to masturbate by his captors. You could not come up with an
image better calculated to enrage and alienate Muslim opinion if you
hired all the ad agencies in the world.

So the entire U.S. neoconservative adventure in the Middle East,
never very plausible, is now doomed, though it will drag o­n in a
broken-backed way for some time to come. Even the option of handing
Iraq over to the United Nations and replacing American troops there
with Muslim troops under U.N. command, still viable a month ago, will
soon be foreclosed unless U.N. officials take a firmer stand against
the occupation regime. It is going to get very messy.

Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles
are published in 45 countries.

  Copyright 2004 Star Tribune.

Date: Mon, 10 May 2004 18:15:44 -0500
To: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
From: Caspar Davis < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it > (by way of Mike Nickerson)
Subject: Sports Illustrated Pans the War

 ; margin-bottom: 0 }  -->r http://www.tompaine.com/feature2.cfm/ID/10353  A Cronkite Moment? &nbsp; Jonathan Tasini is president of the Economic Future Group.  I experienced a Walter Cronkite moment last week that signaled to me that something is in the air about what people feel about the Iraq war. No, it didn't come from Ted Kopple's reciting of the Iraq war dead, nor the polls showing declining support for the war, nor from any of the other pundits, prognosticators, analysts and experts who fill the airwaves and pages of what we see and read. My moment came after reading Rick Reilly's column in Sports Illustrated. Yes, SI, magazine to the sports-obsessed (to which I proudly belong).  A quick history reminder: o­n Feb. 27 1968, Cronkite anchored a CBS special o­n the Vietnam War, concluding that: "To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past. To say that we are mired in a bloody stalemate seems the o­nly realistic, yet unsatisfactory conclusion." Bill Moyers, at the time President Lyndon Johnson's press secretary, reported later that Cronkite's statement led Johnson to believe that, if he had lost Cronkite's support, he had lost the support of middle America.  In the May 3 issue of SI, Reilly, in his regular back-page column "The Life of Reilly," wrote a piece under the headline "The Hero and the Unknown Soldier." The hero in Reilly's column was Pat Tillman, the former star football player who was killed in Afghanistan. After 9/11, Tillman had given up a multimillion-dollar contract to volunteer for the Army Rangers. He was lionized throughout the country for his sacrifice.  The Unknown Soldier was Todd Bates. Bates drowned in Iraq. His death went virtually unnoticed except to his family and friends. The man who raised Bates, Charles Jones, refused to go to the funeral, refused to eat or relate to others; he died just four weeks after the funeral. "He died of a broken heart," Bates' grandmother, Shirley, who also raised him, told Reilly. "There was no reason for my boy to die. There is no reason for this war. All we have now is a Vietnam. My Toddie's life was wasted over there. All this war is a waste. Look at all these boys going home in coffins. What's the good in it?" Reilly, in barely controlled rage, concludes his piece about Tillman and Bates:   "Both did their duty for their country, but I wonder if their country did its duty for them. Tillman died in Afghanistan, a war with no end in sight and not enough troops to finish the job. Bates died in Iraq, a war that began with no just cause and continues with no just reason.  Be proud that sports produce men like this.  But I, for o­ne, am furious that these wars keep taking them."  Reilly, in his eloquence, was expressing opinions already delivered in places like The Nation and op-ed pages around the country. But that's the point. With all due respect, The Nation,-of which I am a subscriber and supporter-and its ilk will not change the course of history because they speak to the already converted.  What's important here is that Reilly's audience is not the typical Nation reader. He speaks to the so-called NASCAR dads, the Sunday golfers, the Monday-morning quarterbacks and the couch-potato referees. He speaks, SI estimates, to 31 million people (3.1 million subscribe to the magazine, 21 million adults read the magazine as it is passed around the family and 10 million more see the column o­n SI's website). It's a sizable audience-of Cronkite-like size-which can fairly be described as generally mainstream, and, o­n the whole, slightly more conservative than the average America.   Well, it's an expensive magazine to get and, it being 50 years old, has a patina of Americana to it," [Reilly says via e-mail.] "I mean, everybody had an uncle or a grandad who kept every issue. The cover of SI is a sacrosanct place and Americans protect it. You should see the mail we get when we put something like a dog o­n it, or a wrestler. It's as though it belongs to the people and perhaps it does. The SI reader is generally pretty well-off and tends to be conservative. But the fact that they pay a pretty penny for a magazine that has gone down in history as o­ne of the finest ever produced in terms of great photography and great writing, says that they're very literary and therefore, perhaps more open-minded than your basic conservative.   Indeed, Reilly is hearing from these types of conservatives that something is deeply troubling to them about the war. "I did a piece for Time o­n the Marine town of Jacksonville, N.C., which you'd think would be 100 percent pro-war, and I was amazed at how many people were packing their sons up for war and saying, 'I really don't understand why we're going over there,'" he says.  The response to Reilly's column has been overwhelming-both pro and con, he says. Reilly usually gets a couple hundred responses to his columns; so far, he's received more than 2,000-most of them messages of agreement. It may be an overstatement, today, to say Reilly's column had the same impact as Cronkite's national commentary more than 36 years ago. But, as Reilly told me, sports is a tightly woven part of the fabric of our lives, an activity through which we can converse and reach huge swaths of the public. Who knows who Reilly touched?  

Last Updated on Thursday, 13 May 2004 02:30

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